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Valentines gift-giving can feel like a land-mine, can’t it? You’re trying to evaluate where your relationship is, balanced with the expectations you imagine from your significant other, plus the maddening feeling that this holiday is just setting everyone up to fail. Just me?

In my humble experience, it helps to think specifically about the person you are with. What makes them laugh hysterically, what have they been talking about non-stop, what rando thing are they obsessed with? And it also never hurts to have a quick discussion about what you two want do about the holiday. I’m always in favor of a sometimes-awkward conversation to smooth things out and set proper expectations. It’s MUCH better than crossed-gift-wires, trust me.

While there shouldn’t be ANY “rules” about what to get someone for Valentine’s Day, it can’t hurt to brainstorm some ideas if you’re feeling in the holiday spirit (or freaking out about it). Of course, not all relationships are the same, and they’re definitely not the same depending on how serious you guys are. So here are some thoughts on how to handle the gift exchange depending on where you’re at, you know, relationship-wise.

The stage: You had a couple of dates, maaaaybe.
The gift: Something small, cheap, comedic, and unabashedly purchased en route to the date

It is a unique conundrum to know what to do when you’ve only gone out on a few dates and Valentine’s Day is on the horizon. I think the most simple answer is something sweet to eat (an bountiful array of weirdly-shaped gummy candies?) or, heck, a tiny plant (cactuses are quirky and cheap, just saying). The idea is to keep it super low-key, while still acknowledging you’re hanging out together on the night sanctioned for couples. You really don’t have to get anything for each other, obvs, but a really chill gag gift (Silly Putty? Pixy Stix?) is a good way to break the ice on the weirdest night of the year to have a newbie date.

The stage: You’ve been dating for a month or three
The gift: The “you NEED to read/hear/try this” present

This is a good time to take your person by the hand and introduce them to something totally new to them. Maybe you surprise them with tickets to that retro film you’ve told them about that they still haven’t seen. Maybe you take them go-carting. Yes, go-carting is fun, especially your first time. You can also go with something tangible, that you’d like to intro your sorta-special someone to. A rad vintage record perhaps (see Harry Nilsson’s classic album, above, because everyone should own it). If you guys are of drinking age, a respectable bottle of locally-made liquor is nice, or maybe a graphic novel, or any book you think they’d really dig. You can also just save your money and, instead, share your HBO Go password, so they can see that documentary you’ve been telling them about. It may not be stereotypically romantic, but sharing passwords is caring.

The stage: You’re recently exclusive
The gift: The ‘I know you pretty well’ present

This might be the most high-stakes phase of gift-giving. It’s your first V-day together and you’re sizing each other up now that things are serious. At the exclusive stage of a relationship, it’s a good idea to think really personalized. A photo album with a funny picture of you guys on the cover works. You could also go the Cafe Press route and personalize a mug or a T-shirt with a movie quote they’re obsessed with. This is also a good time to get them that thing they’re kinda want, but wouldn’t buy for themselves: a portable blue-tooth speaker to replace their jenky car radio (this one’s in the shape of a whoopee cushion!), a new pair of headphones. Don’t feel like you have to go nuts, but maybe enter the name of their favorite TV show into Etsy and see if something really awesome comes up that can be shipped to you immediately. Your beloved misses Breaking Bad? Not anymore. See above. (FYI, that’s under $13)

The stage: You guys are in it to win it
The gift: Anything that says “I love you” in the most honest, simple, happy-making way

Welcome to jewelry/watch territory, or at least that’s what ad campaigns are going to pressure you into for the remainder of the week. Hey, ain’t nothing wrong with wearable symbols of love, but you don’t HAVE to go that route. So how about tickets to see their favorite band, or a framed poster from their favorite retro movie? You also might be one of those couples who don’t “do” Valentine’s Day, and that’s fine. At this stage, you’re secure in your relationship, you communicate like human adults, so you don’t have to freak out about the meaning behind gifts. If you’ve both opted to skip the fanfare, it’s just a nice opportunity to make a super-sweet card that says how much you appreciate them. Mostly, I think, that’s all we really want: a little reminder of gratitude and love. That’s the best gift there is.