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Three Myths about Romantic Gifting

February 12, 2014

iStock_000019015445SmallValentine’s Day is just around the corner. Consumers will soon engage in the annual romantic gift-giving ritual. Finding the right Valentine’s gift is stressful more so than for other occasions. Our psychological tendency to send the recipient the right signal kicks into high gear when it comes to romantic gifts.

Research shows in an evolutionary model, the social custom of giving a gift in the beginning of a relationship can lead to trust and cooperation1. From an evolutionary perspective, especially for men, giving gifts to seduce or demonstrate generosity is expected and considered the normative standard, as a number of species engage in gift giving as part of their courtship and sexual rituals.2

Here are some common romantic gifting myths and ideas to help you navigate the complexity of Valentine’s Day.

Myth: It’s unromantic to gift online for Valentine’s Day 

Truth: There are a lot of reasons one might gift online for Valentine’s. A couple may be cultivating a long-distance relationship, or be apart on the special day for business or military service. Even couples that have lived together or been married for years can have fun and surprise their partner in the office with a gift email waiting in their inbox along with a greeting card and a personal note.  This makes for a great way to start the day and sift through all those tedious work mails that have piled up overnight! Then, top it off with a romantic date night in or out.

All online romantic gifts need not include physical items. Remember making mixed tapes for your sweetheart? Now you can create and send digital mixes with apps like 8Tracks and Spotify.

Lovestagram lets you create a Valentine’s album with Instagram pictures that highlight your life together.

Myth: Valentine’s Day is all about men shopping for women

Truth: The romantic pursuit or gesture has traditionally been from men to women. What guy doesn’t have a story about frantically searching for that last minute Valentine’s gift before the stores close and online shipping deadlines end? However, it can be just as stressful for girlfriends and wives to find that perfect gift too.

Not surprisingly, women and men have different psychological gifting profiles. While men are more practical and worried about how a woman will perceive their Valentine’s gift as a social signal, women are more concerned with giving and receiving gifts with emotional significance. There are however ways to be both practical and personal. For women gifting to men, practical doesn’t have to be boring (socks and ties). Think about a book by his favorite author, a bottle of his favorite cognac, or tickets to his favorite band or sports team.

Myth: Longer relationships warrant more expensive gifts

Truth: There’s a psychological asymmetry – especially between the sexes – between the giver and recipient’s belief about the link between gift price and feelings of appreciation. Men are far more likely to use gifting as a strategy to pursue a woman even if she is of high social and economic status.

In general gift givers tend to overspend to send a “stronger signal” to the recipient, but studies show that price doesn’t affect the recipient’s feelings of appreciation. While pricier gifts may be more appropriate between established couples, longer-term relationships and marriages don’t necessarily require them. In fact, research shows that when matches are very long-term, the cost of the gift can be lower than the overall benefits of cooperation from that relationship. Gifts will be more expensive when the life of a match is short.

Both men and women in long-term relationships and marriages can wow their significant other with relatively inexpensive, yet thoughtful gifts. The more time you spend with someone, the easier it is to know what your loved one really values and cares about.

Footnotes

1. Gift Giving and The Evolution of Cooperation, Carmichael and Macleod, Internation Economic Review, Vol. 38, No 3., 1997

2. Gad Saad, Professor of Marketing at Concordia University and author of The Evolutionary Bases of Consumption and The Consuming Instinct

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