Dear Level

The Official Gift Guide for the Pandemic Relationship

Whether you’re long-term or still in the honeymoon phase, you might need some tips on how to get in your bag like Santa

The holiday season has always been a stressful time for gift giving within a relationship. You’re not only celebrating the season; you’re also letting your partner know exactly where y’all stand. Sometimes you’ll get it right — sometimes you won’t.

Once, years ago, I was expecting a present from my partner that said “We’ve been dating for a few years now, and I once nursed you through a bout of food poisoning.” Instead, I got… a book. It was a great book, and it was one that I’d previously shown interest in. But still: a book. There’s not much you can do to make a book festive. I was grateful and thankful nonetheless — hey, at least it showed he was listening — and as time went on, I got lots of awesome gifts from that guy. Like diamonds. And a baby or two.

This gift-giving season, however, has an added element of weirdness. For obvious reasons.

If you’re still with the same person you were with pre-pandemic, this holiday season might be a little unusual. Either your finances took a hit and you need to be more frugal than in years past, or you’ve been in the same apartment or house with your partner seemingly 24/7 since March.

Remember normal relationships? A year ago, we did things. We had a normal Christmas and Kwanzaa and Hanukkah and Festivus. We went out to dinner. We window-shopped. We traveled, even if it was just for a weekend. Normal stuff.

Then the ’rona hit. And everything about relationships got really strange.

If you’re still with the same person you were with pre-pandemic, this holiday season might be a little unusual. Either your finances took a hit and you need to be more frugal than in years past, or you’ve been in the same apartment or house with your partner seemingly 24/7 since March — either way, an extravagant gift might not be expected. Then again, the total opposite could also be the case. How is one to know?

In general, I’m going all out this season, even if just for my family of five. First of all, this is only my third Christmas ever (it’s a long story), so I’m still catching up to people who are feeling more jaded than jolly. I’m even making mini Rice Krispies Treats (some with chocolate chips) to hand out to… well, myself. Don’t judge me, Grinch! Bring on the tinsel!

Back in April, my 13-year-old planned an extravagant birthday party. Instead, she ended up celebrating with me, her dad, and her stepdad on the backyard steps, all of us six feet apart and wearing masks. So, yeah, she’ll have a few extra boxes under the tree this year. My partner’s son turned seven during the pandemic — yup, more gifts for you too, buddy. I’m making a list and checking it twice.

As for my partner? Well, his stocking hung on the chimney with care will probably have some fun stuff in it. But he got an 82-inch television for his birthday last week, we moved into a new apartment this week, and we’re throwing together a pandemic wedding in the next two weeks. So no gifts for him. Or me. We’ve agreed on a firm no-gift arrangement this Christmas. We’ll spend it on the kiddos and the production company that specializes in Zoom weddings. (We went to a Zoomitzvah this year that was awesome, so, ring fingers crossed.)

How does your scenario map out? Do you need to make it clear that you’re just buying some mistletoe? Do you need to measure ring fingers to pop the question?

Confused? Take heed.

Scenario 1: You met before the pandemic shutdown and got along really well. But during the shutdown, you were in different cities and your primary means of contact was FaceTime. Now you’re back to real-world dating (with masks, outdoors) and trying to figure out what’s next.

Gift options: Spa-at-home certificates, UberEats gift credits, a cozy, WFH-friendly onesie, or a few bottles of Black Girl Magic wine.

Scenario 2: You met in the age of coronavirus. Got close pretty quickly, but the relationship still feels long-distance because of pandemic rules. Thanks to Zoom, though, you’ve met all the friends and even popped in for Zoomsgiving. You see this going somewhere serious — as soon as you both get vaccinated.

Gift options: A gift basket full of premium liquors, framed artwork, tickets to watch Floyd Mayweather fight Logan Paul, or small, understated jewelry.

Scenario 3: You moved in together during ’rona. Your partner held it down in all ways and vice versa. Some people on social media keep forgetting that you’re not actually married. One of you contracted Covid; the other helped out with care. Now you’re both healthy, happy, and looking toward the future.

Gift options: Matching tattoos, a PS5 (at resale prices), or maybe even a wedding band.

Scenario 4: You came into 2020 already strong, with some time behind you. This year, you added to that relationship history: quarantining, working from home, a second lockdown, civil unrest, and an election season that feels like it’s lasted half a decade.

Gift options: A joint, solemn pinky-swear that when life is normal, you’ll take that vacation you always said you one day would.

None of these quite fit? I can’t conjure up every possible relationship! Do you know how hard it is to stir melted marshmallows into Rice Krispies while typing?

I’ll leave you with this: Give some thought to bringing a season’s greeting to your loved one. But this year, the person at the very top of the list? It’s you. Treat yo’ self.

Aliya S. King is an author, freelance writer and editor.

Sign up for Minority Report

By LEVEL

A weekly newsletter that dives into cultural news in need of a strong opinion. Take a look.

By signing up, you will create a Medium account if you don’t already have one. Review our Privacy Policy for more information about our privacy practices.

Check your inbox
Medium sent you an email at to complete your subscription.

Get the Medium app