There’s a gift bag, no tissue paper. In the bag, a small package still wrapped in the padded brown envelope it came shipped in. No card. It’s from my husband. Inside the envelope that’s shoved in the tissue-less bag: Socks. Colorful, lace-trimmed, nice and tall, boot socks. That was my Christmas present last year and I loved it.

I know some of you are calling bullshit, and others have an eyebrow arched skeptically up your foreheads, wondering if the socks came with designer boots (they didn’t) and a trip to Alaska (no). Now, I’ve been on the receiving end of those kinds of gifts. My husband has gotten me jewelry, fancy bags, and one year—before we were married—a car. It was used, but it was red and sporty and yes, it came with a bow. He knows how to go over the top, and of course, I’ve appreciated those kinds of crazy gestures. But speaking as a current wife to a future husband, believe me when I tell you that if your other half owns boots in black, brown and every shade in between, lives in them for the better part of the year, and causally mentions she loves the look of that little pop of color and lace peeking over the top of tall boots…and you listen. And you remember. And then you go ahead and actually buy them for her? She. Is going. To. LOVE. It.

It can be so simple, this art of gift-giving, and yet made so complicated. The secret is in the listening, and the noticing, and the thought. That’s right—it’s that damn thought; and it really, for real, does count. She wants to know you’re paying attention to what she likes, and taking the time to think about what she’s into. It’s not always about the bigger, better and shinier. The kinds of gifts that will pull at her heartstrings are the ones that make her feel like only you could have thought of, for her.

Well, how the hell am I supposed to do that? Here’s a little guidance:

Take notes. That’s why the smart phone gods invented a “notepad” app. You know those moments when she says that she heard her favorite band is going on tour, or she can’t find the sunglasses she loves, and you think that would make a great gift and that you’ll remember when the time comes? You won’t. Write it down.
Make it about her. If the hose on the vacuum cleaner breaks right before her birthday, that’s nice. Now think of something else.
Go off the wish list. If she’s a gift-list kind of person, consider your life easier, but do not get complacent. Moving something from her online wish-list into your cart does not constitute a thought. Not the kind that counts, anyway.
Just because. That’s the holiday least celebrated. Stick it on your calendar.

There’s no real formula or science to the perfect wife gift. And the truth is, it doesn’t have to be perfect. She’s not going to care that the color of the boot socks isn’t the one she would have picked. Or the sunglasses are a slightly different shape than her lost pair. What she is going to LOVE is that you watched, and listened, and noticed, and then thought about something special—just for her. And she’ll show her appreciation, over and over and again. If you get a card, too, add one more “over” to that again.