One of my favorite things to do is to find little treats for my girlfriend when I'm out and about — and she does the same for me. We got
so into this routine that we had to put a temporary ban on buying each other fancy chocolate because we were both so sugar high in the evenings that neither of us would sleep. It's safe to say we enjoy treating each other. So, when we decided to try out an experiment where we exchanged gifts every day for a week to see if it would improve our relationship, I was really excited to see what would happen.
Compared to other couples, we don't open many "big" presents from each other. My friends get jewelry, perfume, or clothes from partners, which really isn't our thing. We've been together for almost three years and we're very fluid with our finances, so one of us is always buying dinner for the other and we regularly get each other little treats — like the chocolate — that we see when we're out. But for some reason those don't feel like "gifts" to me. That's why the idea of saying "This is a present for you," every day for a week felt like a challenge, in a good way.
For some couples, exchanging presents is how they show their affection, but receiving gifts isn't either of our love languages. "A love language is what one wants and needs from a relationship to feel loved," Laura Bilotta, dating coach and matchmaker at
Single In The City, tells Bustle. "There are five love languages. Words of affirmation, acts of service, receiving gifts, quality time, physical touch."
While spending quality time together is usually how we show love in our relationship, that doesn't mean receiving gifts couldn't have a positive effect on our relationship. "I think that gifts given as tokens as love or appreciation are very nice and well received,"
relationship therapist Aimee Hartstein, LCSW, tells Bustle. "However, sometimes gifts are given instead of love or affection and those are not as well received. Some people have an easier time giving material things instead of emotional attention. The person receiving the gifts may wonder why they don’t feel happier or more appreciative of all the gifts, and if that’s the case it may be that they are really yearning for some love or attention instead of something material. However, if both are present in your relationship, then that probably feels good to both the giver and the receiver."
So, with a mission to remain present in our relationship as we embarked on our experiment, here's how we fared during a week of exchanging gifts.
Day 1: What My Partner Gave Me
When I first told my partner about the experiment, she seemed surprised. My work typically involves boxes of sex toys showing up at our front door without notice rather than romantic things. But she's sentimental and loves surprises, so she was excited.
Day one started off strong. She presented me with a tiny little sculpture of two penguins holding hands. I don't even know where she found it on such short notice (I only told her about the experiment about 36 hours before we started), but it was perfect because penguins are our thing. We also have a pretty small apartment, so something little to add to one of our bookcases fits in perfectly. It is a super cute idea, and I started to have an inkling that she would one-up me in this experiment (spoiler alert: she did).
I quickly realized that this experiment was a good way to finally get all of those things that I had seen and thought, "Oh, she would love that!" but then had forgotten about immediately after.
Aromatherapy Associates has amazing bath oils and other nice-smelling things, but I always feel like they're too expensive to buy for yourself. I've been wanting to try its sleep balm roller in my favorite scent — and thought my partner would love it, as she likes the brand and we both have trouble sleeping.
OK, this is clearly a gift for both of us, but she still seemed genuinely delighted, despite the fact that I will be using it, too.
Day 2: What My Partner Gave Me
On day two, we were still going strong with the romantic, thoughtful gifts. My partner came home with a beautiful bouquet. We try to keep flowers in the flat anyway, but these were definitely a notch up from the $5 options we normally buy. Also, they smelled amazing, and because they were from a real flower shop, I can confirm that they are still alive and blooming more than a week later.
I'd been meaning to get a photo of us framed, because we don't have any around our place. I actually ordered the frame the day before and thanks to the wonders of Amazon Prime's one-day shipping, the gift was ready to go the next day. This gift probably checked off the most boxes in terms of being thoughtful, romantic, and affordable.
Day 3: What My Partner Gave Me
On day three, my partner presented me with an entire bag of the best vegan cheese. If you think this gift isn't romantic, you are so wrong. As any vegan will know, good vegan cheese is amazing and bad vegan cheese tastes like sadness and chemicals, so this stuff is like gold to me. They don't sell it everywhere, and it's really expensive. I love it so much and wouldn't have bought it for myself.
Also, since my partner is not vegan, it's an extra sweet gift. Although, it may be somewhat of a gift for her, too, because it means she doesn't have to eat the horrible plasticky vegan cheese that I usually get at our local supermarket. Win-win.
Secret Cinema runs immersive cinema nights in London, where it takes over a huge location and basically transforms it into a film. It's like a whole-night spectacular. We went to
Moulin Rouge last year and loved it, so when I saw tickets on pre-sale for Romeo and Juliet, I knew it would be the perfect gift. The bad part is it is hella expensive, especially because I went for the pricier option with real seating, because we are old. But it was too good of a gift to pass up, and it meant that I could use the present that I had initially planned for this day on the next day.
