They say it’s the thought that counts, but buyers beware: Valentine’s Day is not so much about giving a gift as it is about giving the right gift.
This year, with everyone watching their budgets, the right gift will be harder to choose. And retailers’ lists for gifts to win your honey’s heart are as plentiful as arrows in Cupid’s quiver.
But before you hastily fire off any one of them, make sure it’s not a poison arrow.
“There are more fights and breakups on this day than any other day. Expectations are high. Everyone is looking for confirmation of the level and amount of love (felt toward them),” says Nancy D. O’Reilly, a clinical psychologist and founder of the WomenSpeak Project, which educates and supports women in the experience of growing older.
Even a seemingly harmless, traditional gift can backfire. No matter what stage your relationship is in, you should think twice before picking any of these 15 not-so-sweet gifts this Valentine’s Day.
New relationship no-nos
Going over the top: If it’s not a mutual love, don’t fork out $300 or more for a spa treatment or a weekend away, says etiquette expert Colleen A. Rickenbacher. You could end up being ancient history before the mud pack dries on her face.
Leaping for love: Avoid gifts that suggest a leap in couple-dom. Opening up a couples massage certificate or something like an appliance — that suggests too much of a relationship fast-forward — is a definite no-no, O’Reilly says.
Feeding your passion: Psychotherapist and family-relationship therapist Stacy Kaiser recalls a man who loved cherry pie. He thought its red color would make it an ideal Valentine’s Day gift. His date was offended by his choosing something he liked rather than asking for her preferences. But that wasn’t the only problem, Kaiser says, “She was allergic to cherries!”
Love in bloom: Flowers at work may be a nice gesture, but being on the receiving end can be overwhelming and embarrassing. “Fight the urge to buy him flowers at work, along with 1,400 balloons,” O’Reilly says to women. And for men, sending a “boatload of flowers” can be too much, especially for a woman who doesn’t like being the center of attention.
Flower faux pas: Red roses may be tradition, but does your sweetie even like them? With this variety costing about three times the usual price at Valentine’s Day, know her favorite flower before making the purchase. Going cheap with flowers bought at a convenience store or supermarket can also be wrong, as their packaging tends to look like the last-minute gifts they are, says Rickenbacher.
Grandmotherly gaffes: “The biggest no-no I have seen is when a guy buys a very sexy woman something that he should send to his grandmother, like old-fashioned slippers or a robe,” says Alvera Vayzer-Milberg, a clinical psychologist who counsels couples.
“Don’t even think about buying her a matronly nightgown,” says O’Reilly, who once got one herself. “It was the last time that ever happened!”
Helping or hindering?: No matter how noble your intentions, avoid gifts designed to “help” with weight loss. From a gym membership or supply of Nutrisystem meals to an item of clothing in a too-small size, these types of gifts are anything but a help.
Sugar for your honey: Chuck the chocolates, especially if the person is making efforts to eat healthy. On the other hand, “allowing” a diet reprieve won’t be appreciated, either. “Bringing them their favorite sweet under these circumstances can either mean you’re not listening or that you’re trying to sabotage their weight loss efforts,” says author and relationship expert Mary Jo Fay.
Krista Bloom, another relationship expert and author of “The Ultimate Compatibility Quiz,” says, “Avoid the gargantuan candy bar or box of candy. She will never eat it, and if she does, she may complain for weeks how fat she is and that it’s your fault.”
Pass on practicality: “Whatever you do, don’t give her anything that plugs in. No vacuum cleaners, blenders or coffee makers,” Fay says. “Women have been known to give the silent treatment for days over this mishap.” Don’t even think of a new mop.
Sour gifts for any sweetie
Just any jewelry: If you don’t know the person’s taste, you might make the same mistake as one of Gilda Carle’s clients. The psychotherpist-relationship expert says the client had his sister help him select a gift for his girlfriend. The unusual necklace didn’t match the woman’s tastes, and she later complained to the sister that she thought the necklace was weird. The couple lasted five years. “The thing that broke them up was this guy’s constantly meddling sister!” Carle says.
For expensive jewelry, make sure the recipient has specifically commented on it, or at least “make it very clear that you’re totally happy for her to take it back. There is nothing like a woman who knows that you just spent a pretty penny on her, but she just can’t stand what you bought,” says Fay.
As for rings, avoid them, “unless you’re married or are going to pop the question,” says Bloom.
Lay off the lingerie: Being off sizewise “can be the kiss of death,” Fay says.
“Lingerie is a popular gift, but it leads to a lot of fights,” says Ian Coburn, writer of the advice column “Lunch Is Not a Date.” “Guys typically pick up the wrong size.” Go with either too big or too small and she’ll think you’re calling her fat. Still not convinced? A 2008 Bill Me Later/Ipsos Insight survey found that while 22 percent of men planning to give a Valentine’s Day gift give lingerie, only 2 percent of women say they would like to receive lingerie. So, who’s the “gift” really for?
Kinky calamity: Give a gift like this too early on, and your date may pass judgment or label you. Later on, such a gift may send the message that you’re unhappy with your sex life, Kaiser says.
Sakes alive!: O’Reilly says to steer clear of giving a man a kitten or other live animal. “He may not be ready to be a full-time caretaker; he also may not like to cuddle!”
And anyone who thinks animal lovers would love just about any furry creature certainly haven’t heard Cynthia McKay’s story. The gift-giving expert and CEO of Le Gourmet Gift Basket once dated a guy for about two weeks who decided to surprise her with a flying squirrel. “I never said I liked flying rodents, and he just assumed this would be a great offering,” says McKay, who wound up spending half the night in the emergency room after the squirrel flew at her and bit her, before heading out the back door. “I never saw that guy (or the squirrel) again.”
Fakes are phony: “Giving a fake Tiffany piece of jewelry or Gucci bag is no way to tell your lady you love her,” says Vaughn Volpi, former president of the loss prevention and risk management firm Professional Investigating and Consulting Agency, or PICA. Instead it can send the message that you’re cheap, have no taste, can’t tell a fake from the real deal, and may be a poser, says Volpi.
Pick a card, any card: Gift cards are practical, not romantic. The message here, Kaiser says, is, “I didn’t have time to pick out something meaningful so I grabbed this at the supermarket.”
With so many opportunities to get it wrong, one may wonder if it’s better not to give any Valentine’s Day gift at all. But, as Fay says, “If you give the right gift, you’re a hero.”