Heidi Scrimgeour's foolproof guide to getting the perfect present for your other half
There is surely no more daunting prospect than buying a present for your other half at Christmas. Get it just right, and you could be reaping the rewards of a choice well made for months to come. Get it wrong, however, and you could be single by this time next year.
So how can you ensure that your partner's face lights up on Christmas morning? And what can you do to remedy the situation if you find yourself incurring the wrath of a less-than-impressed recipient once you've exchanged gifts?
"Admit defeat," advises my husband, Matt. He's referring to the time when we were dating and he gave me a book about some bonkers woman whose name escapes me, but whose words left me cold.
Not only did the misguided purchase give me the sinking feeling that my husband didn't really know me, but I felt excruciatingly awkward and ungrateful for admitting that I didn't like his gift.
Mark my words – a badly chosen gift is an infinitely worse error than not giving a gift at all.
If you're empty-handed on Christmas morning, you can always claim the present is still in the post. If, by contrast, you give a present that goes down like a lead balloon, the best thing to do is admit defeat, and swiftly find a way to make amends.
I hate to generalise but men are probably less likely to kick up a fuss if you give them something rubbish, but I reckon most mankind would agree that they don't exactly tingle with excitement at the prospect of yet more socks and smellies under the tree.
And here's a funny thing. Most men I know love vouchers and just aren't that fussed about grand gestures or big surprises. Yet most women think vouchers don't 'count' as a real gift.
Here's a tip. Just give the man in your life the thing he asks for. It's probably all he really wants.
Above all, observation is the secret to giving your partner a great gift. If you pay attention to what they like and listen to the things they say they need, you really can't go wrong.
Problems arise when we make assumptions about our partner's wants or needs. A case in point: not every woman would be happy with a Hoover for Christmas, but last year that's exactly what I asked for.
Many of my friends were appalled, and one even said she'd file for divorce if her husband ever dared to give her a domestic appliance as a gift. And Matt was bemused at first.
But he understood my rationale once I pointed out the many benefits of foregoing the usual chocolates or perfume and buying me a Hoover instead – chiefly, that a decent, pricey model (the likes of which I'd never buy from our usual household domestic budget) would halve the time I spent cleaning floors, thus effectively granting me loads of lovely me-time throughout the year to spend languishing on the sofa and reading books.
He promptly purchased a state-of-the-art designer Hoover – and even went the extra mile to buy me a 'chic' bag. Of Hoover accessories, that is.
I'll admit I had to suppress a tiny glimmer of ennui when I unwrapped it on the big day – nothing says 'welcome to midlife' quite like getting a Hoover for Christmas – but that unlikely gift has changed my life.
In the past six months, I've lost 25lbs and finished writing the novel I've talked about penning for years, and I'm convinced my new-found productivity in part stems from the fact that I can hoover the house in half the time it used to take.
So while that vacuum cleaner looked like the dullest present ever and, according to my friends, heralded the death-knell for romance in our relationship, it was actually the best present I could have asked for.
It's rather telling that I've left all domestic items off my Christmas list this year. Funnily enough, the simple things such as a handbag, perfume, chocolates or new underwear seem positively exotic to me compared with last year's gift.
And as for Matt? iTunes vouchers. Yet again.