Valentine’s Day: The Key to Effective Gift Giving

Valentine's Day gift box isolated on white background

Valentine’s Day is right around the corner, and this year I’ve been thinking a lot about how to make the loved one in your life feel truly special. It all comes down to listening.

Listening is the key to finding the right gift for someone and to figuring out the perfect way to celebrate together. People operate on different “relational currencies,” which are the ways we show we care about one another. Not everyone comes from the same background, and we’ve all grown up with different ideas about gift giving. Tapping into your partner’s specific wavelength is the secret weapon to Valentine’s Day success!

Some people are raised in families where the emphasis is on buying expensive gifts. Others place the focus on hand-crafted projects that are low in cost but require a heavy degree of planning. In some families, creating an experience is what is expected, while others have grown up with the idea that doing something for your loved one is the best way to show how much you care.

Trouble arises when relational currencies are not aligned. For example, your boyfriend thinks he’s giving you a fantastic gift when he buys you an expensive gold bracelet, but you think it’s impersonal and would have preferred a handwritten journal filled with memories of your dating history. Or you plan a fantastic night out on the town with your sweetheart, but he is disappointed because he would have preferred a gourmet, home-cooked meal paired with an intimate night in. Clearly, you’ve each tried to show the other how much you care. But in this case, that’s not enough.

How can you get on the same wavelength? Listen. Reflect back on stories your partner has told you about his or her family’s traditions. Think about how you’ve spent previous holidays together and the types of gifts you’ve received from your partner on other occasions. And then get creative about tailoring a gift to your loved one’s liking, rather than getting him or her something you’d like to receive. Thinking about things this way can take some practice – you may not get it right the first time. But keep on trying, and you’re bound to find the perfect way to show someone you care!

Here are a few gift ideas matched to different relational currencies.


Beats Beatbox

Image from Amazon

For the guy or gal who loves fancy new toys, there are lots of options! When choosing a gift, try to add a dash of personalization by matching it to a passion of your mate. Here are a few examples.

  • For the techie girl: Miriam Merenfeld’s QR code jewelry features necklaces and bracelets with codes that when scanned by a smart phone app reveal messages such as “Love Conquers All” or “Live With Passion.”
  • For the workaholic: Just because he spends a lot of time at the office doesn’t mean he shouldn’t look stylish while doing so! And this Moleskine Messenger Bag is just the right accessory to keep him productive and fashionable.
  • For the music lover: This Beats by Dr. Dre Beatbox Portable Bluetooth Speaker puts out a big sound from a compact device.
  • For the sports fan: The Nike+ Fuelband SE tracks your activities, measuring movement for all kinds of physical endeavors. This gift is especially appropriate for an active person who also loves spreadsheets and data analysis.



Image from Spoonful

For some Valentines, love means creating something from scratch.

  • Personalized Mad Libs: I’ve taken this children’s Valentine’s Day “Mad Love” activity from Spoonful, and have adapted it for adults. Create a set of original Mad Libs, perhaps based on experiences that you have shared with your sweetheart. Roll them up, wrap them in a pretty piece of gift paper and include a cute card. Spend Valentine’s Day filling them out together…and don’t be afraid to get a little sassy with your answers!
  • A home-cooked dinner is always appreciated. In addition to making his or her favorites, go the extra mile by creating and printing out a custom menu that you place on the table to be read by candlelight. In the description of each dish, write a line or two about why you chose it, i.e., “We had spaghetti bolognese on our first date,” or how the item reminds you of your partner, i.e., “These green chile tamales are sweet and spicy just like you.” And of course, don’t forget to name your “restaurant” with something that will have special meaning to both of you.
  • Scavenger Hunt: Create a scavenger hunt, with clues hidden throughout your town or your neighborhood. It can have a theme, such as “Our first year together.” Pack a snack bag full of favorite treats (I suggest chocolate!), and enjoy watching your loved one decipher your clues.


For the busy Valentine, the gift of time is often the one that will be most appreciated. Someone who operates on this currency will be thrilled by a partner who truly understands what stresses them out and how to remedy that. Help free up your boyfriend or girlfriend’s schedule by taking care of something that’s been on their to-do list for far too long: fix that leaky sink, bring the dog in for a grooming, or even take care of their piled up laundry.

While at first it may not seem romantic, truly keying into your Valentine’s needs is one of the most thoughtful things you can do. If possible, incorporate an element of surprise by completing the tasks without letting your Valentine know ahead of time.


Image from SkyWrite

If you are with the type who believes love should be shouted from the rooftops:

  • Take your loved one to a concert at an intimate venue, and have the band or performer dedicate a song to show the whole crowd how much you care about your sweetie.
  • Get tickets to the big game and arrange to surprise your partner with personal message scrolling across the scoreboard. Perhaps if you’re lucky, you’ll even catch a moment on the kiss-cam!
  • Spell it out…across the sky! Skywriting a love note is a grand gesture that will leave no doubts as to the enormity of your feelings.


his & hers hiball set

Image from Kate Spade

For those who think Valentine’s Day is all about spending one-on-one time with your loved one, pair a set of his-and-hers hi-ball glasses with a favorite cocktail, a pre-made playlist of sexy music, a selection of chocolate desserts….and enough time to enjoy them. Even after your special night together, every time you use the glasses you’ll have a sensory reminder of your special evening together. And keeping romance alive is always Emma Approved!