'There are few things that strike fear into the heart of man than when their girlfriend says 'Surprise me''- Irish man on the fear of finding the right present
Bill Linnane's sage advice for finding a present for the lady in your life that not only says 'I love you' but 'I know you' too (or at least doesn't cause a row…)
There are few things that strike fear into the heart of man like the words "surprise me". Up there with other terrifying utterances - such as "I'm pregnant", "I'm pregnant, again" and "the Sky box isn't working", the challenge to surprise from a lady love is akin to a Homeric Odyssey.
Within those two simple words are a deep and profound question: how well do you know me? It goes beyond "how much do you love me?" - a question easily answered with a new Mini Cooper or selection of vouchers for shops with their own concierge. The surprise here will be you proving that you have listened, that you have learned, and that you see into the heart of your lover. Obviously, none of this happened, as you were busy playing Call Of Duty while she was dropping hints about her heart's desire.
Now, with only two weeks to Christmas, you can try to search for clues about what 'sort' of surprise could be expected, but this is a dangerous game. Your probing questions place you in multiple roles; psychic medium, bomb disposal expert, hostage negotiator and hostage.
Asking "how do you feel about Cecelia Ahern?" is received with the narrowed eyes and clenched jaw of someone who has previously told you the answer. Similarly, there is no nice way to ask a lady what size she is. The entire area of the festive surprise is basically a minefield - step on one and you get to sleep on the couch, or worse, be informed that your mother-in-law was right about you all along.
There are safer bets, like jewellery and spa days, but as with all gifts, it really is the thought that counts, and the safer they are, the less thought went into them. The message is what matters - it is to tell someone they mean the world to you, that even though you are trapped in this prison of masculinity and sometimes find it hard to communicate your feelings, or make simple decisions about gifts, your life would be nothing without them.
Obviously all this gushing isn't going to explain why her Christmas present is wilted filling station flowers and a copy of Heat magazine that you bought on the way home from doing the 12 Pubs on December 24, but it might enable your marriage to survive the festive season…
There are of course, more obvious pitfalls that can be avoided. Here's our guide to what not to buy her this Christmas.
The look of love:
Make up is a handy way to tell someone to fix themselves up - but it is worth noting that whatever brand you buy, it will be the wrong one. The wrong shade of eyeshadow, the wrong moisturiser, the wrong everything… You may have had more success if you hadn't based your purchases on the advice of an attractive 21-year-old sales assistant with elaborate eyeshadow, rather than your significant other, who is 45 and hasn't enough time to put on mascara for days. Some mysteries man was not meant to unravel, and her transformation from sleep-deprived zombie to glamazon is one of those.
The sexy gift:
In your mind the purchasing of the sexy gift plays out like the scene in National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, where Chevy Chase tries to buy underwear for his wife, getting a live demo of how well it fits from a beautiful salesperson. In reality it is more like the Fr Ted Christmas special, with you trapped in the lingerie section of Debenhams, with the furrowed brow and thousand-yard stare of a man who has bitten off more than he can chew. Underwear is potentially the most difficult gift to buy: one size too small, who do you think you are buying for, your beloved Kathryn Thomas? One size too big - is that how you see her, some massive blimp? Even if you do get the size right, you will be trapped between going too sexy - underwear that achieves a similar effect on the body to butcher's string on a pork joint - or not sexy enough, a.k.a. the 'mammypant'.
The practical gift:
A piece of luxury kitchen equipment is secretly welcomed, but still carries the message that the kitchen is her domain. It's like buying a nice new silver padlock for the chain which binds her to the house. Men are practical creatures; car seat covers, a new ironing board, or a toasted sandwich maker all seem like really useful presents that anyone would be delighted with. But the Christmas gift isn't about practicalities - it is about one soul finding its counterpoint in another, and a crockpot, cookbooks, food processor or slowcooker just looks like another way of saying "please return to the kitchen and make me some food".
The fitness gift:
Whether one kettlebell or 10, they will not get used unless it is to hold a door open or pin a toddler down while you brush their teeth.
The gift for you:
The most offensive gift of all - yes, even worse than the 'humourous' gift. Sure, you may be lucky enough to have landed a soulmate who desperately wanted a hoverboard, an MMA training session with Coach Kavanagh, Leinster season tickets, a drone, or a TV that is the size of your gable end, but chances are you just bought something for yourself and are now trying to pretend that it's what she wanted. You know what she wanted? Someone to listen, and you failed at that basic task because the surround sound system you bought her for Valentine's was at full volume during the Vin Diesel marathon you organised for her birthday. You don't deserve happiness.
What you SHOULD get him
VR headset: Technically all men live in a permanent virtual reality inside their own head, where any number of war/sports/erotic scenarios play out - but they also love gadgets like this.
Whiskey tasting: There are whiskey tours (irishwhiskeytours.ie), museums (irishwhiskeymuseum.ie), masterclasses (irishwhiskeyexperience.net), academies (irishdistillers.ie) and, of course, a good old bottle of triple distilled liquid silk (celticwhiskeyshop.com).
Flying lessons: Finally, a method of travelling where you never have to stop and ask for directions. Indulge his childhood dreams of being an astronaut by getting him as close to space as you can without actually firing him into the stratosphere. afta.ie/FlyGiftVouchers
Amazon Echo: A 2001: A Space Odyssey style obelisk, the Echo contains a personal assistant named Alexa who operates in stark contrast to the rest of the house by actually responding to his commands. It plays music, answers questions, reads audiobooks, gives news updates and provides sports scores and schedules. amazon.co.uk