Valentine's Day gift massacre: What those carefully chosen presents really say about you

Chocolate or jewellery? Frilly or practical? Rhodri Marsden wants you to think very carefully before making the year’s most fraught gift-buying

You might think that you know your partner, and that they know you. Your relationship might sail along on a wave of mutual understanding and reciprocal affection, your romantic gestures acknowledged and stored away in a special chamber of your hearts. And then Valentine's Day comes along and screws everything up.

The pressure to exchange meaningful gifts to symbolise our love for one another is overwhelming. Our brains have become scrambled. The insight that we thought we had into each other's wants and needs is shattered by an onslaught of adverts for cuddly toys and power tools. Panic sets in, and in the heat of the moment we spend our money on something that, when eventually unwrapped, has all the romantic allure of a council-tax bill.

We're bombarded with gift suggestions – the same ones, year after year – and however well-meaning their intent, they're all potential sources of bad advice. They presuppose things about our relationship that couldn't possibly be known, yet we find ourselves bowing meekly to them; we're seduced by the idea of seeing that light in our partner's eyes, but we're more likely to see a furrow in their brow.

The gift ideas on these pages aren't inherently bad; there are many situations where they're just perfect. But it's not a given. So let's just all think for a second. Assess whether we're being oversold something that's unnecessarily festooned with lovehearts. Act now to avoid trouble later. Because no one wants to receive that look that says: "You've got no idea who I am – and now I'm not really sure who you are."

Jewellery

Nothing says "I've spent a ludicrous amount of money on this so you'd better like it" as much as ludicrously priced jewellery. Its expensive presence within a neatly wrapped presentation box ratchets up the tension in the room unnecessarily, like Jeremy Paxman. Blinded by the misconception that the price of a gift is a measure of affection, we blow oodles of cash to make up for the fact that we have no better ideas. We push the boat out, buying ornate trinkets for people who don't even wear jewellery. And as a result, thousands of people are currently walking around Northampton wearing something they don't like but are too polite to say so, while thousands of others in Cardiff are trying to handle the simmering resentment they cause every time they leave the thing in a bedroom drawer.

Slippers

Some gifts come with superstitious warnings attached (not literally). Giving a wallet or purse may lead to abject poverty. A clock may be indicative of time running out on the relationship. That new chef's knife might be used to stab you when you're not looking. Shoes also carry a caveat; so the superstition goes, said shoes could be used by that person to walk away from you… for ever. Slippers, which appear with alarming frequency on lists of Valentine gift suggestions for men, could also be used by someone to walk away from you… across the room and into the kitchen, mumbling, "I can't believe you got me a pair of sodding slippers," as they go.

Gadgets

Men supposedly like gadgets. But the kind of man who would appreciate a gadget as a gift thinks about gadgets a lot. Any idle moments are spent comparing subtle feature distinctions between the MZ-240-C and the MZ-240-CS. He maintains a to-buy list of gadgets which he rearranges regularly, according to subtle shifts in his gadget priorities. And then someone gets him a remote-controlled quadcopter for Valentine's Day. Not quite the remote-controlled quadcopter he was intending to buy, a slightly inferior remote-controlled quadcopter, and it was something like seventh on his gadget list in any case, and he'd rather have had some noise-cancelling headphones, but he appreciates the gesture and so he says, "Thank you for the remote-controlled quadcopter, it's just what I wanted." But it wasn't. Not really.


Lingerie

"Ohio Wife Torches Husband's Truck After Getting Cheap Lingerie for Xmas" ran a headline in an American newspaper just over a month ago. That particular husband didn't understand lingerie – but few men do. You only need to hang out in a branch of Victoria's Secret for 10 minutes to see the expressions of terror on the faces of men who have tasked themselves with buying some. "This stuff just isn't practical," think these men to themselves as they pick up a bustier, not realising that that's kind of the point.

Helpful lingerie advice for men usually begins with a reassurance that this is a bold, adventurous move that will yield fantastic rewards. It then tells you to furtively search through her underwear drawer to find out what size she is – an act which, if interrupted, makes men look anything other than bold and adventurous. Dare to skip the drawer search and you risk buying her some massive pants. Dare to purchase lingerie at all, and you may end up restaging that scene in Annie Hall where Diane Keaton holds up a negligée and says to Woody Allen, "Are you kidding? This is more like a present for you."

Sex toys

Bondage gear, fake tongues, Vertical Turbo Strokers and leather handcuffs might make great gifts within the context of a sexually adventurous relationship, but surprises are not always necessarily a good thing. Outside failing bilateral talks over nuclear weapons reduction, there is no silence more strained and toxic than one where an unwanted dildo is now lying on top of wrapping paper in the corner of a chilly room. You've got to think very carefully about giving a gift that has to be accompanied by a second, more innocuous gift in order to lessen the unsettling impact of the first. "Is that really what you think of me?" "No, I also got you this pot plant."

