When you first start dating it’s like a contest to see who can buy the other the most stuff. Spending all your cash feels like the perfect way to demonstrate your joy at being coupled up at Christmas time – and nothing says ‘I love you’ better than a giant pile of wrapping paper and a bankruptcy notice.
But then things get serious. And the festive season stops being about proving how much you adore your other half by buying them a different cuddly toy for each of the 12 days of Christmas. You’ve got other priorities now so you need a strategy to ensure it doesn’t swallow all your money, take over your home, and leave you queuing outside the divorce courts on Boxing Day morning. And I suggest that strategy looks something like this:
1. The budget
A strong mantra to live by when Christmas shopping is: Let’s not do anything we’re going to regret in January. Sure, that 75 inch television would bring a huge smile to his face, but not when you announce upon opening that as a result of this purchase, you will not be able to go on holiday again until the turn of the next millennium. (Also, if you want to have any actual conversations next year, I suggest you leave that thing in the shop). Nope, there comes a time when you need a firm and agreed budget to prevent everybody from going so crazy that you have to live on dry pasta until the next yuletide comes around. But it doesn’t take all the fun out of it – quite the opposite – with a successfully on-budget set of gifts comes the perfect opportunity for a Christmas high-five, and what could be better than that?
NB: In the end, happiness in long term relationships is predominantly demonstrated through high fives. If you don’t like them, I suggest you get out now.
2. The smaller the better
I haven’t looked at the stats but I am pretty confident that ‘clutter’ is the most common reason marriages end in divorce. Not adultery, not fundamentally disagreeing about the validity of Love Actually as a film (though I must admit, we have come close), but all that stuff that couples own but can’t figure out where to put. So when it comes to Christmas shopping your first thought (after deciding whether they’ll actually like the thing, of course) is how much space it will take up in your house. Because you’re going to have to live with it and you don’t want there to come a day when you’re shouting at him or her for owning something that you bought them. I’m pretty sure that ‘proving to be a bit of a dick’ is an available option on divorce papers too.
3. The bargain present
A close friend of number 2 is the gift which has been purchased on the proviso that it replaces a current offending belonging. It might be a t-shirt to replace the one with ‘FBI: Female Body Inspector’ written across it from his hilarious acronym phase, or perhaps it’s a pair of boxer shorts with a warning that if he doesn’t throw away the pair with so many holes in them that they’re nothing short of obscene, you’re going to call the police. These presents say ‘I love you but enough is enough’.
4. One for you, one for me
When you live in the same house, apart from going to the toilet, shaving your legs and stomping off upstairs because the other person has been SO UNREASONABLE as to fail to telepathically work out that you’d have liked them to dust the skirting boards while you were out, you do most things together. And you soon realise that if there’s a present you can buy them which can be enjoyed by more than one person at once, that person is most likely going to be you. And so you start to get clever. Tickets to plays you would both enjoy start finding their way onto your shopping list and subscriptions to TV packages that just happen to host your favourite shows as well as theirs suddenly look like ideal presents. You’re not being selfish, you’ve just found a way to both give and receive at exactly the same time and I think Father Christmas would be proud of you.