Tomorrow is my birthday. As always, I’m excited about the prospect of spending an entire day celebrating the existence of me but also long for the days of childhood celebrations. I’d invite the entire school over, we’d play whiffle ball, eat ice cream cake and give presents to me. My parents planned everything, I reaped the rewards.
Birthdays as a male adult aren’t so festive— an assembly of friends is your responsibility and can feel a tad pathetic (“I’m throwing a party… for… myself.”) Plus friends never know their role– bring gifts? Can I just buy him a shot? As a result, a lot of guys I know tend to do nothing on their big day as it’s just easier. And that’s perfectly ok with us.
It’s not so ok, however, when you’re in a relationship. In fact, most women I’ve dated have taken my birthday more seriously than me.
“What do you want to do?” the woman I was seeing a few years asked a week in advance.
“I don’t know, order food, watch a movie.”
“No!” she practically bellowed. “I want to go out!”
Whoa, whose birthday is it? Her response threw me but I knew not to resist. I got talked into some swanky lounge where everyone wore fancy jeans and pretended to listen. A few of her friends stopped by as did two of mine and, while not normally my scene, I must admit I had a nice time. Doing something completely different broke me out of my adult birthday malaise– score one for the girlfriend.
Then we went back to her place where she announced it was time for my gifts. And that’s when the celebration waned.
“It’s a photo album so you can organize your pictures,” she told me excitedly as I opened my second gift.
“Thank you so much!” I said with forced enthusiasm, thinking to myself, “I can write about how this makes me feel in my first gift– a new journal.”
Raised politely, however, I put on a mini-performance about how I’d been meaning to sort through my pictures so this was the perfect gift. The remaining gifts got no better- two books I suspect she wanted to read and a tweed cap I wouldn’t have worn for money.
I’m not trying to sound ungrateful but it didn’t seem like she factored me into the equation while shopping. Perhaps she was buying for the boyfriend she wanted? Regardless of motivation, I never used nor do I know where any of those gifts are today. So, in honor of my birthday, here are some strategies when it comes to buying a gift for your man…
For three years, I cooked with an old pan that had no handles. (When it was hot, I’d pick it up with a bath towel.) None of this struck me as the least bit odd until the woman I was dating gave me a new frying pan and oven mitts. The kitchenware made me feel pretty adult— and made cooking a whole lot easier.
Gifting the 2.0 version of something he already owns is nearly bulletproof— nicer wallet, soft towels, T-shirts without holes. But caution: Don’t try to replace something that has real meaning. My friend Alex still uses the beat-up alarm clock that got him through medical school. When his girlfriend surprised him with a fancy one, he was torn between sentimentality and gratitude. Both clocks are now on display. Alex tells her he just hasn’t read the manual for the new one.
Time with the Boys…
Brian’s wife gave him the “greatest gift ever”— two tickets to a NY Giants football game. Like a good husband, he assumed he’d be taking her to the game but she refused, insisting he’d have more fun with a friend. I was thrilled by her coolness, especially because I wound up being the friend.
They do a lot of stuff together, concerts, etc., but in this instance she played it perfectly. Drinking beer and yelling is not her idea of a good time. She has enough confidence in their relationship to know him having fun doesn’t mean she always has to be there. Her move came back in spades as he must have texted her nine times from the game to thank her then stopped on the way home for flowers. That’s a win-win.
Something You’d Hate
My mom still hasn’t forgiven my dad for the Christmas when he gave her a suitcase. (“She needed one!” he maintains.) My pops failed but, when it comes to men, the more useful the gift the better. I’ve loved receiving added memory for my Mac, dry-cleaning gift certificates, but my favorite example comes from my friend Jeff. He used to save his junk mail in a bag and drag it to work to put through the office paper shredder until his girlfriend got him his own. “Now I sit at home watching baseball and shred away,” Jeff says. He’s happy as a clam, she doesn’t get it at all.
Not sure what qualifies as a good, solidly practical present? If you’d be mad about receiving it, you’ve probably got a winner.
There are few things better than a professional massage– someone whose sole mission is to totally relax you and wants nothing in return. “The only problem…”, says my buddy Hank, “my always girlfriend thinks something sexual will happen. Maybe at those sketchy places by the airport but a nice spa?” Professional massages aren’t sexual at all, they just feel great.
And if you’re still not convinced do what my last girlfriend did, come along. She booked “His and Her Chocolate Massages”– we went into a room together, got completely naked (already a great gift) and then lied side by side as two masseuses doused us in chocolate. I was skeptical at first but it was sexy, romantic and a nice prelude to the dessert she gave me when we got home.
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