Wednesday, January 23, 2013

11 Things Every Husband Should Know When Buying His Wife a Birthday Present

Men don't like shopping, and if they do, well, that's another story altogether. At any rate, add to that the burden of finding something that makes your wife feel loved (which is as important as finding her something she likes) and it can be downright daunting. Thus, if I can do anything at all to make this process less painful for my married brothers out there in the trenches, I will. The following suggestions don't exactly provide a "how to" for what to buy a woman (after all, there is some variation there), but they do offer some hint as to what specifically to avoid in the process of trying to figure out what to get her, which is at least half of the battle. If you cannot see the comedy and irony in the relationship between the sexes I recommend that you avoid this post, for though it is meant to be helpful, it is also intended to be humorous.

11. Don't ever buy her a gift that is more for you than for her

On one episode of the Simpsons Homer buys his wife a bowling ball under the pretext that he wants her to learn the game. However, there is one small detail which makes Homer's intentions seem rather dubious: Homer's name is carved into the ball. Out of spite Marge takes up bowling, but only to get back at her husband who is patently displeased with the result. You might think that such a phenomenon is quite out of the ordinary, but do not underestimate your own powers of rationalization, especially involving some form of technology that you wish to possess. For example, I could easily envision a man buying himself (I mean his wife) an X-Box, fully convinced that he is doing it, not because he wants to play video games, but because now they can both watch movies together without the hassle of having to get them at Blockbuster, or order them by mail. Even if there is truth in such a scheme, if the gift smacks at all of you buying it for yourself, and only secondarily buying it for her, the temperature in the room will grow noticeably cooler.

10. Her birthday is not a moveable feast

Because of scheduling there may be an obstacle to celebrating her birthday as thoroughly as one would like on her actual date of birth. But do not make the terrible error of presuming that because you have moved the big celebration, that you need to do nothing on that specific day. Other than (of course) wishing her a happy birthday, at least do something on that day that makes her feel as if the day is not forgotten, otherwise she may act as if you had skipped it altogether no matter how you celebrate it later.  Just like you can't completely forget her birthday and then hope to celebrate it on some other random day (unless you REALLY outdo yourself), neither can you hope to bypass this day without giving it proper recognition.

9. Generally speaking, household appliances are a big "no no"

Your wife tells you she wants a new blender or vacuum cleaner, and so you run out and buy her the latest and greatest Hoover (or whatever). You are so proud of yourself because it is far better than the previous. However, when you present it to her she looks at you as if you had three heads. You were smart to take note of what she said she wanted- the problem is you misread the appropriate time in which to give it to her. The truth is when it comes to birthday and Christmas gifts women generally want impractical, romantic gifts. So when is it appropriate to buy said appliances? Ironically, women will regard the purchasing of a vacuum cleaner as romantic as long as you obtain them on practically any other day of the year except days specifically designated for gifts. Hence, if you come home on some arbitrary Tuesday with that new Hoover in hand, then indeed you will likely receive many brownie points. Come home with it on her birthday, and she will treat you as strangely as a cat. She will also think, fairly or not, "how stupid can my husband be? Doesn't he know the ancient law of gift-giving for women?"

8. Avoid Generic Cards

One thing that can be difficult for men to understand is just how important little things are to women. Cards are no exception. There are some occasions where she will not mind that you overlooked getting her a card. But on your anniversary, I do not recommend such an omission. In any case, when you do buy the card, do not buy one of those stupid cards wherein someone has already written a message of platitudinous schmaltz. First of all, most of those messages are pretty lame, and secondly, and perhaps more importantly, she will feel that anybody could have received and/or written the card, which is incidentally true. And furthermore, do not dare try to kill two birds with one stone, believing, rather naively, that you can get something at Hallmark that is gift-worthy. It is an understandable temptation, but resist it. She will not be deceived. Back to the card. Try and pick one that will make her feel as if it were chosen specifically for her. The biggest key to any and all gifts and cards is that they must, to whatever degree, make a woman feel as if you thought only of her while purchasing it. If she feels that that she is somehow set apart and loved uniquely as a result of receiving it, then you have accomplished your daunting task. But back to the writing. I know most men are not poets, so I am not saying that you should try to be one, but whatever sentiment is in the card, let it be particular to your relationship. Let it demonstrate that you know her like no other.

