- Words by Ms Zoe Williams
The worst mistake I ever made was to buy my husband a reversible belt in 2005. He liked it fine. It was red on one side, and blue on the other, and it had one of those clips that, one day, all belts will discover, swivels round to give it a whole new lease of life. The problem was, once I had played that card again, a Christmas later, he had all the belts he needed - black, tan, blue, red. ("I could get him a green one," I muttered to myself, in 2007... "Idiot!" Myself muttered back. "Who wears a green belt? What do you think he is, an elf?")
Realistically (and this was before we even had children to really drag things out) we probably had another 20 big-ticket present events to get through, and I had wasted a possible four opportunities on a mere two gifts. No problem, you might think - he is a human being. He has interests that go beyond how to hold his trousers up. But as we all know, it's a bit more complicated than that.
In common with all men (and while I loathe gender stereotypes, this happens to be true of all men), he will not take a gift-incursion into hobby territory. So while it's true that he's very in to music, he considers the hardware so much a part of his identity that if I were to buy him an amp, that would be like him buying me new breasts.
The farthest I was ever allowed to venture into noise-related presents was in 2009, when he made the mistake of asking for a radio. I meandered up and down London's Tottenham Court Road basically begging with my eyes for a radio that was expensive enough that I didn't have to find anything else. Finally, someone decoded my eyes, and flogged me a DAB for £20 more than its recommended retail price. Which is why, people, you should always go to respectable retail outlets, such as John Lewis, especially if you are stupid.
While it's true that my husband is very into music, he considers the hardware so much part of his identity that if I were to buy him an amp, that would be like him buying me new breasts
Again, in common with many of his gender, he has a keen sense of chic and a ready originality, but he doesn't truly like clothes until they're old. That's fine for him, he can buy them, wear them in, fall in love over a period of time, then exist in a short fortnight of bliss with whatever knitwear has finally wound its way into his heart, before it falls apart. But it's no good for me. If I bought him a new thing, all I would have done was to add a rung at the bottom of his wardrobe, marked "New least favourite thing; because it is new".
Shoes, he only wears one type (a particular sneaker) and because they are no longer made, and he has an eBay alert out on them, he is the only person, possibly in the world, certainly in our house, with access to them (it is the adidas Super, since you ask. If you want to start your own fetish and drain the supply, then you should know that you have my blessing).
This leaves leather goods. I have been trying to surf an entire relationship on leather goods for more than a decade, and now we are married. So it's 10 times harder, he already has them all and we've added "anniversary" to the two annual events that were already the most taxing points of my year. I've stood in department stores trying to pose the absurdity of buying a Gucci bag for a man who refuses to carry a bag, against the relief of being able to just do it and go home. I've done wash bag and wallet and man-bag. I've actively rejoiced when he lost his wallet, just so I could buy him a new one. And then when he found it, at the bottom of the umbrella stand, I didn't care because I'd already managed a birthday with the needless new wallet.
I'm not yet in "activity" territory - I have one friend who buys her boyfriend an ice-climbing experience every year. She's just waiting for him to complain, so she can yell at him about how impossible he is to buy a present for. I'm not yet reduced to jokes (another friend bought her husband, for his 39th birthday, 39 pairs of socks). And I'm past the phase of tiny sentimental presents that just say "I love you" - a travel cardholder with "Bazinga!" written on it (it's the catch phrase from The Big Bang Theory - because you love it, and I love you!).
But hang on, travel cardholders. They must do those in leather, right? Maybe crocodile?