"He wasn't nearly festive enough for you," Jake wisely pointed out.
Even through my tears, I could see the boy had a point. Despite the fact that I'm an atheist, I do love Christmas. True, throughout much of the year my dress and demeanor combine to make me resemble an aged Wednesday Addams, but come December I'm as giddy as a freshman girl at her first frat party.
Being in a mixed relationship -- one festive, the other not -- is problematic. The tedious aforementioned ex "didn't believe" in holidays and felt they were just a retailer-generated way for big business to bilk idiotic consumers out of their hard-earned money. (Translation: too cheap to buy gifts for anyone but himself.) The few presents he did pony up were uniformly ugly and completely inappropriate, the apex of that being a hideous, faux-Santa Fe turquoise bracelet the girl he was schtupping behind my back helped him select. I should've known then.
To make myself feel better, I asked some friends to share their crappy-gift histories.
"A dildo and a novelty watch," my pal Melissa answered.
As I could always use another dildo and only rarely have any idea what time it is, that didn't sound too bad to me, but it sure pissed her off.
Diana's now-ex did way worse: "Very chalky chocolate wrapped in kente cloth, allegedly from 'the motherland.' "
Um, yeah. First of all, food is rarely a good gift.
Disguising obviously aged, inferior food product in ethnic clothing to somehow up its value is just stupid, though it does show some imagination. "Hmmm ... OK, I've got three old Hershey bars and my dad's sweat-stained Nehru shirt -- she's gonna love this!"
Rare is the man who can purchase clothes wisely. I've received shiny polyester pajamas -- hello, yeast infection -- and countless ill-fitting naughty undergarments. Here's the thing, boys: If you're hell-bent on buying your gal scanties, don't. Skip Victoria's Secret (home of the dreaded poly PJs) and get her a gift certificate to Agent Provocateur (www.agentprovocateur.com) or La Perla (www.laperla.com).
Take a look at the prices first, so you don't leave her with some useless amount that'll cover half a thong. Normally I discourage gift certificates -- as tacky as a bag full of crumpled bills -- for someone you plan on romancing, but in the realm of the undergarment they're a necessity. Why? Because you guys always pick out the most uncomfortable crap -- nobody wants a piece of polyester lace wedged between her labia -- and inevitably get the sizing all wrong. Undergarments are generally -- thankfully -- not returnable.
The absolute worst gifts were items that made it clear that the gifter knew absolutely nothing about the person he was dating at the time. My buddy Victoria reported receiving "a pink and purple shirt with Dolce & Gabbana written all over it." Eww. How does one be gracious about something so fugly, I wondered? She wasn't.
"I refused to accept it," she replied.
Similarly, prezzies that the giver is actually giving himself are also a very, very bad idea. One bad-gift hall o' famer is the iPod my friend Emily scored off her husband. I know what you're thinking: Everyone wants an iPod, right? Wrong. Emily had told Husband Dearest several times that she absolutely loathed the 'Pod and couldn't imagine a more daft gift. Not only did she get one, but also he'd thoughtfully pre-loaded it with all his favorite songs.
Still other creepy offerings cited in my informal poll include nipple clamps, stuffed animals, a picture of his mom and Ugg boots. Please note: You are not, under any circumstances -- even if she wants them -- to purchase Ugg boots. I thought this hideous trend had run its course, but recent sightings have convinced me otherwise. Also, resist the poncho, unless she has specifically requested one. Appliances are similarly verboten.
I've pretty much covered what not to buy, but what is it that will turn your girl's head and compel her to fall to her knees whilst tongue-worshipping the altar of your genitals? Easy, schmeasy. Pretty much every lady asked wanted a professional massage. (Happy ending optional.)
Though it's hardly romantic, Andrea thought a once-a-month professional housecleaning would be an excellent item to unwrap under the tree. As I survey my post-Thanksgiving/pre-Xmas, detritus-packed home, I'd have to agree, though I'd prefer a naked houseboy. Jewelry, electronics and cashmere anything were also listed as predictable favorites.
Mini-vacations are another good idea. Melissa's girlfriend is taking her to New Orleans.
"We plan on getting drunk on fruity drinks and crawdads and telling each other secrets and beating up fratboys in dark corners of the French quarter," she says.
But be warned, not all trips are as fun as hers will be.
"A very controlling boyfriend once spirited me off on a 'surprise trip' for a long weekend," my buddy Julie told me. "He even packed my bag -- full of sexy clothes that I felt really uncomfortable in. I hated the entire thing; having no say, wearing what he wanted me to, feeling really cranky."
See what a difference intent makes? Two trips -- one fun-filled, the other Sleeping with the Enemy-style. Sounds corny, but the most important component of any gift is the thought behind it.
I'd designed my little Yuletide poll to include both genders, but aside from three brave men, only the ladies replied. Though the boys were under-represented, my pal Fred got hands-down the worst Christmas present imaginable. His so-called gift?
"The words, 'I think I'm pregnant ... and I don't know if it's yours.' "
Ho, ho and ho!
A version of this story first appeared in New York Press.