7. Don't Buy Her Religious Objects

Please do not misunderstand me. I am not declaring that it is a bad thing to get her something religious. What I am saying is that unless it is something that specifically demonstrates your love for her, she will regard it as if you had just given her a moon rock. Once again, this is not to say that she is in any way godless (unless she really is), only that there is a time and a place for such gifts, and this is not one of them. In all likelihood, when she receives it she will probably say something like "Oh, OK, well... hmm... thank you..." And all the while she will look as if she were sitting on an uncomfortable wooden bench. Once upon a time I bought my wife a beautiful crucifix for our home. You see, I had assumed that because we had formerly discussed how much we needed one that it made perfect sense to buy it. What I did not anticipate was just how awkwardly she would receive it, especially since it was she who had requested one in the first place. I can only compare it to the type of reaction I might have were I to receive a gift card from someone notifying me that they had just donated a llama to some family in subsaharan Africa in my honor. I want to stress it was not the gift itself that provoked her reaction, but my poor timing. As Scripture says, "to everything there is a season", and that sure wasn't the season. I cannot read minds, but my guess is gifts like this one in general fall under the category of things meant for the entire household, but not specifically for her. Therefore, you dare not use her birthday as a trojan horse for any item (including a religious one) which is beneficial to all, though not specifically designated for her.

6. Gift Requests

This is a tricky one because it is possible to get away with this on occasion, but you really have to pay attention to her body language in order to estimate just how much it is "gotten away with". Ask her what she wants, but be forewarned if you get a clear answer this is not permission to do this all the time. For some women there is almost never an occasion for such predictability, but for others there are exceptions. In any case, before proceeding there are a few things you should know about this indult. There is nothing more repugnant and unromantic to the female spirit than gifts that lack any element of surprise. As long as she doesn't know exactly what you are getting her, she will allow for a certain amount of questioning on your part. In other words, women are open to giving you general hints regarding what to get as long as those hints don't become too specific. But like I said, there are times when she might want something enough that she is willing to suspend this rule. Notice I said "suspend', not abolish. From a male standpoint, this "tell me what you want" approach is a predictable and an appealing trap. Men like surprises, but they also don't really have a problem with telling you what to get them. If it were up to men this would be the format of all gift-giving occassions, but alas, in God's wisdom he has demanded something more of us than a "honey-do list." The truth is buying your wife a present is a little like going to the grocery store and trying to discern what the grocery list is without her giving you the grocery list. Still, if men would like to find a subtle way of expanding this practice, I would recommend not asking your wife what she wants for her birthday, but rather listening to her throughout the year as she drops major hints concerning the desires of her heart. Don't be too proud to take notes. It can save you a lot of fear, pain, and anxiety.

5. Repeat Gifts

You finally hit the mother lode. You seem to have found a store that was practically made for your wife. Contain yourself, or you may just fall into the habit of thinking that you can just perpetually buy a bunch of things from that store and that will suffice. I am not suggesting it can't be a cornerstone of your gift-giving expedition, but it shouldn't be the only one. Yes, the gift must be her style, but if you only get them from one place, then it may seem to her like you are simply buying the same thing over and over. Trust me, I know what it feels like to discover a store that has the type of shoes my wife likes, or better yet, one that has a whole slew of indie purses that would make her feel totally original if she had them. Nevertheless, resist the temptation to buy her five alterna-purses, thinking that you can cover your bases for the next several years. This is not to suggest that she wouldn't like all of them, the problem is it smacks of laziness, which in a war between what she likes and what she wants you to do, loses. There are only a few gifts that one can repeat consistently without any punitive damage to your relationship. The primary one is flowers. When in doubt flowers. That isn't a license to buy them without making sure they aren't half-wilted, but nevertheless it is truly amazing that you really can just walk into the house with any number of roses at any time and she will greet you as if no one had ever received roses in the history of the world until that moment.

