July 30, 2014 at 4:34 PM ET
It doesn’t really matter if you’ve just made it “Facebook official,” you’re newly engaged or you’ve been with your guy since the Clinton administration. Buying holiday gifts for the man in your life can take your mood from festive to Grinch in no time. But before you just pick up a gift card and call it a day, check out our ideas for all stages of a relationship.
He’s your crush
Your strategy: When you’re still just hoping a date might be in your future, there’s no need for a formal gift, says New York-based dating and relationship expert and matchmaker Rachel DeAlto. “Ask him to grab a holiday drink to celebrate the season,” she suggests. But if you don’t want to arrive empty-handed, hand him a Bite Me! Vampire Tooth Bottle Opener. Whether you’ve bonded over your mutual love of True Blood in the past, or just want him to be thinking about, um, your mouth, this is an inexpensive gift that shows you’re interested, but without sending any crazy stalker signals.
To buy: $12, gamago.com
He's your friend with benefits
Your strategy: You definitely want to stay away from anything too serious or expensive –- that’s not point of this kind of partnership, now, is it? But if you still want to show your hook-up that you enjoy his company, pick up a fun little present, like this “Who says tricks are for kids?” mug that’s kinda goofy and kinda lighthearted—sort of like your relationship.
To buy: $13.49, cafepress.com
You just started dating
Your strategy: So, it’s too early to tell if he’s The One … but he could be! Style expert Lindsay Alabanese says when a relationship is really new, it’s best to just have fun with your gift. “You have to play it cool in this stage,” she says. “Too much too soon could have him dating elsewhere.” Show this guy you’re still in casual mode—and that you’re having lots of fun hanging out—with a silly (but adorable) gift like these Superman caped knee socks. At the least, he’ll laugh. At the most, it’ll be a great story to tell your kids one day.
To buy: $10, 80stees.com
You think you're about to become exclusive
Your strategy: When you have a feeling things are about to get serious, show you’re into him by paying attention to his likes and hobbies. “Listen to what he says about gifts in general,” says Elizabeth Lombardo, Ph.D., bestselling author of A Happy You: Your Ultimate Prescription for Happiness. “Does he say things like, ‘I am not a big gift person,’ when talking about his family birthdays? Or, in relationships, ‘Can you believe she got that pathetic gift for him?!’” If you’ve done your homework, and you remember that his all-time favorite superhero is, say, the Caped Crusader, a Batman Money Clip will make his day—and possibly take your relationship to the next level.
To buy: $40 at thinkgeek.com
You just became official
Your strategy: It’s a fact: you’re a couple. He’s met your mom. You even changed your Facebook status to prove it. And since you plan on staying partners, consider giving him a gift that will continue for months to come. A Shirt of the Month Club subscription to Busted Tees means he’ll get to pick out a new T-shirt every month. Plus, you’re not only showing him that you’re not trying to change him by getting him to dress in some scratchy sweater or stuffy button-down shirt, you’re also showing him you’re possibly the coolest girlfriend, like, ever.
To buy: $50 (three month), $90 (six month), $165 (12 month), bustedtees.com
You just started saying "I love you"
Your strategy: “This is the ‘new love’ stage, so you can go for the campy, cheesy, lovey-dovey gifts with abandon,” Albanese says. Go ahead and buy or make something really lovey—a framed photo booth photo, a memory book of your favorite moments or an over-the-top love letter. (You could go the extra mile without going too sentimental by buying a cool, minimalist wallet and slip a handwritten "I love you" note inside.) But balance out the gushy-ness with something more practical, like the Outdoor Technology Buckshot Wireless Speaker for your man's bike. Suggest that you plan a day trip together—like a picnic in the park come spring—with this gift that says “let’s play.”
You're thinking about breaking up with him... after Christmas
Your strategy: Now, some would say no gift necessary if your beau is about to be sent to Dumpsville. (“Give him the present of breaking up now instead of later,” DeAlto advises.) But if you’re wimping out ‘til the holidays are behind you, we suggest a pair of Sony headphones. Why? They’re practical, unromantic and they’ll come in handy when he’s drowning his sorrows, listening to that iPod mix you made for him back when you first started dating.
To buy: $20 at Target
You've been together a year
Your strategy: Sometimes when you pass the one-year mark, things can start to get a little boring. So now is the perfect time for an experience gift. “Surprise him with a road trip to see his favorite band,” DeAlto suggests. Then, take it a step further by showing him you’re ready to spice things up and keep things exciting by promising to hit several of the coolest concerts and festivals together. The guide 300 Unmissable Events and Festivals Around the World lists events along with travel tips for everything from visiting Oktoberfest in Munich to navigating Burning Man in the Nevada desert. This time next year, you’ll be able to say the last 52 weeks were anything but boring.