Cufflinks

In the same way that printer cartridges make a truly disappointing gift for the person who doesn't own a printer, it's important that everyone be wary of the issues surrounding cufflinks. Cufflinks are a great gift if the person who's receiving the cufflinks owns a shirt that requires cufflinks. Check to see if their shirts require cufflinks. If their shirts don't require cufflinks, don't get them any cufflinks – or, alternatively, get them a shirt that requires cufflinks and also some cufflinks. Or just don't get cufflinks.

Chocolate

We're frequently informed, particularly around the time of year leading up to Valentine's Day, of the close link that supposedly exists between chocolate and sex. On paper it looks no more likely than a link being established between margarine and 10-pin bowling, but people in white coats who supposedly know what they're talking about insist that chocolate releases a flood of pleasure-related chemicals into the brain. And then, presumably, we have sex. And if said chocolates were selected from a heart-shaped box, the sex would presumably be even better. But ultimately chocolate is just food. You're giving each other food. "Eat this. It's fuel. It makes you go." And bear in mind that if you melted down the expensive stuff that contains horny goat weed, dong quai, shilajit and fo ti, it basically looks the same as a melted-down Snickers. So maybe just give each other a Snickers. At least that would be funny.

A monthly subscription to a men's health magazine

Health mags are hugely popular with many men; their pursuit of the perfect set of abdominal muscles is as burning and intense as any woman's quest to rid herself of cellulite. But to be given what amounts to an instruction manual for shaping up can be demoralising. Every month, the doormat thuds with a reminder that your abs are not even in the lower divisions of the same league as the bloke on the cover of the magazine. Then your partner's eyes say, beseechingly, "Are you yet able to perform a one-armed chin up?" and you'll reply, mournfully, "No, I am not."

Bodycare products

"Darling. Remember how much you liked the thing I got you last year? Well, good news – I've got it for you again." The sheer lack of imagination contained within a bodycare gift set from a high-street chemist that also sells corn plasters is, quite frankly, off the scale. The lower end of the scale. Self-reproducing lifeforms dwelling on the sea bed could do better. These products are purely functional; it's like buying someone some scouring pads. "Here you go – clean yourself with this."

Browsing the higher end of the market, a man might accidentally hit on a winner – but again, men don't understand these products. It's not their territory. They're generally mystified as to why the word "serum" is taken seriously. And when they see that a product is suitable for "dry" skin or "oily" skin, they're beset with anxiety, worried that when they hand it over to their partner, they're basically saying: "Happy Valentine's Day, Oily."

Mini-fridge

Without wishing to make a sweeping generalisation, men have fridges. Without wishing to make another, they don't need a small fridge for their lager any more than they need a tiny washing machine for their socks. The Valentine's Day industry that exists to claim otherwise is, frankly, baffling.

Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
tvSpoiler alert: It has been talked about for months
Arts and Entertainment
James Hewitt has firmly denied being Harry’s father
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Oliver
filmTV chef Jamie Oliver turned down role in The Hobbit
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
News
news
News
Sir James Dyson: 'Students must be inspired to take up the challenge of engineering'
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Man of action: Christian Bale stars in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
Life and Style
Apple showed no sign of losing its talent for product launches with the new, slightly larger iPhone 6 making headlines
techSecurity breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Arts and Entertainment
Catherine (Sarah Lancashire) in Happy Valley ((C) Red Productions/Ben Blackall)
TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Area Manager - West Midlands - OTE £35,000

    £27000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Area Manager is required to ...

    Recruitment Genius: Area Manager - Yorkshire & Humber - OTE £35,000

    £27000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Area Manager is required to ...

    Recruitment Genius: Embedded Linux Engineer - C / C++

    £35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A well funded smart home compan...

    Recruitment Genius: Senior Software Engineer - Python / Node / C / Go

    £35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: *Flexible working in a relaxed ...

    Day In a Page

    A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

    A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

    Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
    Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

    Scarred by the bell

    The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
    Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

    Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

    Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
    Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

    Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

    Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
    The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

    The Locked Room Mysteries

    As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
    Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

    How I made myself Keane

    Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
    Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

    Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

    Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
    A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

    Wear in review

    A look back at fashion in 2014
    Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

    Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

    Might just one of them happen?
    War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

    The West needs more than a White Knight

    Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
    Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

    'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

    Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
    The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

    The stories that defined 2014

    From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
    Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

    Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

    Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?