4. Wrapping the gift is important

If you are like me, then your wrapped gifts look a little like a five-year old had attempted (and failed) to do it. However, in this respect you cannot lose. In some sense the worse it looks the more her sweet feminine heart will regard you with pity and consider your effort valiant in the face of your utter incapability to perform a task which she could do in her sleep. I call it the stray dog effect. The truth is few women can fail to feel love and affection for what they perceive to be man's helplessness. One should be careful not to play this card too much, however, or you may just find that now you have two mothers instead of one. At any rate, the wrapping is almost as important as the gift, which is why she will accept just about any efforts on your part in this regard. It might seem arbitrary and irrational to some men, but it is utterly unacceptable, from a woman's standpoint, to just hand your wife the gift. It is also unacceptable to give it to her in that same chintzy little plastic bag that the store handed it to you in. You may as well hand it to her in a grocery bag. In other words, do not give her a DVD as a gift in a plastic Blockbuster bag, or hand her a blouse from Belk's in a Belk's bag. Remember this, even gifts of a low estate can be elevated by a little effort on your part to make them look important. But if wrapping is too difficult for you, or you lack the resources, get a nice bag (maybe even one that was left over from some other festivity, and put some tissue in it (I'm not talking about Kleenex here) and voila; its as good as if you had spent time wrapping it. Some men might be grumbling, asking "What difference does it make? It's the same gift". Ah yes, but remember, the element of surprise is not simply important to women, it is the very essence of her being. It is non-negotiable in romance, and if you if in the end you are unwilling to work by these unwritten rules, then you cannot hope to make her happy.

3. Never let her cook on her birthday

This may seem pretty obvious, but men are not always the sharpest tools when it comes to this. And in other cases, they are bright enough, but frankly too lazy to care. Obviously a night out at your favorite restaurant, or one that you have specially chosen with her in mind will make her happy. Add to that some special moment, usually around dessert time, and you are good to go. Unless she is a fan of all out drama where the whole staff serenades her with happy Birthday in ten languages all while doing a dance, all you really need to do is to ask the waiter to put a birthday candle in her favorite dessert and that will usually suffice. Indeed, in this case, less is more. However, if you prefer to stay home there is one other alternative, and it doesn't involve takeout (unless she specifically requests it). Obviously if you are capable of cooking you can cook dinner for her yourself (which, like flowers, never gets old). Or if you are as inept as I am in the kitchen, you can offer to plan and cook a meal together. Once again, you may be like that lab partner in high school who adds nothing to the group and only winds up copying the work of everyone else, but the fact that you are "in the group" at all in this case will seem romantic to her. You may only be doing the prep work, but it is nevertheless a form of romantic solidarity that brings you closer and makes her feel like you are true companions.

2. Gift Cards

Another big "no no" when it comes to the art of gift-giving is the bestowal of a gift card on your beloved. In your practical male mind you think to yourself "Hey, I've got a great idea! She clearly loves Charming Charlie's, so instead of me wandering around aimlessly trying to divine her thoughts, I'll just give her a gift card and let her run wild." It makes perfect sense, doesn't it? But it doesn't figure at all when it comes to making a women feel as if you know her like no one else. For example, my dad loves Starbucks, so I get him a Starbucks gift card and he's happy. Great! My wife also likes Starbucks. Could I pull off the same thing with her? Are you kidding me? So yes, you must deal with the doubly daunting task of getting her something that she really wants without the privilege of being told what she really wants. Call it a game if you like, but those are the rules. Call it unfair, but all is fair in love and war. Actually the problem with both "love" and "war" is that they do have certain rules of fairness, the problem is trying to figure out those rules is a little like (pardon the pun) sweeping a mine field.

1. Never forget her birthday

This one doesn't technically include anything about purchasing a gift, nevertheless, if you were to get this one wrong then all the previous advice would be useless.There are an endless amount of ironies when it comes to romantic love. For example, it is verboten to forget her birthday, but you can get her age delusionally wrong as long as you declare that she is younger than is. Anyhow, just below adultery on the list of things you never want to do in a marriage is "forgetting her birthday", which comes in a close second. In the Bible there is only one unforgivable sin, which is the sin against the Holy Spirit. In the Bible of marriage this particular "sin" may indeed rival the former. From a woman's perspective it is inconceivable that you should overlook this day. For her a keen awareness of such dates on the calendar are the simplest and most basic test of whether you love her or not. Not remembering her birthday seems to her the equivalent of not being able to count to ten or say your ABCs. Thus, there is only one of two possible explanations for why you forget- you don't love her, or you are incapable of loving her the way she needs to be loved. In either case, you will have to be a bit of a romantic Houdini to get yourself out of this bind. In fact, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for you to make your wife forget about this mistake. But do not despair- remember that with God all things are possible. She may in time genuinely forgive you for this grave oversight, but know that she will never ever forget about it. Hence, you should prepare yourself to be reminded constantly of what you so carelessly forgot. I say this not to be a downer, but in order to prevent any man from making this same error. Indeed, you should remember that day as if your very life depended on it, because it does.

