Do Him (and Yourself) a Christmas Favor—Forget the Hints

Now that Thanksgiving is past, Christmas shopping is officially underway. This is often a particularly stressful time for husbands trying to buy the right gift for wives. My advice: tell him what you want.

I admit it. I like surprises. I’m also a really good guesser, which makes for a terrible combination. I remember times when I would purposefully not even look at the size or shape of wrapped items under the Christmas tree with my name on them, let alone hefting the weight and giving them a gentle shake. It was all too likely that I would guess what was inside and I would kick myself for having spoiled my own surprise.

This desire that many women have for being surprised at Christmas can wreak serious havoc for husbands and both husbands and wives can end up disappointed. Things get complicated by the different ways men and women operate when it comes to giving and receiving hints. I know I’m generalizing, but go with me on this for a minute. Women seem to have this compartment in the brain for storing hints. When their men say, “Hey, that’s cool,” or “Wow, I love those things,” women file that information away in the “Gifts to Buy” drawer, handily retrieving them as needed. Men open their gifts and are often truly surprised: “How did you know I’ve always wanted one of these?” The wife smiles, thinking, “You told me.” So women think this system should work both ways. The wife is strolling with her husband at the mall a week before Christmas and stops at a shop window saying, “Oh, I’ve always wanted a pair of boots like that.” She things, “Bingo. Message delivered.” And he’s thinking, “Okay. Nice boots. So what do you want for Christmas?” When she opens up the vacuum cleaner on Christmas morning, they’re both disappointed.

I was an offender. I admit it. I set my husband—and myself—up more times than I care to remember. And Chris tried, he really did. One year, he found a pile of mail order catalogs I had tucked onto a shelf. He perused the pages that had turned down corners, indicating my interest in something shown there. He ordered one item from each of several pages and—this is a true story—he didn’t get one single item right. Great effort, though. (Note to self: browse catalog with pen to circle items on pages where I fold corners down.)

I’m better now. A breakthrough came one September, many years ago, when I was doing back-to-school shopping for the kids in a department store with a fine jewelry counter. They announced a super-triple-price-reduction on a gold necklace I had my eye on. I never would have paid full price, but at about 20% of the original price, I made the purchase. It was still kind of a luxury on our budget, so I hid it in a closet drawer and when the holidays approached, I told Chris, “Don’t spend very much on me for Christmas. I already bought your main gift for me this year. “ He wondered for a while if it was a set up, but I finally convinced him. He asked me what it was but I wouldn’t say. I wrapped it up and handed it to him on Christmas morning to open.

Hey, one of us was surprised.

Check out one of the great gift-giving-advice commercials every made–in my opinion.