For Valentine’s Day, I opened a tiny box from my amazing boyfriend of one year that included the nicest and most expensive piece of jewelry I have ever owned in my entire life. The problem? I absolutely hate it! It is a truly nice necklace, but it’s nothing I would ever choose for myself. I had a sick feeling in my stomach when I took off my grandmother’s beautiful necklace from the 1940s — one of my dearest heirlooms — to replace it with an over-priced department store find. I’m also a bit confused since I found out it was purchased during my 45-minute drive to where he lives. Quick decision, maybe? So, here lies the question: do I tell him what I really think or do I continue to wear this necklace that honestly makes me cringe? I know he works hard, and the thought was there; I just don’t know if it’s inappropriate to suggest that we exchange it together and both pick out something else, or if I should just keep my mouth shut. My mom even joked about the possibility that this same situation may happen if he ever proposes, which we both talk about often. I’m the kind of girl who would be happier with a $50 vintage piece of jewelry than anything that’s $400 and brand-spankin’-new. — Trying To Be Grateful
You know, gift-giving is a skill that some people simply don’t have and aren’t always terribly interested in cultivating. And it’s really a shame that in our culture giving material gifts is one of the main ways we express love and appreciation. Luckily, your question isn’t one about whether your boyfriend loves you or not, or even whether he pays attention to your taste and style. You just don’t want to be stuck wearing something you don’t like, and the good news is: your boyfriend doesn’t want that for you either!
I’m from the school of thought that believes it’s best to nip bad gift-giving in the bud early … at least when it comes to significant others and in dealing with presents you feel obligated to wear. If you don’t start training your boyfriend now, just imagine the ugly jewelry and clothes you might be stuck wearing the rest of your life. (And your mom is totally right about the possibility of your boyfriend picking out an engagement ring you hate.) Sister, you can’t let that happen! So start training your boyfriend now by first telling him that while the necklace he got you is beautiful, and you love and appreciate the gesture, it really isn’t your style and you want to be able to wear something from him that represents how special he is to you. Then suggest you return the necklace and pick out something together so he can get a better idea how things look on you and what you like. It may seem a bit awkward, but you’ll both be relieved when you have a gift you genuinely love.
In the future, make it easy on your boyfriend and start dropping big hints as you get closer to special occasions. Do you have some favorite jewelry designers or vintage shops that sell the sort of stuff you like? If so, make sure your boyfriend knows about them! Send him links and take him inside the stores so he can watch you try stuff on. If you pass something in the window of a store when you’re out and about together, mention how much you like it. Say things like, “I love vintage jewelry because it’s so unique!” or “Smaller, more delicate jewelry looks better on me since I’m so petite.” It’s not being “princessy”; it’s actually being thoughtful (as long as you’re not shoving it down his throat, that is). It’s taking some of the stress out of gift-giving — a skill your boyfriend obviously needs help with — and giving him some genuine ideas.
And since you’re already talking marriage so much anyway, your boyfriend would probably be relieved if you started cluing him in on the kind of engagement ring you want. Picking out that little piece of jewelry is one of the most nerve-wracking experiences for a guy, so take some of the anxiety out of it and just tell him what you want! It’s as easy as saying: “One day you may want to propose to me and when that happens, I want you to know what sort of ring I might like.” And if he’s the kind of poor, lost soul who runs to a department store to buy your Valentine’s Day gift minutes before he sees you, I guarantee, the best gift you can give him is a little push in the right direction.
*Do you have a relationship/dating question I can help with? Send me your letters at firstname.lastname@example.org.