Best gifts for someone who you just met

...who maybe is going to get you a gift.
A group of six people sitting at a table on a city rooftop, having a meal under cloudy skies and some decorative banners.
A rooftop dinner is one way to make the night memorable. cottonbro / Pexels

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Whether it’s a new romantic relationship, a recently moved-in roommate, or a coworker who’s just starting to creep into your social circle, plenty of us spend the holidays wondering whether or not we should get someone a gift. Sure, you could just ask whether or not they want to exchange gifts with you. But what if your asking makes them feel pressured to give a gift? Or worse, what if your uncertainty about the nature of your relationship is totally one-sided, and your friend is left hurt? SOCIAL PROTOCOLS ARE HARD, OKAY. We get it. So here are a few gifts that are either so easy-breezy as to keep the recipient from feeling awkward about not having a gift for you, or so universally cool that you’ll be happy to give them to someone else—or yourself—should a gift exchange fail to occur.

A travel mug

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On the one hand, this little baby is the best travel mug money can buy. On the other hand, it’s just a travel mug. 10/10, extremely thoughtful (and eco-friendly!) but low-pressure gift. And hey, you can always keep it for yourself. Who among us has too many travel mugs?

A Fun Game That Won’t Break The Bank

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Codenames made it onto our office gift exchange list, and for good reason: it’s frickin’ fun, and super affordable. If your do-I-or-don’t-I gift recipient is throwing a holiday party, bring this along in a jaunty little gift bag. Should they fail to present you with a present, just tell them that you adore this game and love giving sets to your friends to play at parties. Now you’re stuck bringing a new pack of Codenames to every gathering you’ll both attend for the rest of your lives, but on the bright side you’ll get to play Codenames a lot.

Something Practical That You Know They Need

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Maybe you know you want to exchange gifts with someone but feel like you don’t yet know them well enough to really get them. Don’t blow your money on something silly: think of an item you’ve seen them do without, like an umbrella that didn’t come from a drugstore. You might not prove to them that you’re 100 percent in tune with their likes and dislikes, but you’ll sure prove that you’re thoughtful. You can check out our guide to practical gifts for more ideas.

A Gift That Won’t Outlast Your Relationship

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Maybe it’s not a question of whether to get someone something—or even what to get them—but rather how much. Are you two endgame, or what? How much joy are you going to want to inject into this person’s life? A subscription box says “I’m giving you a gift every month for the next year because every day with you is a gift, but I could also cancel it next month if you ghost me, so no pressure.”

A Magazine Subscription

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Whaaaat? It’s a good gift. And if they don’t give you anything, just keep your mouth shut and let them wonder who the heck blessed them with the best dang science quarterly in the world. Sometimes magazines just show up, right? That’s totally a thing.

A Gift That Isn’t Even For Them

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Does your would-be giftee have a pup? The solution is clear: get them a dog toy. It’s not not a gift for the human you’re maybe sorta kinda good friends with, but it’s also totally normal to want to spoil any and all dogs—so no one is going to feel weird if they don’t have something to give you in return.

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Rachel Feltman


Rachel Feltman is Editor-at-Large at Popular Science. She hosts and oversees the hit podcast The Weirdest Thing I Learned This Week, and helps to fill the magazine’s digital pages with thrilling features. She lives in Jersey City with her surprisingly tall husband and surprisingly old cat.