One of my closest friends considered dumping a guy who got her a fuzzy pink bathrobe for Christmas. She’s the nicest, most mellow person I know, but she never, ever wears pink. She’s not really into bathrobes either. Over a few too many drinks she lamented that he wasn’t as great as she had thought. He didn’t get her at all. A decade later, they’re happily married with two adorable kids. More important, she picks out her own presents.

Other women are far less forgiving. But don’t worry—you have my Girl’s Guide to Buying Girls Presents.

If you’re with the right girl, it really is about the thought. Throwing money at the problem may have the unintended effect of making you look like a selfish asshole. Expensive presents will appeal to gold diggers, so go for it if that’s what you’re after. If not, don’t be afraid to make her a photo album. (Snapfish is easy and cheap.) Girls love that sentimental shit. Or just make her a nice dinner and do all the dishes and let her pick the movie.

Wander into her closet and take notes. Check her sizes and favorite brands. Women love buying what they already own. If you get her a pair of shoes in her size from a store she likes, it won’t matter at all if she ends up swapping them for another pair she likes more. She will still brag to her friends about the great shoes her boyfriend bought her, and they will think you have magical powers.

Research. Does she wear gold or silver? It matters. Does she like to get pedicures or massages at a certain place? I’m sure it sells gift certificates. What kind of flowers does she have planted in her yard? What’s her favorite store? Women are not subtle about their needs. If you can’t figure it out, ask her most stylish friend, who probably works in the fashion business and is kind of annoying. She may even be able to get you a discount.

When in doubt, go for the experience. Particularly at the start of a relationship, opt for a weekend getaway. Just remember the golden rule that it’s not where you are; it’s whom you’re with. You can stay at the most luxurious hotel in the world, but it will be brutal if you’re not into each other. Start off mellow. Go somewhere you can drive to. Save the passports for when you’re sure the relationship is going in the right direction. An experience can be anything from a show to skydiving, as long as it’s what she wants to do and not something you used to love doing with your ex. That means you can’t ship her off to ski school or hire a surf instructor and pretend you’re doing her a favor.

Presentation matters. Even if you’re just giving her a used paperback, wrap it and include a card. You can make the card. You can wrap the gift in old newspaper. It’s the concept that you’re really trying here that matters. Throw a flower on top and you’re a hero.

Beware self-improvement presents. You may give a woman a present like yoga classes or a shrink appointment only if she specifically asks for it. Even cooking classes can be ­dicey, and I’m not talking about what she’ll do to your fingers if she thinks you’re insulting her culinary skills. I once got a guy boxing gloves and a free session at a cool gym where Manny Pacquiao trains. The guy went once, and I still feel bad about trying to trick him into working out.

Never get a girl a pet. Sure, it’s cute when a guy on television gets his girlfriend an adorable puppy, but those actors go home alone at the end of the day. An ex once gave me a kitten he’d rescued from a cardboard box at a construction site. For months I tried to convince myself that my allergies were acting up because of the changing season. I developed a major Sudafed habit before we broke up and the cat was shipped off to my parents’ house in the suburbs. Of course they adore him, but I think they were mostly relieved he wasn’t a higher-maintenance dog. Never get a girl sex toys. It’s gross. Besides, do you really want to get her something that makes you less important?

Ask her what she wants. It doesn’t sap romance out of the gift if you get a girl exactly what she asks for. She doesn’t have to send you the web link for the bag she likes—though I have been known to do that—but she can give you a few options to work with. The more important the gift, the more you want to get her feedback before you buy it. Can you guess where I’m going here? The ultimate gift is an engagement ring. Do not do this on your own. Do not seek the counsel only of your mother. Do not buy her any kind of consolation ring once the two of you are serious enough that she’ll want the real thing. Go ring shopping together. You don’t need to prove how well you know her by reading her mind about the ring she wants, because she’s not going to marry you for being a great stylist or a psychic. She’s going to marry you because you make her happy, which the right ring from the right guy will do. Plus, she’s going to wear it a lot more than a pink bathrobe.