Souvenirs are cute at sixteen, tiring at nineteen, and near unbearable in your twenties. They bring snow globes, penny trinkets, keychains—key chains are the worst. The rest you can smile and tuck away but the key chains have a dark, compulsive immediacy. The men will give it to you with a bashful smile and then wait, casually, then hawkishly, until you hang it on something; preferably your purse and cellphone, but they’ll settle for an oft-used notebook planner. Never mind the kitschy keychain doesn’t fit your style at all and scratches up your leather and silk scarves. You daren’t not complain because you’re supposed to be happy. After all, isn’t a souvenir a small confession? Physical proof that you are in their mind and under their skin, even when they are far away in an exotic land?
(Or not so exotic. You remember the boy who brought you cactus candy from Arizona. You will also never forget the boy who amassed a collection of toy turtles—tiny wooden ones from Thailand, palm-sized figurines from Peru, glass-blown gimmicks from Cambodia. Each time he will return with one uglier than the last, and they invaded your desk until you finally threw them and the original owner away. It was both heart-breaking and soul-satisfying.)
Flowers are always welcome, but you put them in the same category as teddy bears and chocolates: A for effort, but C for creativity. It’s enough to make you turn your head, but not enough to make you wait. Exception: an exquisitely tasteful bouquet of callas, delivered with a matching yellow scarf, so sheer that when you throw it up, it takes three heartbeats to dance to the ground. (This has actually never happened to you, but maybe someone will surprise you someday.)
People say you can’t go wrong with jewelry; you respectfully beg to differ. Jewelry are high risk, high reward gestures. Within one small box, a man’s taste, monetary worth, and opinion of you are unveiled. There is nothing more frustrating than receiving an expensive, damnably ugly bauble. A girl only has two real options at that point: resign yourself to educating him, or resign yourself to appropriating his credit card and the unromantic affair of picking out your own Valentine gifts. (Of course there’s always the third avenue, which is to run for the hills, because a man with poor taste is even scarier than a woman with misguided style.)
And then there’s the men who actually give you what you need, like new kitchen knives, a portable heater, the anthology you’ve been lusting over. More often than not, these men are not lovers but dear friends, who have been around long enough to read between your lines and tolerate—if not necessarily accept—your foibles. These men are precious and should only be laughed at when they truly deserve it. Resist kissing them, especially when you’re drunk, because idle curiosity is too cheap a price for a genuine connection.