Last Christmas, my best friend's spouse bought her a pair of furry, leopard panties -- size XXL. He's never lived it down.
But even that unfortunate purchase is eclipsed by a gift one of my clients received from her mate: a pair of nose-hair clippers, sent, with love, from "The Nose Hair Fairy."
The truth is, the holiday season can be a hazardous one on the homefront. For many couples, gift giving is a minefield of potential conflict.
Why? For some people what's inside that gift-wrapped box is something that can't be measured by a credit-card statement -- love. For these people, nothing says, "I love you" quite like the rustling of tissue paper.
Of course, not everyone equates loving with gifting. And therein lies both the problem and, mercifully, the solution. What we perceive as a gesture of love is entirely subjective. Unload my friend Alyson's dishwasher and she's over the moon. (Fix her dripping tap and she's yours for life.) Not me. After 14 years of marriage I still need to remind my hubby that while his attention to the dripping taps is great, for me nothing beats a few minutes of his undivided attention.
The thing is, we speak love in different languages. Specifically, we speak love in five different languages.
Dr. Gary Chapman revolutionized couples therapy when he first described what he calls "The 5 Love Languages" (Words of affirmation, Acts of service, Receiving gifts, Quality time, Physical Touch). Many a marriage has been saved thanks to his insight. Dr. Chapman suggests that in order to have our intimacy needs met, we need to know which love language speaks to us. (It doesn't hurt if you learn to speak your spouse's language, too.)
Picture yourself as a giant receiver with a tuner set to a specific frequency. If your mate is set to a different frequency, all you get is static on the line. You don't have to vibrate on the same frequency as your loved one, but knowing how you hear love, and how he does, helps avoid miscommunication.
So, while you may feel loved when your mate presents you with pretty parcels, his channel might be set to physical affection, or an act of service (doing his laundry for him), or your undivided attention, or affirmative phrases, like, "I love you."
Becoming fluent in your own and your darling's dialect is a good way to downgrade holiday gift-giving disasters. So...
1. Learn your language. Go to http://www.5lovelanguages.com/ and figure out your own frequency. Is it gifts? If so, own it. Appreciate that your mate may not be speaking the same language, though, and help the poor guy out. If you were visiting a foreign country you'd take a translation-dictionary, right? Similarly, provide your mate with a primer. Spell out what you'd like to receive--leaving nothing to chance (no cryptic messages left in dog-eared jewelry ads). Don't think that's romantic? Get over it. Nothing is as romantic as being truly heard.
2. Learn your lover's language. If a box with a satin bow sends shivers up your spine, great. But it may not for her. Attune your receiver so you hear love in her language. Airing out your hockey equipment could have been a stunning act of sacrifice, for her. Spooning you while you watched late-night news might have been downright steamy in her books.
Listen, the bottom line is that love comes in many currencies and we'll all be a lot richer if we learn to cherish it in all its guises.
For The Man Who Lives In A Less-Than-Perfect Climate: A practical yet stylish gift. He'll want to wear this slim-fitting coat every day. It protects against mother nature and makes a fella look instantly handsome as he dashes out the door to meet his bros. Price: $169 Available At: <a href="http://www.benshermanusa.com" target="_hplink">Ben Sherman</a>
For The Next Don Cherry: Do you know a guy who never misses a hockey game? Are they in four fantasy hockey leagues? Does he often drink beers with his bros at the pub? When he's got to go to a corporate event, give him these cufflinks as a reminder of his love for hockey. It's a small treat at the end of his sleeve. Price: $100 Available At: <a href="http://www.greenshag.com" target="_hplink">Green Shag</a>
For The Movie Buff: Why so serious? Fashion doesn't always have to be button-ups and ties. This T-shirt depicting one of our favourite late actors, Heath Ledger, is not only a memory of 'The Dark Night' (which is an awesome movie), it's a cool guy look. Price: $40 Available At: <a href="http://www.thebay.com" target="_hplink">The Bay</a>
For The Outdoorsy Type: Your rugged man can trek mountain sides in the country and large staircases in the city in these stylin' boots. And thanks to the flannel lining, his ankles will stay warm. Price: $160 Available At: <a href="http://www.stevemadden.com" target="_hplink">Steve Madden</a>
For The Collegiate: Give him a library card and some glasses to match this sweater. You'll definitely want to take him home to mom if he's looking all spiffy and pulled together in a cardigan. Bonus points if he's able to rock the button-up/tie combo under it. Price: $110 Available At: <a href="http://bananarepublic.gapcanada.ca/" target="_hplink">Banana Republic</a>
For The Everyday Cool Guy: Grey looks good on everybody. Grey is also an extremely attractive colour. It says I'm casual, but still well-dressed. And this waffle crew tee is the definition of casual. Price: $35 Available At: <a href="http://www.gapcanada.ca" target="_hplink">The Gap</a>
For The Guy Who's Going Places: He'll look sharp in this Oxford shirt. It's business casual and you know it's going to fit well. With dress pants or denim, your man will look slick. Price: $56 Available At: <a href="http://www.thebay.com" target="_hplink">The Bay</a>
For The Classics Lover: BRO-gues -- they're having a moment in the street style fashion world, being showcased under cuffed pants and flaunted around in fashion magazines. They're a refreshed take on the classic look that any man can pull off. You'll be thinking of Don Draper next time you see a guy in these babies. Price: $158 Available At: <a href="http://www.kennethcole.com" target="_hplink">Kenneth Cole</a>
For The Man Who Hates Doing Laundry: Your man won't have to wash these pants for a year if he doesn't want to, and when he does decide to wash them (in a washing machine), they'll show signs of wear and tear that have been created naturally. (The way to wash these sweet jeans on a more regular basis is to put them in the freezer -- no jokes.) Price: $290 Available At: <a href="http://shop.acnestudios.com" target="_hplink">Acne Studios</a>
For The Corporate Guy: If he means business and works at a corporation, he'll probably benefit from a tie. Steer clear of the zany wacky prints and go for a classic look like Burberry. Who's the boss? He is (well, at least he'll look like one). Price: $150 Available At: <a href="http://www.harryrosen.com" target="_hplink">Harry Rosen</a>
For The Man Who Carries It All On His Shoulder: Wool and leather working together make a simply amazing bag. It's as manly as bags go, and because it can hold a laptop or iPad, he can look stylish even on-the-go. Price: $250 Available At: <a href="http://www.filson.com" target="_hplink">Filson</a>
For The Casual Man: This sleek shoe is a definite everyday item for the casual cool guy. It looks pulled together and not too pretentious. They can be worn everywhere from the bar to the grocery store and will look nice poking out from under a pair of jeans. Price: $100 Available At: <a href="http://www.benshermanusa.com" target="_hplink">Ben Sherman</a>
For The Fitness Enthusiast: Say goodbye to those ironic gym T-shirts. This one is tightly fit and is well-designed, so it will last through any of his workouts (even when he's pumping iron). Price: $64 Available At: <a href="http://shop.lululemon.com" target="_hplink">Lululemon</a>
For The Man's Man: Oh, the flannel. We loved it in the 90s and we love it now. It looks nice layered and on its own. It makes a man look tough and lumberjack-y. He can pair his stubble with a flannel and look super awesome. Price: $60 Available At: <a href="http://www2.marks.com/" target="_hplink">Mark's</a>
Follow Liza Finlay on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@LizaFinlay