A Guy's Guide to Meaningful Gift-Giving for a New Girlfriend

Too little, too late? Too much, too soon? When it comes to gifts for your new girlfriend, both scenarios are bad news. No matter when you meet someone, you're sure to stumble into the fraught and murky territory of gift giving in a budding relationship. From Valentine's Day and Christmas to birthdays and relationship "monthiversaries," there are very few months in the year when gifts aren't expected.

There are set guidelines for what to give your significant other for wedding anniversaries, but it's less clear what the dating equivalent of the paper anniversary is. Here is a guide for what to give your girlfriend and when:

The Gift Should Match the Relationship

This is not to say there aren't roughly defined stages of emotional depth in relationships—it's just that these phases aren't time-based. It may take one couple six months to get to the same place it takes another couple six years to reach. Regardless, it's these emotional milestones that you should recognize when you give gifts to your new girlfriend. So, instead of asking "How long have we been seeing each other?" ask, "What level is our relationship at?"

That's a tough question, and no amount of googling is going to get you the answer. That's really why gift-giving is tough. You may think you're at one level, while she feels you're at another one. And the gift you give her will signify your feelings about the relationship—or at least it should. Understanding that will definitely help your cause.

Deciding on the Right Gift

Once you've settled on where you are in your relationship, you have to choose an appropriate gift for that stage. If you've been overthinking it, this may not be so obvious. Blogger Leigh Anderson gave a great summary of a study by Russell W. Belk, a professor at York University, who identified the three following stages of gift-giving:

  1. Economic Exchange: These are small gifts, such as taking her out to dinner, buying her flowers, or paying for dates. The value corresponds to the monetary value.
  2. Social Exchange: These are gifts where it's the thought that counts. This is where you get tickets to a band you both like or surprise her with something she admired while window shopping. These gifts show you share tastes and interests, or at least understand hers.
  3. Romantic Exchange: These gifts are purely symbolic of your feelings for her. At this point, you're not giving out of any sense of reciprocity—you're doing it out of love. These gifts could include diamond jewelry, such as a pair of earrings on Christmas. Consider these trophies that celebrate the depth and maturation of your relationship.

When you lay it out like that, it's easy to see how gift-giving can go wrong with your new girlfriend. No one is so materialistic that they won't be uncomfortable receiving a diamond bracelet on the second date. On the flip side, if you are deeply, deeply in love with someone and you get her microwaveable socks from the "As Seen on TV" section of the grocery store for Valentine's Day, you're going to strike out.

Gifts are meant to ring true to the depth of your relationship, and if they don't, they starkly highlight the discrepancy. Overgiving may signal you're trying to buy her affection or that you have nothing else to offer. Undergiving makes you seem thoughtless and unwilling to invest in the relationship. So, take that advice and run with it. Don't worry about how long you've been together. Focus on how you feel about each other and tailor your gifts to that level, without worrying about any holiday or anniversary it might coincide with.