You. Fucked. Up.
You’re kind of like Scrooge without the ghostly hallucinations, or the Grinch before his cardiac anomaly. Or maybe you’re like Hans Gruber if you happen to consider Die Hard a Christmas movie (some do not). In other words, you ruined Christmas and now you’ve got to make it right.
Enter the apology gift. Sure, you may have forgotten this person yesterday, but you might still be able to make it up to them if you play your cards right. In this vain hope, here’s a bit of help from a psychoanalyst and a gift-giving expert. Consider these tips carefully, though, as apology gift-giving is far more delicate than any other kind of gift-giving because — and I can’t stress this enough — holy shit, you fucked up.
The Psychology of Apologizing
“The risk of apologizing with a gift is that you miss the essence of an apology, which is showing that you understand the impact of what you did wrong,” explains Prudy Gourguechon, a psychiatrist and past president of the American Psychoanalytic Association. She explains that the three key parts of any apology are that you acknowledge the damage done, that you show some remorse and that you display some intention to do differently in the future. With a gift, you run the risk of muddying the issue, or worse, it may look like you’re trying to buy them off to let you off the hook, which comes across as really shitty and self-centered. As Gourguechon stresses, “An appropriate apology shouldn’t be about the person apologizing, it should be about the person who was injured.”
So, should you ever get an apology gift? Well, maybe, if you can do it right. “It’s a gesture, and that’s good, but you should be careful and thoughtful about it,” explains gift expert Aileen Avery, author of Gift Rap: The History and Art of Gift Giving.
No Gift Cards
Seriously, if you’re giving a gift as an apology, a gift card is almost never going to work in your favor. Gift cards are fine for some people on Christmas, but in many ways, it’s an out for having to figure out a real gift. Remember, the key to an effective apology gift — if such a thing even exists — is that it’s thoughtful and personal. After all, you had a whole extra day to get the gift, so you better make it count!
Gourguechon explains, “If it smacks of anything pro forma or rote, it will convey the opposite of what you need to convey.” So if you’re getting someone an apology gift just because you know you’re supposed to get them a gift, it will come off as insincere. Instead, the motivation should be that you want to get them a gift and that you wish to make amends for having forgotten them. This is also why the whole “buy your wife roses after a fight” trope is totally ineffective. As Avery explains, “If this is the only way your wife gets roses, she’ll begin to think roses really suck.”
Make It Funny (Maybe)
You fucked up, so you basically want to find an effective way to say that. Sure, a heartfelt apology is nice, but it may be uncomfortable for you and the person that you forgot. It also might be too heavy for the moment and make things a bigger deal than they need to be. Because of that, Avery says that it might help to make light of the situation. “Say that your reindeer got stuck on the freeway, or something like that,” she suggests.
However, you should only joke around if you’re sure it will be well received. If you forgot your aunt on Christmas and you know that you should apologize, you better fucking apologize, but if you forgot to get a gift for your bro who surprised you with a great gift, then a joke might be the perfect way to say you fucked up. Essentially, it comes down to the relationship between the two of you, but don’t chicken out of a necessary apology simply because it’ll make you uncomfortable.
Anyway, for a funny gift, go for something that’s funny yet still personal — something that speaks to your friendship or a specific memory you share. An example of this might be a framed version of your most embarrassing photo together, or maybe it’s a celebrity Cameo from that 1990s singer you two used to rock out to together, so you can have that celebrity apologize on your behalf.
The Gift of an Experience
Giving an experience is always a great gift, and it’s particularly good for an apology gift because it essentially says, “Yes, I do want to spend time with you.” Many times, people reserve these kinds of gifts for their spouse or their parents, but if you buy a pair of Yankees tickets for that Yankees-loving cousin you forgot, it may be the perfect way to make things up to him. It may also help to bring you two a little closer so that you don’t forget them next year.
Or Maybe Get Them Nothing at All
While it may sound surprising, the best kind of apology gift may simply be the apology itself. If you’re sincere and humble about the apology and if you don’t say stuff like “I’m sorry if you felt hurt” — which puts it on them and doesn’t convey that you’re taking responsibility — then simply apologizing may be enough. As for the gift, Avery suggests that it may be more effective to wait a while. “There’s a trend for people giving gifts all year round and not around the holidays, because it’s so cliché and sometimes it feels forced, whereas it’s more sincere to give a gift just because you’re thinking about someone,” Avery explains. “Any gift at any time is a wonderful thing.”
So rather than rush off to buy a gift to make yourself feel better, you may be better off showing up to someone’s house in person — if that’s geographically possible — and simply offering up your sincerest apology, then surprising them in a month with something really nice and personal.
And if you can do that, well, they won’t think you’re such a Hans Gruber after all. Ho-ho-ho.