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A Gentleman’s Guide to Asking Your Wife’s Friends and Family for Gift Ideas

Learn to straddle that delicate line between ‘considerate partner’ and ‘oblivious idiot’ this festive season

In the event that your significant other has at least one friend, parent or even coworker with whom they occasionally swap short batches of words, you — a guy who just wants to see the person he loves smile earnestly when they accept your gift — are in luck: These are the surest sources of accurate gifting intel you’re likely to find. And yeah, sure, you could bypass all that and just go straight to the source (the shortest distance between two points is, I grant you, a straight line, Ebenezer) but it’s the holiday season: wouldn’t you rather surprise your S.O. with a triangle?

As College Magazine notes, “A girl who doesn’t tell her mom what she wishes you’d get her probably doesn’t exist.” Which is a silly thing to say, but it’s important to note that asking your S.O.’s mom for a gift idea is a sneaky way to kill two birds with one stone: “Butter up your (possible) future mother-in-law and get that critical intel,” reports College Magazine. “You’ll get double brownie points: from your girlfriend for nailing her gift and from her mother, who now thinks you’re the most thoughtful boyfriend out there for finding out exactly what your girlfriend wants.”

Every relationship stage is different, though: Folks who’ve been together for a few months have vastly different relationships with their significant other’s friends or family than, say, a couple who’ve been together for 20 years. With that in mind, we asked Aileen Avery, author of Gift Rap: The History and Art of Gift Giving, for advice on when and how to ask your significant other’s family or friends for gift ideas, depending on how long you’ve been together, and also, how much you still feel you need to butter up your mother-in-law.

You’ve Only Been on a Few Dates

This is the stage in a relationship when you’re not even sure if you’re in a relationship. Which is why, according to Avery, it’s really too soon to be asking friends and family for gift ideas — not to mention, she says, that “a gift would be weird at this point anyway. It means you’re trying too hard, unless you’ve been invited to their party. Then, it’s okay to ask friends and family about gift ideas.”

You’ve Been Together for a Few Months

The “honeymoon phase” of the relationship is nothing short — hopefully — of miraculous, and if you’ve ever been in it, you know that it’s all about momentum. That’s why Avery tells me that this is the best time to ask friends and family for gift ideas. “It shows you care and you want to get something they’d like and appreciate,” she says. “You’re doing your homework.” 

As for how to broach this subject, Avery suggests asking a series of probing, indirect questions. “My husband, when were dating, our first dating anniversary he scheduled this amazing champagne balloon flight, but he didn’t know I was terrified of heights,” she says. “He never thought to ask.” Hence, she suggests asking things like:

  • What’s her favorite flower?
  • What’s her favorite color?
  • Which does she like more, chocolate or vanilla?
  • Does she like big, clunky jewelry or fine, delicate jewelry?
  • What would you say her style is?
  • If given the choice, would she go skydiving or to a spa?

For men, she suggests asking about his hobbies, or what his favorite thing to do was when he was a teenager. “Does he have a favorite sports team, TV show, book or musician?” she says.

You’ve Been Together for a Few Years 

At this point, you should have a fairly good idea of what your significant other likes and dislikes. For that reason, Avery says that it’s a bit late in the relationship to be asking friends or family for gift ideas. “If you’ve been together for more than a year, [and you still have no idea what to get your S.O.], you’re not paying attention,” she chides. “Good gift-giving is about paying attention. Everyone talks about the things they like and don’t like. If you’re listening, you can take notes, and when a gift-giving occasion presents itself, you’ll have a ready-made list. While it’s never too late to become a good gift giver, it’s lame if you’re still asking their friends and family for ideas several years in a relationship. At this point, you have to do the work.”

You’ve Been Together for 20 Years 

First off, congratulations! Twenty years of a relationship is a gift in and of itself. In fact, your sustained relationship may be the direct result of years of great gift-giving! But probably not, since you’re still scrabbling around for ideas. 

Still, let’s be fair: Twenty years is a long-ass time and maybe you’re just a bit tired, so Avery has some advice for you. “At this point, it’s all about the way you ask the questions,” she says. By that, she means you should have some idea of what you want to get your S.O. already, and are using her friends or family as a barometer to help you hammer out the finer details. “‘Hey, I’m thinking about getting him or her this really cool leather jacket, what do you think?’” says Avery, as an example. “‘Do you think she’s going to look good in this?’” 

Basically, you should come to your partner’s family or friends with what-if ideas and use their opinion as a sounding board. “You should be saying things like: ‘This is what I’m going to do, what do you think?’” says Avery “That way you don’t look like you haven’t been paying attention for 20 years.” 

Which, let’s face it, is a pretty terrible look at any time of year.