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Decoding Men's Oddball Love Signals

His gifts are terrible. He talks when you want him to listen. His idea of a date is take-out pizza on the couch. Is this your guy's notion of affection and romance? Well, actually, yes.

It's the Thought That Counts...Right?

decoding_mens_love_signalsWhich leads to the next great romantic failing of man: Guys give lousy gifts. You know it. We know it. That checkout guy at The Home Depot knows it. Given this, perhaps it's worth viewing any gift we bestow as a symbol of great love — not in spite of the fact that the gift will be terrible, but because we know the gift will be terrible.

"For most women I know, the ability to conjure innovative gifts seems innate. When my wife gives me things, I am almost always astounded at her creativity," says Brian, a 35-year-old copy editor in Brooklyn, NY. "By contrast, my presents tend to be of the 'Here's a cheap box of DVDs that won't even work in your home player' variety — poorly conceived, politely received, and then discarded and seldom thought of again. I try; I honestly try. But every piece of tacky jewelry and so-wrong-it-hurts item of clothing I've ever given her only confirms that gift-giving is just one of those things I am terrible at. On the upside: To avoid embarrassment, I have perfected the art of the special-occasion dinner out. It's an easy one to nail on the head."

The problem is, we really don't understand what you want. Most guys want practical gifts — a router, a power saw, a 10-pack of replacement spools for his Weed Eater. For the life of us, we can't understand why you would need another pair of earrings when you already have several hundred that can do the trick. (An Ipsos Insight survey of 1,000 Americans ages 18 and older found that jewelry was the second most requested gift by women but only fifth in terms of what men planned to give.)

"The big issue is that women are always looking for the greater significance in men's actions," says Schwartz. "And when he does get something that we're proud of, we can impress our girlfriends: He bought me jewelry, or he took me out to a romantic dinner. They're tokens of affection, and the more things we can hold up as symbols of his devotion, the better we feel: Oh, he bought me this, which shows how much he loves me. Deep down we might appreciate a less-than-perfect gift, but still, we're thinking, How am I going to explain this bowling ball to my girlfriends when they ask what he gave me for my birthday?"

Which brings us to the lingerie.

Perhaps the most controversial of all man gestures, the giving of lingerie is an enigma wrapped inside — well, not a lot of fabric. The Ipsos survey mentioned above found that 22 percent of men give lingerie for Valentine's Day, yet only 2 percent of women want to receive it. Lord knows, all you're thinking when you open the box and dangle these doilies by the spaghetti straps is, Does he seriously expect me to spend the 20 hours on the StairMaster it will take for me to even consider wearing this?

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