DEAR NIKKI: 'Tis the Season

Advice Column

Dear Nikki,

I really don’t know what to get my girlfriend for holiday time. We just started dating, and I’m nervous that if I get her something “too nice,” she’ll freak out. But I also don’t want to get her something that she won’t like. Do you have any ideas?

—Contemplative Charmer

The ubiquitous claim that “it’s the thought that counts” when it comes to gift-giving is, frankly, only a way of making people feel better when they disappoint the recipient. And since failure in the gift-giving department can be fatal, particularly when it comes to a new relationship, thinking through your choice is crucial.

Luckily, you’ve already completed the first step in deflecting a potential fiasco: planning ahead. When you are forced to scrounge for something at the last minute, you will most likely end up with a gift that is less than satisfactory.

Now, your next step is to solicit advice from the right people. Good sources for investigation are her roommates and friends. They know her best and will, consequently, have the best suggestions—and since this is a new relationship, you have to win them over anyway... so why not start now?

The way to become a master of gift-giving season is to select something that actually reflects her personality. Choosing something simply to bedazzle her—that could just as easily be given to any girl—will not make such a splash.

While of course, nice perfume and jewelry are suitable options, you may “freak her out,” as you put it, with these types of glitzy gifts. If you stick to something more personality-specific and fun, I can (almost) guarantee success (i.e. putting a genuine smile on her face). Definitely steer away from gift certificates, which are undeniably impersonal, and shows that you didn’t put in enough time to think through what she might like.

Also set up a time to celebrate the holiday season with her—even if it’s as simple as a dinner or movie—to supplement any gift you choose for her. (Side note: cooking a dinner together, along with other friends, has reportedly had a very high success rate.)

All this being said, here are a couple of gifts to avoid: economics text books, a padded toilet seat, lingerie (while this may be more acceptable at later stages in the relationship, chances are this will be awkward if you are just trying to spark things up), a sewing kit (unless she has expressed a particular interest), or coal, even in jest.

In the end, don’t fret too much, and think about her personality. The gift, though important, will not be the sole indicator of how things go in the future.


Nikki­—who is now accepting gifts to her Kirkland mailbox.

Dear Nikki,

I feel like whenever I go out with my friend, she drinks too much. I’ve tried to approach her about this several times, but she doesn’t seem to listen and just shrugs it off as, “I was just having a good time.” What should I do?

—Fretful Friend

This is a challenging question—and one that requires both sensitivity and maturity. Especially at college, there can often be a very hazy line between social drinking at parties and more destructive behavior.

The issue is further complicated by the fact that it is difficult to define and identify dangerous drinking behavior. You have to go with your gut, but you also have to ask yourself big questions: Is there an outside problem in her life that is driving her to drink more? Is there a family history of substance abuse? How is her schoolwork?

If you believe that your friend has a problem, confronting her about her behavior is an important decision that needs to be dealt with delicately.

Director of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Services Ryan M. Travia advises that it is important to find a safe place and time to bring up your concerns with your friend, and says it is particularly important to avoid speaking to the person while he or she is under the influence.

“I would suggest being as specific as possible with respect to the actual behaviors that are of the most concern,” says Travia. “It’s easier for someone to just ‘shrug’ something off when you tell them that they ‘drink too much.’”

Citing specific examples, says Travia, will make it harder for your friend to answer the common response that her drinking is no different than that of anyone else at college.

Also, in order to keep your friend from assuming a defensive role, keep the conversation in “I mode.” In other words, tell your friend how her drinking makes you feel. Be up front about specifics, but don’t ramble off a list of accusations.

Remember that it’s okay if your friend responds with denial—this doesn’t mean your efforts were worthless. Denial is a common response, as it can be very difficult for an individual to come to terms with his or her problem.

It is also important to know that you are not responsible for changing your friend—nor are you alone capable of it. Being aware of some of the available resources on campus for help will make it easier to advise your friend.

Some of these resources include The Bureau of Study Council, University Health Services’ Mental Health Services, the Center for Wellness and Health Communication, proctors, and senior tutors. These groups and individuals have more expertise surrounding issues similar to this one and will be able to help more directly.

And in the end, the fact that you are supporting your friend and encouraging her to go in the right direction is the most that you can do.


Nikki—who sends best wishes to you and your friend.

—“Dear Nikki” runs on Mondays. Send letters to Letters will be published anonymously.