Love In A Box: Exploring The Symbolism Of Gifts In Romantic Relationships 

Gift Ideas | |
Updated On: December 15, 2023
Gifts In Romantic Relationships

When your girlfriend says she wants “something practical,” is it a mistake to take her at her word and give her a pizza oven, or should you have gone with a strand of pearls instead? (Answer: pearls…probably.) At their core, gifts are about strengthening relationships. So offering a present to someone you care about seems like par for the course. No reason to read too much into it, right? Not necessarily. 

Whether you consciously intend it or not, every gift you give is symbolic. This is especially true when the gift-giving happens between romantic partners. Because your partner will tend to read more into a gift rather than, say, a sibling or a neighbor, it’s worth taking the time to consider what your presents are saying about your relationship. Keeping reading to learn more about the symbolism of your gifts.  

A Sign Of Love Or Merely An Exchange?

Unsurprisingly, men and women have different views about the meaning of gifts. Women tend to give presents for emotional reasons. The item is a symbol of attachment. Because of that, they will expect something in return. (Guys, take note: reciprocity is important, particularly in the early stages of a relationship.) Men, on the other hand, tend to see gifts as more transactional. This can cause tension in a budding relationship. 

So, what do you do? Keep it simple. Flowers are a classic for a first date for good reason. They’re beautiful, yet not too extravagant, and thus convey the right amount of sentiment. Diamond earrings for a third date is, in most cases, too much too soon. To keep a new relationship moving in the right direction, the monetary cost and emotional investment of early gifts should be modest, and more or less equivalent. 

Related Reading: Gift-Giving In Relationships: A Complete Guide

What’s Your Motivation?

When it comes to romance, the mere act of offering a gift can indicate an escalation of the relationship. This is true for both genders but particularly true when men do the giving. Gifts are also used as an apology, another popular strategy among men. And, of course, gifts are offered to celebrate special occasions like anniversaries

Women are more likely to give a gift to show commitment. Men are more likely to offer gifts early on as a means of signaling the desire to take things to the next level. Shy men in particular use gifts as a way to show interest. 

It’s worth repeating that early gifts should not be too grand to avoid looking like you’re trying to buy affection. In a more advanced relationship, gifts are also a way to promote loyalty to a mate, something known in science circles as mate guarding. So, for example, a birthstone as a gift for an established partner shows thoughtfulness rather than seeming over the top.

As the relationship progresses, reciprocity is less important and a larger investment is warranted but thoughtfulness and personal meaning should always take top priority. In sum, the motivation for gift-giving differs based on the gender of the giver and also the stage of the relationship. 

Happy Couples

Impact Of A Gift

Considering that gifts carry significant symbolism, it will come as no surprise that a bungled gift can have a serious impact on a relationship. Negative feelings about presents can cause the relationship to break down. As mentioned above, men tend to offer gifts to escalate matters but if the gift is too lavish too early on, the receiver may feel anxious, pressured, or manipulated. A better way to bring about closeness is by engaging in an exciting activity. 

Related Reading: Top 10 Date Night Gift Ideas Any Couple Will Love

Undertaking an adventure together is a much surer path to forging a connection than pricey presents. Learning a new physical skill together, such as kayaking or surfing; hitting thrill rides at an amusement park; or laughing it up at a comedy club are all excellent ways to bond and build desire early on. 

Need a couple of cheap date ideas? You could plan a scavenger hunt, volunteer, or test out some new recipes together. Once the relationship is established, gifts offer a way to reaffirm attachment and show appreciation. 

Worth The Splurge?

Costly gifts early on aren’t the best path to success in a relationship, but how about later on? To maintain a long-term relationship, gifts still play a significant role. No matter what conventional wisdom claims, research shows that long-time partners tend to prefer sentimental gifts to practical ones (hence the pearls rather than the pizza oven), and once again, emotional investment should be considered. 

Even in a well-established relationship, no matter how much the item costs, if the receiver will not appreciate it, it is not worth the splurge. Even and especially when you’ve known your partner for years, a playlist of nostalgic songs can mean a lot more than the latest, greatest electronic gadget. 

People often say, “It’s nothing,” when they offer a gift, but that simply isn’t true. Be sure your gifts are sending the right message by keeping them simple and thoughtful early in the relationship. Also, keep in mind that experiences can be a better gift option than material things when you’re just getting to know someone. Mature relationships may warrant grander offerings, but only if the receiver actually wants them. Personal meaning wins over splash every time. Something as simple as a handwritten love note or even a bow stuck on your forehead can be just as romantic, if not more so when it comes to showing your love. 

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