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Parallax - Advice            April 24, 2000

   He needs the perfect 'we're just friends now' gift

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I broke up with my girlfriend two months ago. We've been trying to do the friend thing. It's not going so well - I think she's still very attached to me, but I've pretty much moved on. Her birthday is coming up soon and I want to give her something nice (she always did for me) - but I don't want to send the wrong message. What should I get her? (She's 25 by the way.)

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Her view:

Dear Mr. Gift,

Not an uncommon predicament. And believe me, she'll call in analysts from all over the world to assess the implications of that birthday gift - so you'd better get it exactly right. I'd say you want to buy something that says 'I care a lot about you but not in a romantic way.' This rules out a number of products. It rules out all jewelry, perfume and clothing, as they are too personal. It also rules out picture frames as the suggestion may be that she should place a photo of you in the frame. Likewise, romantic restaurants and secluded events are not to be part of the birthday festivities.

I recommend books, CDs, prints for her house, a small domestic item like a candy dish or a piece of crystal, or a large beautiful plant. I think all of these are fairly safe and you give the message of thoughtful-but-not-in-love.

By the way, if she's so attached and you've moved on, you may want to give her some space so she can do the same. Encourage her to date other people or perhaps start diminishing the time you spend with her so she can work you out of her life and routine. Your hanging around, even in a friend role, is making it harder for her to move on.

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His view:

Dear Mr. Gift,

It's unfortunate you didn't end it with her earlier. If it was three months since the break-up, instead of two, I'd argue no birthday gift would be needed - only a card or e-mail. Next time you decide to do the friend-thing without being enough of a friend to cut her off clean, I suggest you plan the timing better.

However, since you're in this mess - how about a clunky brown briefcase for work? I know, I'm not the best person for gift advice. But I am sure my colleague will come up with the perfect idea for you... so I'll just offer some corollary tips. First, whatever she suggests, don't get it in pink or red. Also, don't buy it at any of her favorite stores - that's too thoughtful. Stay away from kitchenware - she'll invite you over to dinner. And if you've never been big on gifts, now would not be the best time to change that pattern. Even if you have given her gifts, don't go fancy on her now. Stay level or maybe go down-market.

And whatever else you do, please don't deliver it personally.

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