Happily Ever Chatter Series: Surprises

July 10, 2012

This post is brought to you by Hope Springs starring Meryl Streep, Tommy Lee Jones and Steve Carell. In theaters August 8th.

Our wedding anniversary comes next month and I’ve been thinking about what I want to get for Ben Blair. Some years we do something awesome (like climbing a Fourteener for our 14th anniversary — the photo above is us on the top of the mountain). But other years are more laid back. I remember one gift exchange when we were still newlyweds that totally bombed. We both tried really hard to come up with something amazing, while keeping within our tiny, still-in-college budget.

Ben Blair had recently received a gorgeous certificate from an honor society (I no longer even remember the name), so I secretly had it framed — with touches of gold! — to hang in his future office. And for me, knowing my love of design, Ben Blair went to a used book store and combed the racks till he found a big volume from Architectural Digest.

When the gift exchange happened, we both tried hard to act like the gifts we received were awesome. But really, they were both a total fail! Turns out Ben Blair can’t stand anything that draws attention to his accomplishments. Though I didn’t know it at the time, there’s no way he would ever have an office hanging with certificates. It’s just not his style. And as for the book, it was filled with out-of-date, out-of-touch homes of celebrities that we’d never heard of. It wasn’t old enough to be cool. It was just depressing and the opposite of fresh and inspiring. By the end of the evening, we were laughing about our ridiculous gift choices and vowing to do better next time.

Since that little fiasco, our gift giving surprises have almost totally disappeared. We’re much more likely to discuss a gift ahead of time or make a wishlist. Doesn’t that sound so practical and un-romantic? Hah! Oh well, it seems to work for us.

How about you? Has any gift ever come as a surprise to you? Do you prefer surprises, or do you like to make lists and request something specific?

P.S. — Have you seen the trailer for Hope Springs? I’m such a Meryl Streep fan!

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{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Danielle Blake July 10, 2012 at 12:04 pm

Generally for birthdays and Christmas my husband and I will tell each other throughout the year when we like something we find on the internet or in a store. From these tidbits we make wishlists for each other and they can be given to anyone who requests ideas during their present buying. We buy off the wishlists for each other but also usually find surprises as well that were never discussed between us.

However, for our anniversary we decided to dispense with the stress of giving each other the perfect gift. Instead we talk with each other and find something meaningful we’d like to get ourselves as a couple. This year will be our first Christmas in our own home, no visiting family at all. So for our anniversary we are collecting Christmas ornaments throughout the year so we don’t have a bare tree. We also each year do something fun together for our anniversary. This year we went camping together, just the two of us.


2 Design Mom July 10, 2012 at 12:59 pm

I love the idea of the ornaments, Danielle!


3 Ashley July 10, 2012 at 12:18 pm

Loved your story! After multiple gift-giving fails, I’ve just started telling my husband what I want now… I think the worst was on a Valentine’s Day in college when he got me guitar lessons, but it turns out the lessons were from some freaky guy I knew from back home. No way was I going to spend an hour with him every week trying to learn an instrument! Not that my husband could have possibly known all of this when he got the gift, but I was really immature about it at the time. :)


4 Design Mom July 10, 2012 at 1:00 pm

I hear you. It’s all about expectations — I think that’s why making requests works for some couples. : )


5 Connie July 10, 2012 at 12:49 pm

My husband and I have only been married four years and we’re pretty much still drowning in student loan debt (le sigh…), so rather than a gift for our birthdays/anniversary we go out for dinner somewhere fancy. But Christmas, we give each other $35 and the ingenuity required on that kind of budget has actually made things pretty fun! We never really know what to expect from the other person! One year my husband dropped the whole thing on a very beautiful sweater, and there have been years when there end up being a bunch of itty bitty little presents under our tree containing random trinkets and finds that we collect up for the other person.


6 Design Mom July 10, 2012 at 1:01 pm

Your $35 limit is so smart! Working with constraints brings out the creativity.


