A certain brand that shall remain nameless keeps emailing me with the suggestion that I “ditch the mushy gushy flowers this V-Day” in favor of a more exciting, unique gift for my beloved: the thing that this company is selling, of course. The details of that product are more or less irrelevant (it’s some particularly garish novelty underwear, if you must know). It’s the sentiment that annoys me.
This pressure to reject gifting “clichés” like flowers and jewelry in favor of purportedly more novel, creative tokens of your affection is ubiquitous, and it’s not just coming from brands trying to drum up business for their otherwise not particularly giftable products around major holidays. Male gift-givers seeking advice on what to buy their girlfriends, in particular, will likely find themselves steered away from the romantic staples — jewelry, flowers, perfume — towards arguably more “personal” or “meaningful” gifts, like a handmade (or Etsy-outsourced) tribute to your love, or a shared experience in lieu of a physical gift. At this point, I would argue we’ve nearly come full circle to the point where trying to avoid gifting clichés has become the real cliché.
As a woman who loves a classic, traditionally romantic gift — particularly of the expensive variety — I take offense to this. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: cliché things typically get to be cliché for a reason, and that reason is because they are good and well-liked. Yes, some cliché gifts are genuinely bad — like that “I love you” teddy bear on sale at CVS for $6. That’s for children, not the fully grown love of your life. Put it back.
Generally speaking, however, many of the traditional gifting staples that have been written off as trite and impersonal are actually quality, coveted items that many — if not most — women would still love to receive. Yes, you have to know who you’re shopping for. If the woman in your life is some kind of boho-chic manic pixie dream girl, perhaps you should consider thinking a little outside the box, and even if you’re shopping for a lady of more traditional taste, there’s still room to take her personal preferences into account. Meanwhile, if you’ve given her a necklace for the past seven Valentine’s Days in a row, maybe it’s time to mix it up a little.
Still, there’s no need to reinvent the gift-giving wheel. You say cliché, I say classic, and most of the time, there’s nothing wrong with sticking to the classics. Below, a few reasons you might want to reconsider the tried and true clichés.
They’re things someone probably wouldn’t buy for themselves
Typically, giving someone something they want but wouldn’t buy for themselves is a recipe for a perfect gift, and a number of the most notable gifting clichés fall into that category.
Part of the reason cliché gifts are cliché is because they are things most people wouldn’t buy for themselves. Fancy chocolates, flowers, nice jewelry and perfume are things we tend to think of as gifts, meaning many women would prefer to receive them as such, regardless of whether or not they could afford them on their own. If you avoid these gifts in favor of something more unique — or, god forbid, practical — then that might mean the lady in your life just never gets the things she actually wants.
Just in case any girlbosses are listening: yes women should feel empowered to buy whatever they want for themselves, and some, allegedly, might even prefer to do so. Mrs. Dalloway can go ahead and buy the flowers herself, but the rest of us would probably prefer to have them sent to us — and not just because we don’t feel like spending our own money. Certain things, like flowers and sometimes jewelry or perfume, just feel more meaningful as a romantic gesture.
Nice things are always nice, and sure, anyone who wants to can and should splurge on their own fancy chocolate or jewelry. Still, nice things are often even nicer when they’re a surprise from a loved one. (And okay, yes, obviously it’s always better when someone else pays for them.)
“Cliché” gifts aren’t necessarily any less special
One of the biggest misconceptions about cliché gifts is that they are inherently impersonal. Again, you have to know the woman you’re shopping for, but surprising the woman in your life with a coveted piece of jewelry, a designer item she’s had her eye on or even something as simple as her favorite candy can be just as meaningful as a more personalized or handcrafted gift. The gift that shows you really know someone isn’t necessarily the gift that is most unique to them; it’s the gift you know they want the most.
Meanwhile, many supposedly cliché gifts have great potential for sentimental value. A piece of jewelry is something she’ll wear to feel close to you, and will remind her of you every time she puts it on. (Not to mention, most jewelry is engravable, if you want to add that more personal touch.) A perfume can (and probably will) become a fragrance she associates with you and your relationship.
Cliché doesn’t necessarily have to mean lazy or unoriginal when it comes to gifting. Just because you’re not the first man on earth to give his girlfriend jewelry doesn’t mean it can’t be special and meaningful.
They’re good for showing off
Look, we all know this shouldn’t matter, but we all like to show off. Women are only human, and most of us do enjoy flexing on each other from time to time. Sue us.
Showing off your gift on Instagram is probably the highest form of praise a woman (at least one of a certain generation) can give. She wants to show you off, and, at least on some level, she wants all her friends to be jealous of her thoughtful boyfriend who gives her nice stuff.
While that quirky gift you got her in reference to some inside joke about that obscure TV show you both like may earn you points for creativity, it’s probably not the kind of thing she’s going to want to show off, because no one else is going to understand it. What all of her friends will immediately understand (and, more importantly, envy) is a long-stemmed bouquet or a little blue box.
I’m not saying there’s no room for silly, personal gifts that only you two would get. But for many women, part of the joy of receiving gifts is displaying them for the world to see, so maybe throw in a little something for her to brag to her friends about. It will make her happy, and it will make you look good. A win-win, if you will.
I’m not saying you have to break the bank this Valentine’s Day on designer goods and high end jewelry, but for god’s sake, at least get the woman some flowers.