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How to shop for a significant other

By Jacque Wilson, CNN
Whether you've been dating a month or 25 years, holiday shopping for a significant other is hard.
Whether you've been dating a month or 25 years, holiday shopping for a significant other is hard.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Clothing is a personal gift, so only buy it if you know their style, size
  • Get a significant other what he/she wants, not what you want the person to have
  • Gather intelligence by asking friends, family or poking around the closet
RELATED TOPICS

Editor's note: Every Thursday during the holidays we're asking our etiquette experts questions to help you navigate the perils of gift giving and receiving. Check back next week for another dilemma.

(CNN) -- It's great to be in a relationship around the holidays, except when it comes time for the dreaded gift exchange. Whether you've been dating a month or 25 years, holiday shopping for a significant other is hard. So we asked our holiday experts for their tips on selecting the perfect present.

Sherri Athay, author of "Present Perfect: Unforgettable Gifts for Every Occasion"

First off, ask yourself this question: What would she love to show her friends and brag about it being from you? Buy that.

Other questions that might help pinpoint the perfect gift:

• What does she wish for, but would never buy for herself?

• What might he do if she had more free time?

• What makes her feel smart, attractive, pampered, valued, unique?

• What places, people, pets, causes are important to him?

Clothing is one of the most popular gifts given. It's also one of the most likely gifts to be exchanged. Clothing is a highly personal gift and should not be given early in a relationship. The "safest" gifts of clothing include outerwear -- sweaters, coats, hats, scarves, gloves.

The rule for the cost of a gift is always the same: The giver spends what he or she can afford in order to give something that will please the recipient. Gifts that are too extravagant (relative to the giver's means and the relationship) cause the recipient to feel uncomfortable. On the other hand, when a giver spends too little (relative to his means and stage of the relationship) he looks cheap. In either case, the giver fails to please the recipient and the rule is not met.

Most importantly, think of gifts as communicators. Even in the early stages of a relationship, gifts can convey important messages regarding attentiveness to each other's wants and needs, the level of interest in the relationship, and the giver's intentions. Early on, I suggest giving gifts that are consumable, so that if the relationship doesn't last, there will be no painful, tangible reminders it ever existed.

Peggy Post, great-granddaughter-in-law of Emily Post

The key thing is to really get excited about the spirit of giving. It sounds lofty, but sometimes people get so anxious or cynical. You should be excited about doing something for someone you care about.

The biggest piece of that is to try to think of something the other person would like -- ask their friends, poke around their closet, try to gather intelligence. Don't wait until the day before. Just keep eyes open.

The second piece is to trust your judgment. I'm a bit fascinated about how many people worry and worry, and have trouble making a decision. Just go for it! And if the person doesn't like it, you can give them an out. It can be something you laugh about years later.

Jodi Newbern, author of "Regifting Revival: A Guide to Reusing Gifts Graciously"

When shopping for a significant other (especially if you have to live with them and endure any possible negative repercussions) ... it's always best to get them what they want, not what you would like to have.

Unless you know for a fact that your spouse wants the exact same thing as you do, this never works in your favor. Getting your wife a combination power drill/shop vac tool will not win you any "extras" even if it does come with an optional food-processor attachment.

Coming up with gift certificates or tickets for special services, events, or future gifts is always a good alternative, and could also gain you "creativity" and/or "sensitivity" points that may come in handy later.

Anna Getty, author of "I'm Dreaming of a Green Christmas"

I love getting my husband things I know he would love. I try to put a lot of care into hiding gifts because I enjoy that.

Clothing is fine to get, just make sure it's something you know is their style, not yours. For newbies I think spending under $100 is fine. Spending too much money early in a relationship is cheesy and over the top. Plus, you wind up setting the bar too high right off the bat.

For a longer relationship, the price tag depends on the person. If times are tough for one, though, I think both partners should forgo gifts all together. Foot massage certificate anyone?

From our readers

Got a tip on shopping for a significant other? Post 'em below and they could end up here later today.

AndreaMilnes: Guys, if all else fails, the vast majority of girls like shiny and sparkly

QueenZola: Unless she specifically asks for one, do not get your female significant other ANY home cleaning appliance for a gift giving occasion. (I saw this happen to someone recently. It wasn't pretty.)