The holiday season can be a relationship tester. Expectations are high, especially if you intend to drag your significant other to meet the family for the first time or attend a holiday work party. These can be very stressful situations by themselves without the added pressure of buying a gift for that special person.

Gift givers, especially in new relationships, are faced with three options: over-spend to exceed expectations or cheap out and give a token gift or bail on the relationship entirely.

 When I was in college, my friend, Phyllis, attended a university upstate. She had her first serious boyfriend that semester and was anxiously anticipating the gift he would give her before students headed home for the holidays. When I met up with Phyllis for an afternoon of listening to music and munching on her grandmother’s sugar cookies, I asked what her boyfriend had gotten her for Christmas. There was no way that Phyllis could put a good spin on this one. “A frying pan,” she said. Sure, she liked to cook in her dorm room but that was the lamest boyfriend gift I had ever heard.

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A few years later I was living and working in Manhattan. My boyfriend at the time had planned to visit his parents in Switzerland over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays. We agreed to exchange gifts the day before he left for Europe. I had purchased and wrapped a beautiful shirt and tie for him, as well as a down vest. We had been dating since May. The relationship had cooled a bit after we returned from a vacation traipsing around Austria and Hungary in September. But still, it was the holidays! 

Apparently M had rushed into a department store after work before taking the subway uptown to my apartment. He asked to borrow some aluminum foil and was obviously wrapping something out in the hallway. When it was time to exchange gifts, I presented my expensive and thoughtful additions to his climbing-the-corporate-ladder wardrobe. M handed me a little foil-wrapped box which contained a pair of flimsy gold earrings. Okay, I thought, I can probably wear these earrings a couple of times before the posts break off. M promised that he would bring me something from his trip to Switzerland.

Ten days later, M arrived back in the U.S. and called to say that he was coming straight from Kennedy Airport to my apartment. I looked forward to seeing him. I was really looking forward to my present from Switzerland!  I was hoping for a Swatch watch (it was the 1980’s). But maybe it would be a selection of delicious Swiss chocolates. Or maybe he had picked out a gorgeous hand-knit Alpine sweater at an airport gift shop. 

M buzzed from downstairs. He climbed the four flights of stairs to my apartment lugging his two enormous suitcases. After a few minutes of chit-chat, I asked what he brought me from Switzerland. M got up from the couch and walked towards his large suitcase. Then he said, “No, it’s in this one,” and grabbed the even larger suitcase. Now I was anticipating a set of skis or a decorative painted wooden village. M unzipped the big suitcase and reached inside. He handed me a tiny envelope. Oh my gosh, did he buy me a ring?

I opened the tiny envelope to find a small round wooden refrigerator magnet with a tree design etched on the front. Are you kidding me? My immediate reaction was to throw the wooden refrigerator magnet directly at his blond head. But maybe this was a joke. I waited. That was the gift. Now who tops the list for receiving the lamest boyfriend gift? Our relationship ended in January. 

Kim Kovach is finally able to see the humor in this holiday gift memory. Happy holidays!