Anniversary present

14th August, 2004

Dear Economist,
My wedding anniversary is fast approaching. What should I get my wife to show her how much I love her?
— Malcolm Hayfield, Whitstable

Dear Mr Hayfield,

That depends on how much you love her. If you think she would be pleased to know, best to make a clear signal of your ardour. If the grubby truth is that love’s flame burns less brightly than once it did, better to hide in the mainstream of mediocrity.

Good examples of also-ran gifts are flowers and chocolates – always appreciated, not too expensive. Your wife will be unable to tell whether she is unloved or you are merely uninspired.
Your question suggests, however, that you conceive of your love as something to shout about from the rooftops. The simple solution, then, is to buy something hugely expensive as a signal that you expect many more years of wedded bliss. A less ardent husband, who expected fewer years or less bliss, would never choose to give such a signal.

Your choices do not end there. Any expensive signal will serve – even burning £50 notes in front of her. But not all signals convey equivalent overtones. Buying risque underwear does not convey the same message as giving your wife stock in General Electric, even if the price tag is identical.

Your final consideration should therefore be to give a present that nobody would think of if they did not completely understand your wife’s dreams and desires. Whether it is a specially commissioned oil painting of her favourite place, or the signed Stone Roses memorabilia that recalls her wild youth, this is your triumph. Your gift will signal first that you remembered the anniversary, second that you are committed to the marriage, and finally, that you understand the wife.

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