As we enter into the hellish period leading up the December holidays in which the task of Shopping becomes an all-consuming force of urban life—can you tell I don’t like shopping?—I find that having knowledgeable people to advise me on gift choices becomes a serious time saver. I LOVE gift guides. I LOVE “Top Ten Gifts for Twelve-Year Olds this Holiday Season” and “Appropriate Gifts to Give Your Mailman/Tailor/Dentist.” These things help me function with some degree of grace in situation where I might otherwise falter.
So I wanted to put my own guide guide out there, related to a topic with which I have a lot of experience, both personally and professionally: what to get, and what NOT to get, your divorced friends. (Most of these can be applied for recently divorced family members and recently divorced coworkers, too.) And I’ll start with the more important category first:
What NOT to Get People:
- Self-help books. Okay, maybe buying your friend a copy of Keep Your Chin Up!: How to Make it Through Your Divorce and Come Out a Winner seems like it might be a good idea when you see it on the shelf at Barnes & Noble, but trust me, it’s not. These are the adult diapers of the book world: you don’t want anyone to know you own them, and you certainly don’t want to receive them as a gift. Just leave that book behind (they probably already have it on Kindle anyway).
- A sex doll. This might come across as a funny joke—no seriously, I have seen this given as a gift in more than one occasion—but for a recent divorcee, it’s probably not going to enrich your friendship or endear you to them. Just a general rule of thumb: a sex doll is never a good idea. For anyone. Ever.
- A man-shaped bed pillow. I don’t know if these were originally conceived as gag gifts or as actual things that people might secretly want, but I think it falls into the category of, “If I want one I’ll secretly buy it on Amazon and hide it in my closet when I have people over”—see number 1.
- A poster with inspirational quote. If you are the kind of person to buy someone a framed poster, door-hanger or other household item that includes an inspirational quote, I think you should probably just stick to buying your divorced friends alcoholic beverages for a while. No judgment, it’s just all that positivity can be a little much when you’re a freshly split unit.
- A plant. A plant probably seems harmless and thoughtful, but to a recent divorcee, it’s likely to be a potted reminder that they’re alone in the world, ie. “You have nobody, here’s a plant to be your friend.” Avoid gifting plants for 1 to 3 years post-divorce.
- Really nice wine. This never fails. It tastes good, it feels classy, and it gets you drunk. Even better: take them out for an evening of really nice wine-drinking, foot the bill, and pay for the taxi home. Now that’s a friend.
- Stuff to encourage their interests. Did your friend used to be really into photography, or yoga, or travel, and has now fallen out of the habit? Without being condescending, you can encourage them to pick up on old interests—and encourage their minds away from the divorce—by giving low-pressure gifts that help them get there (think a magazine subscription or a book, not an expensive piece of equipment or fitness club subscription).
- Really good coffee. Coffee is another one of those things where it’s hard to go wrong. Proper gourmet coffee is delicious, warm, comforting, and it’s something that most of us drink anyway, so once again—practical. Try a variety of coffees from interesting places or with interesting flavors, and go fair trade in case they worry about these things (lots of my friends do).
- A cool trip for friends. One of the nicest things you can do for a friend is to get them—nay, force them—out of their dark and horrible routine for a weekend of recalibration. It gives them a chance to relax, vent, possibly cry, and it solidifies your relationship to a degree so they feel less alone. Just make sure you plan around their schedule, ie. don’t surprise someone with a last-minute trip, which is thoughtful but stressful for busy people.
- A token of recognition for their achievements. Chances are, your friend is feeling like a grade A loser about now, even if they’re actually a very accomplished person. Gifts that nod gently to their achievements, like a set of posh pens, is a nice way to refocus on the good stuff.
James J. Sexton