To Buy: Concert tickets, prices vary at TicketMaster; 300 Unmissable Events and Festivals Around the World guide,from $6 at Amazon
You're long distance
Your strategy: It’s not easy to make a long-distance relationship work, but with the Wifi Hotspot Cuff Links, you’ll be able to keep in touch no matter how miles are stretched out between you. Once your guy installs the included software on his laptop and connects via USB, he’ll have an instant hotspot for all his wireless devices. So wherever he is, he can always find a way to Skype! Oh, and they also hold up to 2GB of data, so he can keep pics and videos of you on him at all times.
To buy: $249.95, redenvelope.com
You've been together forever and he hasn't proposed yet
Your strategy: “This is a time to show your love and appreciation, not push him into the next level of your relationship,” Lombardo says. So, instead of dropping hints for a ring, fete your man with a Whiskey Advent Calendar. It shows him how well you know him and it's something you can do together. After all, he loves whiskey and you love him—if that’s not win-win, we don’t know what is. Just be sure the card lets him know you can’t wait to do a shot for all the fun, life-changing, forever-lasting, times you have ahead of you. Cough.
To buy: $242.47, masterofmalt.com
You just moved in together
Your strategy: It’s time to get him something cool for the new place, Albanese says. “If he hasn’t already been dropping hints, think of something you know he would get great use out of.” Exhibit A: this Portable Turntable and mp3 Audio System. You gently encouraged him to ditch that tacky man-cave couch in favor of your own modern version. Now, show him you’re still open to manly (just stylish, tasteful-manly) accessories with this cool suitcase that includes both a turntable for his vinyl collection and the ability to convert his favorite songs to digital via USB cable. You’ll be making beautiful music together for years to come.
To buy: $99.95, redenvelope.com
You just got engaged
Your strategy: He just spent a lot of dough on that perfect, shiny rock, so now it’s your turn to splurge on something he’ll ooh and ahh over: a hunk of meat. With the Omaha Steaks Culinary Calendar, your guy will receive 12 months of steaks, ham, burgers, lobster tails and more. We all know the way to a man's heart—and how to stay there.
To buy: $60/month, omahasteaks.com
Your strategy: Congrats! Your first year of wedded bliss is the time to keep the party going. That’s why we think your new hubby will raise a glass to the Vintage Cocktails book that will teach him how to use that new bar set to whip up a Gin Fizz, Singapore Sling, Missouri Mule and more for your next big get-together – or romantic night in for two. Plus, first-year-of-marriage sex is even better when you’re a bit tipsy. Just sayin’.
To buy: $35.49 at Amazon
You just bought a house
Your strategy: Now’s the time to buy something for his man cave, Albanese says. “He's been waiting for one, so now that he’s got the space—even if it’s just a corner in the garage – help him decorate it with a kitschy light-up beer sign, barbecue utensils or something else to showcase or store his gear.” One thing he’ll find useful: the Heritage Leather Tool Pouch. Whether he’s handy or not, that new home will need repairs, and this baby will keep his tools in place.
To buy: $48 at West Elm
You just had a baby
Your strategy: You’ve gone from “couple” to “family.” While this is a special time in your marriage, it can also be a time when tension is high. “Many men feel less important once a baby arrives, so think about ways you can celebrate who he is as a man,” Lombardo says. “Try scheduling a special dinner out or even a boy’s night out.” Write out your special plans and place the gift certificate inside this handmade, custom digital portrait of your expanding brood. (The artist will wipe out out those dark circles, promise.)
To buy: $45 at Etsy
You're been married a few years and want some fun
Your strategy: For the big gift, Albanese suggests a two-night hotel stay. “It doesn't have to be far, just a bit of a getaway from the normal day-to-day routine,” she says. “This always ignites a romance that may have gotten lost in the shuffle.” Then, show you’ve still got a fun side by giving him this Ink-It Temporary Tattoo Kit. Give each other matching “tats” or choose a design that reminds you of your spouse . Show them off on your trip and feel the love –- but not the pain.
To buy: $50 at Olive Branch Skincare
You've been married for 10 years
Your strategy: It’s time to take a break from the kids, work and all the other demands at home. “Get away,” Lombardo says. “No kids, no stressful discussions, no work." If you can swing it, pony up for a ski vacation. You’ll spend your days hitting the slopes, your afternoons cozied up in the lodge, après ski-style and your evenings relaxing in front of the fireplace. “A great trip gives you a chance to reconnect, relax and get things sexy again,” Albanese adds.
To buy: Prices vary at Snow Ventures
You're going through a rough patch
Your strategy: Filling in a gratitude journal can show your mate that despite the pits in the road, you want things to work out, Lombardo says. “Every day, write at least one thing you feel grateful for about him. You can share it with him, or just let him know about it and that he is free to look whenever he wants. This will help you love him more and him feel more loved.” Then find a rock-climbing class, cooking session or other activity that requires teamwork to remind each other how to work together and, perhaps most importantly, that you can still have fun as a couple.
To buy: Prices vary at Go Recess
A version of this story originally appeared on iVillage.