What's the Meaning Behind His Gift?

The Unspoken Meaning Behind His Gifts and What They Say About Your Relationship

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You're in a relationship that's taking off and you're wondering if this is it -- if this is the one that will lead to long-term commitment. One way to evaluate what you mean to your partner is to look at the gifts he's given you for your birthday, major holidays, or Valentine's Day. There's a meaning behind the type of gifts you receive, and each one provides insight into how he really feels about you.

How Important Is Cost?

Although the monetary value of a gift isn't always the most important factor, most experts on dating and relationships agree that the man who spends money on good quality (not costume) jewelry is saying something significant to the woman in his life.

According to dating website eHarmony:

Guys who ‘just don’t care’ usually will not spend money on jewelry for their girl. When a guy buys a woman jewelry, it usually means he is committed and in it for the long haul. This is especially true if he buys diamonds...."

UK relationship expert Dr. Pam Spurr agrees:

If he's given you a nice piece of jewellery then he's seriously committed to your relationship. Men just don't give the good stuff unless you mean something special.

Unique and Personal

The gift needn't be all that expensive to indicate that the giver values the recipient. What matters more is that care and attention are evident in the selection of the gift. When the recipient opens up a gift that is specific and personally meaningful, it tells her that the giver has paid attention to her wants and needs. It deepens the relationship with an unspoken affirmation: "I recognize your uniqueness and I understand you."

In an interview with the UK newspaper The Sun, psychologist and relationship counselor Ron Bracey explained that gifts reveal whether or not our partners 'get' us. What makes for a successful gift? Bracey said:

It should show thought and also that you have taken an interest in them and what they like. The thought put into it is much more important than the money spent, so this is why it can cause a real problem between a couple if the person receiving the present feels their partner got it wrong.

A 2006 Washington Post article on the meaning and history of gift-giving revealed how complex the process is and how the act itself can expose and hurt the giver:

At its core, gift-giving involves risk, said Mark Osteen, an English professor at Loyola College in Baltimore. There is a risk in giving the wrong gift.... there is the psychological loss of having the recipient conclude the donor does not know her very well.

Also quoted was Lee Anne Fennell, an associate professor of law at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign who sees gift-giving as another way of establishing emotional ties between the giver and the recipient. "The gift is about people participating imaginatively in each other's lives," Fennell said.

When a Gift Is a Bad Sign

What if the gift shows little imagination or care? It may be a red flag that the relationship is in trouble and will not stand the test of time.

A sad glimpse into one such relationship was provided by Jenny Sanford in her 2010 memoir, Staying True, which detailed her collapsing marriage to her unfaithful spouse, South Carolina governor Mark Sanford. (Sanford made headlines by not only cheating on his wife while in office but also confessing that his Argentine mistress was his 'soulmate.') In her review of Staying True, writer Ruth Marcus highlights one telling incident:

Mark and Jenny are newlyweds, and it is Jenny's birthday. He gives her a hand-drawn card -- with a picture of half a bicycle. For Christmas, another card -- with a picture of the other half. "Months later, he delivered the gift to me, a used purple bike he had purchased for $25!" Jenny's initial response, the right one, is "disbelief. . . . In time, however, I came to know this was just part of who he was."

Nearly every woman can tell her own Jenny Sanford story of receiving an impersonal, insensitive, or downright cheap gift. (Such as a colander for Christmas, given by a college boyfriend who -- after six years together --had clearly lost interest in "participating imaginatively".) When we're paying attention, we can read between the lines as writer and political analyst Joanne Bamberger did:

There’s a reason I’m not married to the boyfriend who thought it was a good idea to give me a set of kitchen knives at Christmas, a coffee maker for my birthday and thought it was OK to continue seeing his ex-girlfriend “just as friends” when he was dating me! Clearly, there was something missing in terms of his grasp on what’s acceptable in a healthy, two-way relationship.

Are We Being Selfish?

We've been taught to "never look a gift horse in the mouth," and when it comes to friends and relatives, that old adage holds true. But if you're in a relationship that you're unsure about yet you're eager to make a lasting commitment, pause for a moment. Think back on what your partner has given you and reflect on the meaning behind those gifts.

Make sure that what's passed between the two of you has been fair, equitable, and mutual -- and that what you've received acknowledges, respects, and values who you truly are -- before you give your heart.