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. Picture: Pixabay

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

Or was he?

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 another 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) gotten 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 said.

He wanted to keep dating, but Purdie decided it was all too much. They broke up shortly thereafter. She thinks her ex is still with the mother of his child, Purdie said recently, and "that makes me really happy."

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.

But often the meaning we ascribe to these objects is horribly out of whack. It's possible that person who presented you with a kitchen utensil when you were expecting jewelry just needs some pointers about what you really wanted. Gift giving doesn't come naturally; it's a skill that can be refined with time.

And yes, 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. The best gift her husband ever gave her? When they'd 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 said, "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 - while dozens of women responded complaining about gifts they've received from men, including: A tool kit; a kitchen knife; a plastic rabbit; a Precious Moments figurine given to someone who is neither religious nor a knickknack collector; a carved wooden stick from Ireland; a leather apron. The list goes on.

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. (Note to gift givers everywhere: Do not wrap something in the cloth that dries your body after a shower.) 

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 recalled recently. 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 said, 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 said, "but it sucked for him because he couldn't play it."

The Washington Post