I was once so worried about what kind of Valentine’s Day gift a girl should give a boy that I persuaded a florist to wrap a packet of beef jerky next to a single rose. That went over pretty well, but I figure that can’t be the usual approach, or the florist wouldn’t have been so flabbergasted. So to see what Valentine’s gift people are expecting (or if they’re even expecting a gift) these days, I commissioned a SurveyMonkey Audience poll of 567 men and women in heterosexual relationships,1 to see how they want their partners to express their love.
Here’s the bad news: Cards and chocolates are apparently obligatory, even though many people don’t actually want them. At least 70 percent of men and women thought romantic partners of either gender should give cards for the holiday, and they’re dutifully buying them (65 percent of men and 70 percent of women plan to get them). But only a little more than half of men or women listed cards as something they wanted to receive.
Chocolate isn’t much better. The expectations are lower — about half of men and women think men should be turning up with sweets, but only 29 percent of women want them. The numbers are about as bad for the quarter of women who plan to give chocolates to their partners; only 15 percent of men hope to get them.2
Jewelry is the gift that men seem to be neglecting, at least if their goal is to please their partners. Although 40 percent of men and women say they expect men to give jewelry on Feb. 14, only 20 percent of the men surveyed plan to do it. Meanwhile, a quarter of women say jewelry is what they’re hoping for.
Women tend to expect more of themselves for Valentine’s Day than men expect of them. There was about a 15 percentage point gap between the share of women who felt they were expected to give chocolates or dinner and the share of men who expect them to. Meanwhile, men and women never differed by more than about 5 percentage points when it came to their expectations of what men should do on Valentine’s Day.
Personally, I always favor buying experiences over objects. But take heart, you may not need to rely on my advice or my aggregations. Almost half of all men surveyed (45 percent) and 29 percent of women said they didn’t want anything for the holiday. And, when I looked at the people who did want a gift, a third of both men and women said they told their partners directly what they wanted.
Good luck to those of you dating the 55 percent of people who do want to be surprised or the 10 percent who say they give hints. If your plans don’t pan out, you have my permission to print out this article and put the blame on me. (“But, darling, the data said …”)