December 20, 2016

It’s Not About You. This is What Gift Giving is actually About.

Flashback to Christmas Eve, five years ago:

“I want to show you something,” he said as he guided me blindfolded down the hallway.

He audibly inhaled with giddy anticipation, “Ok. Look!”

The bathroom mirror was plastered pink sticky notes.

Exclamatory affirmations, written in multi-colored, thick-tipped Sharpie filled each one:

You’re amazing!
You have the best ass!
I love you!

“Wow. This is…It’s…” I stuttered, trying not to dig an inescapable hole.

Amazing, but not what I wantI think.

“It’s wonderful. Thank you.”

Dammit, what’s wrong with me?!

He’d gone out of his way to give his gift of lavish praise.

Was it received? Yes. Absolutely. But I didn’t want his love like that. I wanted to spend quality time with him.

Quality time is my fuel. It’s my love language.

This is what I finally realized. Why gift-giving (and receiving) could be such a confusing, bitch of a letdown. We weren’t gifting each other’s love languages.

First, let’s back up a bit. What exactly is a love language?

Simply put, they are the primary and secondary styles in which people prefer to show & receive love.

The 5 Love Languages® (as established by Gary Chapman) are:


Quality Time

Words of Affirmation

Acts of Service

Physical Touch

Think in terms of currency. All are valid, but some have a much higher exchange rates, depending on with whom they are exchanged.

For example, my primary language is quality time. But my ex, who covered the mirror in love notes? His was words. Had he received his own gift, it would have been “high value.” So naturally, he thought I’d feel the same.

Likewise, had I gifted a surprise dinner date which is something I would love, rather than a handwritten love letter, it would not have been received as “high value.”

But how do you know what someone’s love language is? Especially if you feel uncomfortable asking?

Ask yourself these three questions:

1) How do they most frequently express love to you/others?

Are they “the hugger” in your friend group? Touch.

Are they the first to offer a ride to the airport? Acts of service.

Maybe they surprise you with little trinkets that made them think of you, or pay for happy hour. Gifts.

Maybe they like to send encouraging texts. Words of affirmation.

Lastly, maybe they’re always asking if you’d like to meet for “coffee and catching up.” Quality time.

2) What do they complain about the most?

This requires mindful listening and clue collection. It took me months to determine an ex’s primary love language. Then I realized! He complains about being “nagged” instead of praised, and he also likes to proudly point out when he has cleaned around the house. He is “words” and “service.”

3) What do they request from others?

Words—“What do you think?”
Touch—“Can I give you a hug?”
Gifts—“Can I buy you a coffee?” or “Bring me a souvenir from your trip!”
Time—“Can we meet for coffee and catching up?”
Service—“Can you help me with…?”

Now that you know your giftee’s love language, here are some ideas to help you brainstorm.

I hope one of them resonates! If you can find a gift, or way of modifying, that simultaneously meets your own language as well?

Freakin’ awesome!


>> I’d never turn down a gift card to a favorite store or restaurant!
>> Do you have an inside joke that you could reference?
>> When you’re walking through a store, what items instantly remind you of them?

Quality Time

>> Plan a surprise day adventure or date night.
>> Buy a game they or you have been wanting to learn, and have a game night! Print out the 36 Questions (a fantastic list of increasingly intimate prompts, proven to create emotional intimacy). Set aside a couple of hours, and enjoy getting to know your partner on a new level.
>> Treat them to a meal or happy hour at a restaurant they’ve always wanted to try. Put the phones away!


>> One of your favorite books or audiobooks (especially if your primary language is quality time, you could read or listen together, and discuss).
>> A printed quote that makes you think of them.
>> A handwritten letter, letting them know much they mean to you (a great excuse to buy fancy stationary).


>> Impress them with your skills (or willingness to learn), and cook a fancy, homemade meal.
>> What are they stressed about? How can you help? Once, a girlfriend gifted me with one of her (already paid for, and pricey) life coach sessions, and I cried tears of gratitude.


>> Gift certificate for a spa treatment. A cost efficient alternative—find a local beauty school clinic instead, or buy products for home use.
>> What could you learn together? Last year, I bought a favorite couple lotion-making supplies, showed them how to make body butter, then taught them how to give an amazing foot massage.
>> Professional dance lessons, or tickets to a community dance night.

Happy Gift Giving!

I’d love to know what your love language is and what sorts of gifts mean the most to you!


Author: Becca Close

Image: vagawi/Flickr

Apprentice Editor: Lindsay Lock Butler; Editor: Caitlin Oriel






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