'Tis a gift to be simple, 'tis a gift to be free, 'tis a gift to come down where you ought to be. And when we find ourselves in the place just right, 'twill be in the valley of love and delight.
--"Simple Gifts," folk song
En route to the valley of love and delight, we tarry in the mall, looking for gifts, simple and otherwise.
Single Life went shopping this week, but we didn't buy anything. We were looking for opinions.
How well do you have to know someone to buy that person a Christmas present? How do you choose a gift for your lover?
Have you ever tried to impress someone with a gift? Have you ever given back a gift?
"I gave back a ring once," said Kori, 18, an Orange Coast College student from Huntington Beach. "Two years ago, this guy gave me a ring--after I had specifically said that I don't wear rings!"
Kori kept the trinket for a while, dangling it around her neck on a chain.
"But I didn't feel right about it," she said, "so I finally gave it back. I wasn't at all serious about this guy--he was 22, I was 16. And he seemed to feel that since he gave me a ring I owed him something, some big devotion.
"I tried to be real gentle when I gave it back, but he didn't take it too well," Kori said. "He wrote me this long letter telling me how mean I was. It was so ridiculous. What was on his mind giving me a ring in the first place? I was going to call and try to explain my side, but then I figured, what's the point? He's just thinking about himself anyway--he won't even hear a word I'm saying."
For Kori, shopping for gifts is one part browsing and two parts reminiscing.
"The way I shop isn't, 'OK, I like this guy. I guess I'll get him a shirt.' It's not a question of money, and it's not about how long I've known someone. If I'm going to buy a present, I want to get something that comes from a memory I have of the person. It's got to be connected to some experience we've shared.
"There's this guy I'm kind of dating now. We've gotten to know each other in the last two months. The first time I went out with him, I put on a red leather hat and asked him what he thought. He really liked the hat, but he asked me to change shoes. I was wearing purple shoes. He asked me to put on red shoes.
"I was just walking around the mall, and I saw a hat that would be perfect to get him. Even though it's a girl's hat and it's not the same style as the one I have, it would still be perfect."
"I guess I really like this guy," she said, blushing. "I bought the hat. I can't wait to see his face when he opens it."
Brad, 29, said he bought gold jewelry for "a few special women" this year, "not one special- special. " And he bought jewelry, he said, because that's what he likes to give. Brad doesn't respond well to wish lists.
"If I'm with a woman and she sees something in a store window and says, 'I want that!' I'll say, 'We'll see.' I won't just rush out and buy it."
"I like to buy what I think a woman will like, not something she asks for specifically," Brad said, adding with a laugh: "That's probably why I'm not married yet!"
Heidi, a hairdresser from Huntington Beach, bought "a whole bunch of things" for her boyfriend of 13 months.
"He just bought a (home), so I got him a lot of household things," she said, "plus clothes."
Last Christmas--when their relationship was just a few paces off the starting line--Heidi, 27, shopped with caution.
"I tried to keep it really low key last year," she said. "We didn't have anything set up as far as giving gifts. We didn't talk about it. He didn't know if I was buying anything, and I didn't know if he was."
"I got him a shirt and a tie," she said, rolling her eyes at the old shirt-and-tie routine. "I wanted to stay within a reasonable amount of money because I didn't want him to feel that he'd been overspent or that he was indebted. I can't explain it, but I knew it would bother him if I spent more. I knew it would make him self-conscious.
"That's just the way he is. Now that I've known him for more than a year, I know I was right about that."
Cathy, 39, doesn't have the luxury of shopping with abandon. Separated from her husband five years ago and divorced in 1985, Cathy said it's a stretch just taking care of her two sons on a single salary.
"I've been seeing someone for about a year," said the medical librarian from Huntington Beach. "I got him a sweater and some argyle socks and a book.
"I try to make the best use of the money I have--I buy on sale, I go to an outlet near where I live. But it's difficult when you're a single mom to find any extra dollars."
"I only give presents to my kids and very, very special people," said Bill, 43, a divorced father of two. "Cousins, uncles, brothers--I could care less. I don't have a big gift-exchange program with a lot of people. Other than my kids and a few special people, I'm a real Scrooge."
This year, one of those special people is a woman Bill met in September.