Romance outside the Box:
5 Alternatives to Generic Gift-Giving

While we all love giving and getting (fess up ‑- especially getting) gifts, a gal can only own so many silk scarves and diamond rings. (Just threw in the last part to make sure you were paying attention.) And how many shirts and golf clubs can you lay on your guy?

Maybe the spirit of the season shouldn't be about spending hours and hours in crowded, noisy stores, competing with hoards of increasingly desperate shoppers ready to mow down anyone reaching for the same Movado. After all, no one wants her relationship bogged down by the twin perils of obligation and lack of imagination.

Regina Evans, a 28-year-old accountant in Florida recalls, "It was so freeing last year when my fiancé and I decided not to exchange Christmas presents. We're the type who give little presents throughout the year, so being pressured into buying some elaborate gift neither of us needed wasn't appealing. We put the money toward a romantic weekend in the Caribbean."

It's much more meaningful to truly give of yourself, rather than feeling forced into it. Unconventional holiday gifting can actually bring you closer (and that's the whole idea anyway, isn't it?).

Destination: Memory Lane

Give a gift that reminds him why the two of you got together in the first place. You can "transform tucked-away keepsakes, like movie posters from your first date, [into works of art] by having them professionally framed," suggests Deborah Lotz, owner of Jewel Box Frames in Los Angeles.

Marilyn Paige, a Philadelphia-based community relations director for Barnes & Noble, recommends letting him participate in the sentimental fun by inviting him to help you fill a scrapbook that chronicles your relationship history. Each of you digs up your individual mementos (e.g., his first love letter to you); then you have a memory-fest as you paste in the items together.

Memories in the Making

Chicagoan Christine Walker is looking forward to her sixth Christmas as a married woman. The 37-year-old author of The Smart Mom's Guide to Staying Home explains, "My husband and I love celebrating holidays out of the mainstream. Our goal in gifting each other is to focus on our relationship, not material goods. Our holiday tradition is to write each other a letter with the goals and dreams that we hope and plan to accomplish together."

Newlyweds Kate and Dick Roberts have a more conventional, but just as individual, approach to gift-giving. As soon as the first snow hits, they're out on the slopes, so it's natural that this year their holiday gift to each other will be new ski jackets and snowshoes. "We just paid for the wedding and a condo," says Kate, a 29-year-old dental hygienist in Boston, "so we wanted to get something useful and fun. There's a hiking-biking-cross-country trail right near our house. When we can't go skiing, we can go for long walks."

The gift Kerry Oates and her boyfriend are buying together involves another type of joint endeavor. The 35-year-old computer programmer from New Jersey giggles and explains, "We're getting a puppy."

This kind of mutual gift not only makes the holiday special, but it gives you a memento to remember as a couple. It's setting the groundwork for more happy years ahead.

Good Deeds, Happy Couples

If the two of you don't need anything for the holidays (and, hey, you already have each other), why not do something that will give you warm, fuzzy feelings all year long? Charlene Bowser, a 38-year-old stockbroker from New York says, "Last year, my boyfriend, Rich, and I volunteered at a soup kitchen on Christmas morning. That felt so great that we underwent training at a crisis hotline. We do shifts together twice a month," she says. "This Christmas we'll be manning the phones. There's nothing like hearing about other people's woes to make you appreciate what you have. And sharing the experience of volunteering makes it that much more special."

Ann Howard and her husband, Sam, also gave each other a gift that keeps on giving ‑- that is, a gift of the heart. "This Thanksgiving will be two years since we started sponsoring an overseas child in Uganda through WorldVision []," says Ann, a 34-year-old lawyer in San Francisco. "The agency sends us monthly letters and photos about [the child] Wahabu that we read in bed snuggled up together."

Home (and Heart) Improvements

Claire Smith told her husband, Ron, flat out that she didn't want any more expensive gifts. Says the 27-year-old mother of four, "I wasn't nuts ‑- I just wanted more space. We have four kids." The Illinois couple's holiday gift to each other was remodeling their kitchen and basement and redoing their landscaping.

It was a desire to improve her inner space that drove Lisa Spangler to give her boyfriend a weekend couples' seminar two Decembers ago. "It was the best money I've ever spent," declares the 40-year-old chef. "Rob and I learned terrific communication skills that I'm convinced saved our relationship."

Steamy Souvenirs

Stevanne Auerbach and her husband exchange loving gifts throughout the year, but it's special during the holidays. "We set up a massage table, light lots of candles, have warm oil on hand and give each other full massages in front of the fireplace. It's a gift that warms the heart, body and hearth," says the 65-year-old writer from San Francisco.

Relationship expert April Masini ( is on board with the massages but goes further. Much further. "Give him XXX-rated coupons," she suggests. And have each coupon list something sexy and fun like:

  • 6 nights of oral sex

  • 1 full body massage with benefits

  • 1 half-hour-long foot massage

  • 1 night of fantasy role-playing (as the characters of his or your choice)

  • 1 weekday lunch hour with a quick room-service lunch before you both head back to the office

  • For extra credit, you can give field-trip coupons with goodies like:

  • 1 trip to the local adult toy store

  • 1 shopping trip to a lingerie store (he picks the purchases, and you try them all on)

  • Then there are "lost weekend" coupons with which you can:

  • Tell him to pack an overnight bag and kidnap him for an escape to a casino hotel in Vegas or Atlantic City

  • These gifts may be so enjoyable that you'll want to extend the holidays. Christmas in July, anyone?

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