Day 4: What My Partner Gave Me
When I mentioned to my partner that I was thinking of getting a manicure and pedicure before our upcoming trip, she suggested that she pay for it as a gift. This made me happy for two reasons. One, I got to have the mani-pedi guilt-free. And two, I began to suspect she was
also running low on gift ideas, so I felt less guilty about the fact that I was starting to worry about what to get her next at this point.
It was starting to become clear that we were so used to picking up little treats for each other or buying things together that figuring out
what counted as a "gift" was difficult for us.
Luckily, even though I was starting to run low on ideas, I had the present I was going to give her the day before on hand — a scented candle from her favorite scented candle place. It's a silly thing, but she loves them and we tend to use them a lot. But because they're expensive, we normally only have them in our home when real grown-ups give them to us.
Day 5: What My Partner Gave Me
Despite her protestations, I refused to let my partner get me an
additional gift on the fifth day since it was the day we were leaving for the coast for my birthday, which was a gift from her before we agreed to do the experiment. She had already paid for train tickets and an amazing hotel room that has a huge bathtub in the bedroom and fancy products for me to steal. I insisted that this was the only gift she needed to give me on this day, but she bought me coffee for the train anyway. I grabbed us nice lunches for the journey, so it all seemed to even out.
I worried a bit about how I would organize presents while we were away, but then I had a stroke of genius when I saw a little pack of fancy teas. We're both massive tea drinkers — both black and herbal — and we drink them day and night. Because she had arranged such a fancy trip, when I saw some fancy tea I thought it would be a great addition to the weekend. The tea at the hotel
also turned out to be fancy, but we drank the present tea anyway. It was lovely, and we didn't need to worry about rationing the tea bags.
Day 6: What My Partner Gave Me
After one shower at the hotel, I immediately fell in love with its soap, shampoo, and conditioner. Normally I would just take them home when we were leaving, but they were full-size bottles and there was a note saying we'd be charged if we took them (ugh!), but that they could be purchased at the front desk. I was sad. My partner then said she would get me the body wash as my gift for the day.
I was torn about this, because it smelled like happiness and all that is pure and luxurious,
but I knew how expensive it was — so I said "OK!" but made a mental note to Monzo her half the money later. (Monzo is like Venmo in the U.K.) I knew she wouldn't like that I did that, but this week was getting incredibly expensive.
On day six, we walked 13.5 miles along the coastline and through various villages. It was stunningly beautiful, but we were both exhausted by the end. Having not planned a present for day six (whoops!), I treated us to fancy drinks when we were so tired we couldn't walk anymore. She had a couple of Bellinis, but I'm tee-total so I had more tea and a mocktail.
Day 7: What My Partner Gave Me
In her final act of showing me up on gifts, we got home from our trip and I was presented with an amazing vegan cookbook that
she had obviously bought and wrapped before we even left. I was happy but also ashamed at my lack of planning for the second half of the week.
Although, she is by far the better cook in our relationship, so I wondered why
I was being presented with a cookbook. She's taken cooking classes and her food is always refined and delicious, whereas mine is usually "rustic" or "awful," so I think this was either a hint for me to get better or actually just a gift for her. Either way, it's full of vegan goodies, and I'm on board.
Finally, at the end of a week full of food, presents, walking, and travel, I went for the ultimate gift — I got us delivery. When we returned back to London on a five-hour train (nearly six hours with delays), both of us were dead on our feet. Also, I had forgotten to get a gift for the last day. So, on day seven, in the Uber home from the station, I ordered us pho. It was at our place 10 minutes after we got home, and was truly the greatest gift of all. (Except for all of the clearly superior ones that she got me.)
In some ways this experiment felt like an eye-opener, but in other ways it made me feel like my partner and I are already on the right track. There's joy in having something to open, an actual physical present from someone you love. But you can also end up with knee-jerk purchases just for the sake of purchasing things, like that expensive (but amazing) body wash. Even in our choices of gifts this week — candles, body washes, food, drinks — it was clear that we both like things we can
use, rather than just have. Buying something that just looks nice is really out of both of our comfort zones.
It also made me realize how blurry the definition of "gift" really is. Every day, it felt like there were tons of little "gifts" that we got each other — like picking up a latte or buying the nice olive oil for a change or paying for each other's shopping — everyday things that were definitely tokens of affection, but I'd never thought of as gifts before. But being more tuned into how often we do these things for each other was great, because it showed me just how much of an effort we're constantly making for each other — and it also let me know that we should be showing more gratitude and appreciation for the little things we do. They are gifts, after all.
If we had counted things like giving each other a foot rub or buying a coffee, this week would have been filled with dozens of little gifts. Ultimately, whatever couples do to show each other affection — big or small — shouldn't be taken for granted. Our relationship seems to be filled with lots of little gifts, gestures, and displays — and I really like it that way, even if there's not always something big to open.