For my beautiful wife on her 29th Birthday



  1. Where was this wisdom the last 10 years in a row? This year I have it well planned and I THINK it will go off flawless:)

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  2. Here's a little hint from a wife... if she can tell and is told everyday that she is loved, then the perfect gift or even forgetting her birthday in the tides of life, isn't really all that big a deal. It's when she looks forward to these special days as a time she might get to feel special to you and you bungle it up because of carelessness, laziness, or selfishness then it is the feeling she's left with that perhaps you really don't place a value on her that causes the hurt and maybe anger ( to cover the hurt).

    It's not the gift , its the feeling of being cherished that counts.

    1. Well put! My sentiments in a nutshell.

    2. Agree with @the sparrow.
      I don't mind reminding my husband of my birthday, and sometimes I just get a card and some candy that day--but a handwritten note on the card expresses all the love that he shows me every day. And it's the day in and day out love that makes me happy.

  3. Great post!
    And I loved the humor.
    What I really find funny, though, is that I have been married to my husband for seventeen years, and he has committed almost all of these "no-nos" for gift giving! I have been thrilled with every gift!
    He has never forgotten my birthday, though, and he is definitely a romantic.
    I think the most important key to making your spouse happy, is to know and care about who she is and what she loves. Even if it is a Hoover.

    1. I agree, and hope this post provides solid evidence that I have been attentive to, as you put it, "who she is and what she loves and cares about."

  4. So what's left?

    Great blog post, I'll file it away for future reference.

    1. Thanks Matthew, if you like this one you might be interested in "What every husband should know about his wife." I posted it last year on 1/17.

  5. I have to say as a bachelor that the prospect of perpetual gift-buying is probably what I dread most about marriage. Birthday, anniversary, Christmas, Mother's Day. Repeat. It never lets up. 4 opportunities each year to blow it, with an upside of maintaining the status quo. Blow one, and that's the one that gets remembered. Fortunately I'm in the the "Daily maintenance avoids costly repairs" camp. And no, I put my foot down on V-Day. The only proper way to celebrate that is to take her to Mass.

    I would add to number 8 something that got impressed on me by someone, maybe my ex-financee: "You can give her a card without a gift, but never a gift without a card." It's the card that really personalizes it.

  6. Beautiful. Hope you didn't choke this year!

  7. I don't know if I choked or not, but it is the sad fact of the man who knows the ideal that he often fails to live up to it.

  8. Kudos for this! Notice: I am stealing "platitudinous schmaltz" - that's great stuff. Also, I must be just fantastic because I actually would love to receive a new vacuum cleaner as a gift at any time; our old one sucks (or not) that much. ;)

  9. I've been married for 7 years. never in theses years, not even a single one that my husband remembered my birthday, has never gifted me much, he is never interested in what I wear ( sometimes say u look different today)! Sometimes I wish he would remember my birthday for once!
    But even then I Love Him
    Bcos I understand him
    It's not in gift or not may be in any card but in the Heart
    I understand him and want to live the rest of my life with him. May God bless our relationship! Amen

    1. Its the thought that counts. If he doesnt even have the thought about your bday, it is the ultimate failure. Please tell me he gets you Something on valentines day.

  10. Happy Birthday to you! Are you finding free birthday gifts and deals? Try it! It's totally Free! Bdayo.Com was created with one goal in mind to help our users enjoy, celebrate, and remember their birthday! Bdayo allows you to find unlimited amount of Birthday Freebies in your area and offer unique features to help you learn more about that special day!


    1. Sorry my friend. Women are not a one size fits all group. This post is about how to approach the process, not what to get every single woman out there. I sure there's a blog post for that...

  12. I found it hard to get through the rest of the article when the opening paragraph had an allusion that if a man didn't hate shopping, it might mean he's gay.

    I know you didn't come right out and say it, but it was certainly implied, and even as a straight male, I found it slightly offensive.

    1. I'd just like to point out that the blog is called "Man in the Woods: A Blog Dedicated to Culture from a Catholic Perspective."

      Great article!

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  28. Haha, definitely gonna show this article to my to-be husband. He better not forget my special day else all hell's gonna break loose. Also came across this warm article the other day When you forget your wife's birthday

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