7 Lori B July 10, 2012 at 12:58 pm

Hubby and I have been together for nineteen years now, and I don’t think we’ve ever had a bad gift exchange (thinking waaaay back…)? There have been a few times that we decided to get a big gift for both of us, so we of course had to discuss and plan those. Most often our ‘gift’ is the two of us either going out to dinner or making a nice meal together at home (sans children), and watching a movie afterwards. It sounds a little boring, but since we never normally eat out, it’s a huge treat for us!

As for the movie trailer, I can tell that’s a movie I’d not be interested in seeing- it looks too crude for my taste.


8 Design Mom July 10, 2012 at 1:02 pm

I love when we decide on an outing or an adventure instead of giving each other objects. It’s definitely my preferred way to celebrate!


9 se7en July 10, 2012 at 1:27 pm

We have given up on “event gifts,” the stress of finding the perfect gift and then keeping a secret from each was just not a marriage builder!!! So we do spontaneous gifts whenever, they tend to be small and just “I love you” consumables. Larger items we are both so opinionated about we have to check with each other first!!!

I can say that I am abysmally bad at remembering the poor man’s birthday and for the first ten years of marriage I was a day out either way each year… we were both students and the budget was always tight… I had huge creative plans of gifts to make for him that always totally bombed… After ten years of marriage we did renovations and at the same time I bought him a top of the range awesome coffee machine ( it slid in alongside the washing machine, dishwasher etc) – renovation expenses!!! Anyway I always claim that gift was to make up for all the gift-fails and will have to last for all future birthdays too… Nearly ten years later and he is still thrilled with his coffee machine!!! One winning gift in a lifetime – I can’t hope to achieve more!!!


10 Danielle Cococcia July 10, 2012 at 1:40 pm

One year my husband gave me a gift certificate for a cleaning at the dentist. Seriously. I hate going (which he knows) and he thought this would motivate me…sweet thought, but definitely topped the charts for worst gift ever. =-)


11 Lauren July 10, 2012 at 1:48 pm

We mostly plan gifts together too. We share a car, so to get a surprise gift for one another involves one party going out in the evening or on the weekend without the other, and we’d rather just spend that time together! We often choose an “experience” gift over a physical gift and are always thrilled to have the happy memories instead of something else to clutter the house :)


12 Daffodil July 10, 2012 at 2:00 pm

My husband and I don’t do any anniversary gifting — just a babysitter and dinner (gift enough, if you ask me!).

For Christmas, we buy ourselves a big gift. One year it was a chair for the living room, another year it was an iPod with the sound dock, once it was even a vacation.

Our birthdays fall about a month apart, and the first one is about five weeks after Christmas. We will usually ask what the other wants, but this year, neither of us wanted anything, so we did another Big Gift To Share, a la Christmas.

Oh sure, some birthday or anniversary or Christmas down the road, I would love to have a little tiny box with a little something sparkly in it, but I much prefer this style of giving. It allows us to think bigger and get something we’ll both use/enjoy about the same amount, which is great when you’re the one in the relationship who’s worse at figuring out good gifts. Way less guilt that way. :)


13 Jenny July 10, 2012 at 2:09 pm

My husband and I are celebrating our two year anniversary today! We’re going to dinner at our favorite pub and catching a movie to celebrate today, because we decided together weeks ago to splurge on an Outstanding In The Field dinner together as our gift to each other. It’s happening in Lafayette, CO in a couple of weeks and I can’t wait! We’re both very pragmatic when it comes to gift giving; we’d both rather have something useful or share something super special, than to try guessing.


14 Raquel Goldman July 10, 2012 at 3:20 pm


We recently had our 12th anniversary and not really into gifts. The night before he had taken the kids to the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory and purchased a bag of cookies. When they came home they were all cracking open cookies and he handed me one. Imagine my surprise when I broke it open to see his handwriting with a simple ‘I love you’ on the fortune. The bonus? He didn’t even realize our anniversary was the next day :)

Raquel :)


15 Nutmegg July 10, 2012 at 5:14 pm

We always do a super-silly riff on whatever the “traditional” gift is, like a bottle of iron tablets for our 6th anniversary. For our first, which was paper, I gave him several of the notebooks he likes with little love notes sprinkled in them, and for our 10th (last year–diamond and tin) I crocheted a beer can hat with diamond shaped insets.

