The Non-Expert

Credit: Jennifer Daniel for TMN

The Gift That Keeps on Giving

Experts answer what they know. The Non-Expert answers anything. This week we advise a reader on what he should buy his girlfriend for their anniversary.

Have a question? Need some advice? Ignored by everyone else? Send us your questions via email. The Non-Expert handles all subjects and is written by a member of The Morning News staff.


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Question: My girlfriend and I are about to celebrate our first anniversary since we started dating. Do you have any gift suggestions? —Ben

Answer: Congratulations to you and your girlfriend on celebrating your “first anniversary since [you] started dating!” Your specific phrasing here is intriguing—”since you started dating”—suggesting maybe this is the first in a long list of other anniversaries you and your girlfriend plan to celebrate, such as “anniversary since we first expressed a shared obsession with FarmVille,” “anniversary since saying ‘I love you’ before we were sure we meant it,” and the never-forgettable “anniversary since the discovery of mutual flatulence.” Or maybe I’m being overly imaginative?

Regardless, my friend, you’ve come to the right place, for I am second-to-none when it comes to gift giving and matters of the heart. Choosing a meaningful gift is not easy when you’re still getting to know someone. It must be memorable, original, heartfelt, and, most importantly, not too weird. Something like this, maybe. (Don’t try to steal my idea, though!)

Maybe you’re more traditional than that. The problem is that, for dating couples, there are really no established norms for this sort of thing. Heaven knows the Hallmark Industrial Complex won’t be providing much inspiration—the romantic gift sector tends to save its most effective guilt-trip marketing for actual married persons, particularly around Valentine’s Day and on wedding anniversaries. In fact, you may not know it being an unmarried person yourself, but a list of traditional wedding anniversary gifts by year actually exists. Here’s a little taste of the world according to Hallmark:





Wedding Anniversary Number
First Paper
Second Cotton
Third Leather
Fourth Flowers
Fifth Wood





And on and on, till death do you part or until 75 long, married years have passed, whichever comes first (what, are we in Cocoon or something?). After the 20th anniversary they mercifully switch to every five years, though the ante is upped considerably with words like “diamond,” “Tahitian getaway,” and “Bengal tiger cub.” Sounds suspiciously like a racket, no? And maybe a little illegal with the tiger? And doesn’t a copy of USA Today or a two-by-four seem like a disappointing anniversary gift? Don’t try to make sense of the madness is what I’m saying.

Maniacal commerce-pushing aside, this social construct nevertheless serves as a guide for clueless, uninspired married persons to express love and commitment to their spouses in a manner deemed appropriate and worthy. But not everyone is on the road to marriage, nor does everybody necessarily want to be. So in the spirit of tradition, below I offer year-by-year suggestions for anniversary gifts for your girlfriend. (This is assuming you never get married—a situation which, let’s face it, you have like a 0.5 percent chance of sustaining once you surpass the five-year mark.) I apply the gender parameter only because I can hardly shop for myself, let alone for other men. Sorry, gift-seeking ladies.



Dating Anniversary Number
First Something simple, sweet, and fun that expresses a mutual love (Six Feet Under box set, tickets behind home plate, etc.).
Second Something rare or inventive (buy an original copy of her favorite book or record, adopt a gibbon together online, etc.).
Third Something underscoring the seriousness of your intentions (romantic trip, kitten, clean clinic results).
Fourth Something that emphasizes a shared desire to take lifelong care of one other (home-cooked meal or surgical kit).
Fifth Bracelet, earrings, necklace—basically any piece of jewelry with the exception of a ring.
Sixth Something soft (socks, velour sweatsuit, etc.).
Seventh Something “hot” to reignite the passion; ideas include spicy noodle soup or a cigarette lighter.
Eighth Something to remind her that, after all these years as a couple, you still respect her as an individual (one ticket to Disneyland, maybe an iPod for yourself).
Ninth Gift card of your choosing; you deserve a break.
Tenth Fine jewelry plus wine country picnic including high-quality champagne and at least one ethically questionable food such as foie gras, caviar, or endangered tree snail.
Eleventh Something “green” if liberal; concealable sidearm if conservative (state-law dependent).
Twelfth Diamond-encrusted Flava Flav clock set to midnight (zirconium OK).
Thirteenth Porcelain (finally replace the upstairs toilet).
Fourteenth Two vintage Swatch watches.
Fifteenth Spontaneous outing that just pops into your head like a road trip to Pea Soup Andersen’s!
Sixteenth Gotta do flowers at some point.
Seventeenth Something seemingly mundane that is surprisingly useful that she hates at first but grows on her until she can’t admit she likes it though it’s so obvious she can’t live without it and you have this awkward thing to hold over her head forever (lime squeezer, three-hole punch, thesaurus).
Eighteenth Finally open that joint bank account she’s wanted all these years, then, that evening, take her to a fancy dinner. Guess you’ll have to go Dutch! FTW!
Nineteenth Snow chains (non-negotiable tradition).
Twentieth Use your imagination and really go all out for this one! Since 20 is the last consecutive anniversary you have to worry about, it’s as much a celebration for you personally as it is for your shared relationship! Whooooo!
Twenty-fifth This one usually gets forgotten due to the switch to five-year intervals; you are only allowed one of these in an unmarried relationship.
Thirtieth This gift should basically be an amalgam of all the best gifts over the years since you messed up so badly last time (think Caribbean cruise, jewelry, new lime squeezer).
Thirty-fifth Something that says “I still want to try new things with you,” like tickets to Oklahoma! or mushrooms.
Fortieth Collector’s edition Avatar laser disc and flowers. (I predict Avatar will be our generation’s Gone With the Wind; and that laser discs will come back in a big way.)
Forty-fifth Something to show you’re still playful, mischievous. Throw her a surprise party. Fake-propose after all these years—psych! Priceless…
Fiftieth Assign a U.S. state to each year of your relationship and make up reasons why that particular state applies to that year (i.e. Arkansas represents our 12th year together because 12 is the median number of children per household in Arkansas); also: swing dance lessons.
Fifty-fifth Sammy Hagar’s Greatest Hits and a box of See’s chocolates should be fine here.
Sixtieth Something that says, “If I die tomorrow, which is an increasingly distinct possibility each and every day, I will be happy having lived and loved with you.”
Sixty-fifth Monogrammed sword cane.
Seventieth Spell “I love you” in Scrabble tiles during game play and then wake her up to see it!
Seventy-fifth What could be more romantic than His and Hers cryogenic chambers? “I want spend the rest of my life-death limbo with you.”