’Tis the season for spending money on your beloved—but sometimes we don’t have money, and sometimes our houses are too full of stuff anyway, and sometimes we just want to give something a little more specific. As an obsessive crafter, I tend to make things all year (leatherwork, printmaking, and so on) and set them aside with special people in mind; my husband, a beekeeper, gives jars of raw and creamed honey. But what about the people closest to you, for whom a jar of honey seems too impersonal, even when you consider all the care and love that went into tending the hives? What if you’re not particularly creative but still want to give your partner something meaningful?
While the Tough Love Gifting Technique™ was developed with romantic partners in mind, it works for anyone, as long as you know them well enough. Sit down with paper and a pencil, make sure your beloved of choice is otherwise distracted, and let’s do a little brainstorming.
Let’s answer the following questions:
- What is your beloved struggling with right now?
- What does your beloved want more of in his/her/their life?
There will always be multiple answers, because we’re all struggling. Every single one of us has burdens that range from loneliness to relationship problems, from work stress to the destabilization of our entire support systems. And there are no guidelines for pain: If a bad haircut seems to hurt more than a chronic illness, that’s because it’s closer to the surface of our hearts. Sometimes we grieve the small things because we can’t face the big things—or because the small things drill into a deeper fear (say, loss of identity). Is your beloved annoyed by his new work schedule? Is she suddenly an empty nester? Were they diagnosed with cancer this year? Write it all down.
If this feels a little dark, that’s okay. Winter holidays evolved, in large part, to counteract darkness. This is their true job. This is your true job, as someone who loves another person.
Which brings us to the next question.
As a general rule, the answer to question two will be directly related to question one. Sure, sometimes your rock-climbing habit is just a rock-climbing habit. But it might also be a tool for redeveloping your sense of power and calm when the leaders of your country consistently demonstrate that your access to life-sustaining health care, and thus your life, is of no significance to them. Maybe your daughter has been experimenting with makeup lately—which happens to be a triumphant act of self-definition in the face of stifling beauty ideals. Maybe your husband craves a cleaner house as a way of manifesting order in his life, and loss of order is symbolized by his allergies to dog hair and the fact that you live with 22 huskies in the middle of the Northwoods. Maybe your wife likes writing an advice column because extending love and empathy to strangers helps her forgive her own perceived failures.
Now look for the connections, the places where a gift that facilitates your beloved’s aspirations will also be a balm for their griefs. This, my friend, is your wish list: climbing lessons, glitter eyeshadow, a robot vacuum, a personalized Tough Love mug (What? No. I mean. Who said that?). And hey, if all else fails? Get something of your beloved’s repaired: a broken ski binding, a torn coat. We all have things we’ve used to pieces and can’t bear to part with but haven’t actually gotten fixed. Bring their saddle to the saddle maker, or get their skates sharpened, or tailor their new coat to fit them perfectly. It’s personal, it’s thoughtful, and you already know they love it.
At this point, it doesn’t matter how much money you spend (or don’t spend). The gift—the work of loving someone—is already there.