I don’t know how we got started on it, but we kind of came up with it at the same time, and just try to have fun with it.


16 Lisa July 10, 2012 at 6:23 pm

I can’t wait for the movie to come out! It seems so funny.

My husband and I are like you completely, un-romantic when it comes to our gifts. Although, I do try and surprise him every now and again with the little things. But when it comes to big things, we definitely talk about it first. I even picked out my engagement ring and I don’t regret it. My husband is an engineer and so sometimes he just has no idea on what I would want. Why not make it easier on him?


17 Megan Flowers July 10, 2012 at 10:21 pm

We stick with the traditional gift. Last year was iron so we got a Le Creuset Dutch oven. I’m sure my husband was thrilled! He eats the gift of the meals I cook him with it! Ha!
For our 3 year which is flowers we took our son who was 2 months old to his first outting to our favorite botanical garden.
This year is brass. I’m thinking of a date night at the Hollywood Bowl to see a jazz band.


18 jen July 11, 2012 at 5:33 am

love this! our anniversary is coming up in august and i know we would do something silly like get apple tv or something. maybe we should make it a date and go see this together…..


19 Karina Hotard July 11, 2012 at 7:51 am

I like the idea of wishlists. Yes, it would be so romantic to know exactly the other would want and surprise them with it, but the truth is, it rarely happens. Plus, we live in a time where we already have so much, so what is the extra special thing? We typically decide to do things (go to a show etc.. or go out for an amazing dinner at a great restaurant.


20 Chi@106 July 11, 2012 at 8:52 am

Giving gifts that “bomb” early on in a relationship (and occasionally ever after!) is all part of the process of getting to know what your spouse likes, don’t you agree? :)

I discovered an online wishlist site (Wishpot) last year and I’ve squirreled away so much stuff there that I was genuinely pleasantly surprised when my husband bought me a pocket watch that I’d had on it for a while.

P.S. Hope Springs looks like a funny, heartwarming film – great for a quiet date night in. I love Meryl Streep, too.


21 Ann July 11, 2012 at 12:13 pm

This trailer made me laugh. I love these two actors sooooo much! Can’t wait to see this. We stopped giving gifts a long time ago too. We made it to 21 this year. Congrats on yours. We usually pick a concert to go to. This year it was David Gray. His music just touches us both and reminds us of so many milestones we have accomplished together.


22 Lori C. July 12, 2012 at 2:39 pm
23 Hannah July 13, 2012 at 9:01 am

My husband and I have a running wish list on our computer, and a list of gift websites on Safari. That way we can access each other’s lists without the other person knowing. We’re also not as much into giving gifts for Valentine’s Day or our anniversary – we’d rather go out instead! But it makes birthdays, Christmas, Mother’s Day, and Father’s Day a lot easier:)


24 Rosa @ FlutterFlutter July 13, 2012 at 6:20 pm

Before kids my hubby used to surprise me all the time. My favorite surprise ever was when I was working in a Vancouver design firm and he had called the boss to let him know that he was coming to surprise me and take me away. I had NO idea. He called me to say that he was out front of my office to say hi and catch a quick kiss, and when I got outside he handed me a basket full of my favorite magazines, a pain au chocolate, and a mocha. All items that I would need for a ferry ride to the island for a weekend at the spa. Not bad hey?! ;) He’s a keeper.


25 beka March 6, 2014 at 2:02 pm

Gabrielle! I know this post is from almost 2 years ago but I was trolling your site for some ideas for a wedding anniversary. For some reason, the first site I thought of was yours. We will be celebrating our 10th anniversary in August and after going through a rocky two years, it feels like this anniversary is a milestone we should really celebrate. Fortunately and unfortunately, I’m also expecting a baby in mid-July so a mini-vacation is kind of out-of-the-picture. I’ve been trying to find a thoughtful way to celebrate since I have so much time before our anniversary… something I could work on until August. Do you have any genius suggestions??? Thank you!!!


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