Men’s worst gifts to women revealed: can a sonogram of ex-girlfriend be beaten?

  • Women tend to have higher expectations for the gifts they receive than men do, which makes bad presents from significant others even more horrific
  • But don’t worry ladies – you can always give them back in the divorce
PUBLISHED : Monday, 24 December, 2018, 12:18pm
UPDATED : Monday, 24 December, 2018, 12:18pm

When Jennifer Purdie’s new boyfriend handed her a jewellery box, she felt embarrassed that she’d been outdone. They had been dating only two months. She had assumed that they would go small and sweet with their Christmas gifts, so she had baked him cookies. And here he was, giving her jewellery.

Or was he?

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Purdie, then in her mid-20s, opened the box to find a slip of paper. It was a sonogram – an image of the inside of a woman’s uterus. Purdie was confused. Maybe this was his way of announcing he was going to be an uncle? Wrong again. “I’m going to be a daddy,” her boyfriend said. No, he hadn’t cheated on Purdie – he’d just (accidentally) got his ex-girlfriend pregnant before they broke up, and this was his way of sharing the news.

“He thought he was being clever, and he was just being stupid,” Purdie says. They broke up shortly thereafter. She thinks her ex is still with the mother of his child, Purdie says, and “that makes me really happy”. It has been about 15 years since Purdie opened that jewellery box, and the sonogram remains the worst item a significant other has ever given her.

If her then-boyfriend had just told her in another way and given her something small, commensurate with the time they had spent together – flowers, say, or dinner at a nice restaurant – then that Christmas gift exchange might not be etched into her brain in such an indelible way.

When we care a lot about people, we can read a lot into the gifts they give us. We take them as proxies for the depth of a person’s feelings, or lack thereof. When gifts are wildly out of sync in ways that mirror other imbalances in a relationship, it’s fair to take note and be a little upset.

Women tend to have higher expectations for the gifts they receive and read more into them than men generally do, says Alison David, director of matchmaking for Omaha Love and Midwest Matchmaking in the US. The best gift her husband ever gave her? When they first started dating, David mentioned she’d been trying to find a bookshelf – and her then-boyfriend went out and found a used one for her. “It wasn’t fancy,” David says. “But it was exactly what I wanted.”

When I posted on social media asking people to tell me about the worst gift they’d received from a significant other, barely any men chimed in. But dozens of women responded, complaining about gifts they’ve received from men. They included a tool kit, a kitchen knife, a plastic rabbit, a Precious Moments figurine given to someone who is neither religious nor a knick-knack collector, a carved wooden stick from Ireland, and a leather apron.

Men “tend to go for those practical things rather than thinking about the thoughtful”, David says. Hence the tool kit and the kitchen knife. “As women we’re a little more intuitive to men dropping hints, or paying attention to little details,” she adds.

Like wrapping paper. Rosa Carrasco, a 45-year-old scientist, remembers the first Christmas she exchanged gifts with a boyfriend who went on to be her husband – and then ex-husband. At the time they were both 20-something graduate students in the late 1990s.

Carrasco gave him a book of physics lectures from a famous professor, and he handed her a present wrapped in one of her towels. She peeled it away to find the Doom trilogy, one of the original first-person-shooter computer games. It was an odd gift to receive, because Carrasco wasn’t a gamer.

“I think Tetris was the only game I played before this,” she recalls. She had a brand new computer, one that stood out for being “super-fast” at that time, and so he gave her something for himself – a game that he wanted to play on her machine.

There was a small problem with that plan, however. “He would get motion sickness every time he tried to play,” Carrasco says, so she started playing out of spite. And she got pretty good at it – whizzing through the levels and finishing the entire game. “It got me through graduate school,” Carrasco says, “but it sucked for him because he couldn’t play it.”

It wasn’t the only gift from this man that felt like a mismatch. Two years later, when Carrasco and her boyfriend were long-distance and she moved into a new apartment, he gave her an electric can opener for Christmas.

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“I don’t cook; I don’t eat things out of a can,” Carrasco says. “It sat in my kitchen for years; I never used it.”

When they split about four years ago, he got the can opener in the divorce.