It's easy to remember the bad gifts you've received; they get burned into your brain, unintentionally representing the ways in which you feel you are misunderstood. These gifts make us cringe when we think of them, not because they're not nice gifts or because there's anything wrong with them, but because they felt impersonal, or because they seemed like an after-thought. To create an opportunity to mediate on the positives this gift-giving season, I asked my social network to share with me the best gifts they received from their partners and why. As I suspected, the gifts that had the most heartwarming effects were not necessarily expensive or rare, but rather thoughtful and personal.
The gifts that people remembered as the "the best" were gifts that showed them their partner really listened, that they put a lot of thought or energy into, and that showed their partner's objective was not to give them something superficial as much as it was to give them an experience of feeling loved. And as someone who recently had an opportunity to move multi-pack socks sets off the triggering list of bad gifts, when a partner noticed that my socks never matched and remedied my faux-pas with a nice collection of matching socks, I can attest that if given in the right circumstance, anything can really hit that generous gift spot. Here are some of the most touching gifts people got from their partners and why:
1. Nancy, 34
"My husband threw me a surprise party that totally surprised me. He invited all of my friends and family, picked a venue that he knew I wanted to try out, and took care of all the logistics so I could just enjoy the night. He knows I get stressed about planning events, and he knew I was really missing my friends and family, so it meant so much to me that he gave me this night."
2. Molly, 31
"I told my partner that when I was growing up I always dreamed of going to the Jingle Ball concert in New York City. All of my friends would go, and I was never allowed to because my parents were strict. It was such a small silly thing, a memory I told him in passing, but for Christmas he got me a Jingle Ball T-shirt and it was the most thoughtful thing anyone has ever done for me."
3. Tracy, 29
"When I was still living with my parents, before I had my own place, I was dating someone who had a hug black map on their bedroom wall, which I loved. I said that when I finally got my own apartment, I wanted to get a big black globe. When I finally got my own place, they showed up with a black globe on move-in day. I never forgot that gift, I thought it was amazing."
4. Rosa, 50
"My husband bought me my own tool belt, and I loved it! I could take care of things myself, in a very organized manner."
5. Assia, 27
"The best gift I ever got was a piece of jewelry that I sold after we broke up. It gave the gift a whole new life cycle."
6. Claire, 33
"When I started working from home, I told my husband that all I needed to complete the picture was a pair of lived-in overalls. For my birthday he surprised me with a pair of vintage-worn overalls. I wear them almost every day and can't believe he remembered."
7. Paul, 44
"My ex had a Superman bobble-head doll made with my face on it. I'm a big Superman fan, so this touching effort really stuck with me. No one has ever done anything like that for me and I genuinely love it."
8. Taylor, 23
"My boyfriend got me a toy model of my dream car. It's just a small, plastic thing, but with it he gave me a note that said 'looking forward to driving into the future with you' and it made a gift that was already sweet sweeter. I didn't even know he was paying attention when I told him about the car in the first place!"
9. Kyle, 21
"My boyfriend got me an InstantPot so that we could spend more time cooking together. We use it to meal prep for the week, it's useful and thoughtful and I love it."
10. Micha, 32
"I was going through a hard time in my career and my girlfriend got me a book of rejection letters that famous people had received. It made me feel better and it made me feel deeply supported at a time when I didn't even realize I needed it."
11. Justin, 40
"I was losing a bid on eBay for something I really needed (it's boring, it was a car part) and I couldn't go up any higher in the auction. In the last minutes of the auction, someone came in and outbid everyone by a long shot. I was really upset and stressed out. But on my birthday, I opened the door to find the part on my porch. My girlfriend who was with me when my car broke was secretly watching the auction and was the one who got the bid."
To be totally honest I was surprised by how modest or casual that the most memorable gifts were. I thought for sure that I would get some messages about diamonds and fancy vacations, and other items that wouldn't be relatable. But the reality is that the best gifts to give your partner are gifts that show you care, not that you spent a lot of money.