‘Tis the season to get shopping, which can strike fear in many a man’s heart. Finding the right gift can be harrowing. You think you’re giving her a toaster, and she might think you’re showing her the door. What you give can say a lot about how you feel about her and your relationship. What she really wants is to know you care—or at least to know how you really feel. Here are a few guidelines for getting your gifting game in high gear.

Jewelry is romantic. There’s virtually no way around it. And, if it’s spendy, it screams commitment. That’s great if that’s the message you want to give. But beware, if you think you can gift a shiny bauble and have her not read that you’d like to stick around, you are solely mistaken. If it’s shiny, it’s sticking. If you were hoping it might work as a parting gift, you may want to rethink that particular plan. Jewelry means yes or at the very least, maybe.

Appliances are not romantic. Unless your partner is a chef—professional or amateur—for whom appliances are gift heaven. Otherwise, appliances say: “This is practical, like our relationship. It’s not exciting. But it’s useful.” If that’s the message you’re looking to send, a blender will do the trick. But if romance is on your mind, only a really mushy inside joke will make a toaster cause her heart to sing. Want to say, “Goodbye, gorgeous?” Housewares, aisle four…

Books can go either way. If you’ve been talking about traveling to Paris together, and you buy her a guide to the art and food of Paris, that’s romantic 101. Add an inscription about looking forward to walking hand-in-hand along the Seine, that’s romantic 2.0. Even a cookbook can be romantic if it’s linked to an insider convo about learning to make gnocchi together. If “just friends” is the message you want to send, nearly any volume from the latest celeb du jour will do.

Clothing is tricky, tricky business. If she told you exactly what she would like—including the size—great. If she dropped hints, and you checked her closet for sizes, even better. Extra romance points for paying attention. But if you choose something that she would never wear, or worse, get the size wrong, you are headed for the proverbial doghouse. If you want to play it safe, steer clear of clothes.

Gifting an activity is generally an A+ proposition. Unless it’s something that she’d rather die than do, gifting a hike or a climb or a ski lesson or a surf session says, “I want to spend time with you and watching you have fun makes me happy.” To be fair, if you’re trying to get a woman to figuratively take a hike, gifting something she’d be appalled to do can be equally powerful. “You don’t want to go spelunking in sub-zero weather for six days? Color me shocked.”

Nothing is, well, nothing. Even if you agreed not to exchange gifts, giving nothing at all is pretty harsh. Give her a card with a cute coupon for any date of her choice. Bake her some cookies, even if you need to buy the premade cookie dough. Give her a single bloom from the florist. As long as the sentiment is sweet, the message will be loud and clear. “I’m following the rules. But I really do dig you.” If you’re trying to send a message about parting ways, on the other hand—especially if she never seems to take the hint on that front—no gift at all speak volumes.

If you find yourself wandering the mall on Christmas Eve, you’re doing it wrong. If you like her, take five and phone a friend, preferably a female friend, of hers. It doesn’t have to be your idea to be good. It just has to show you put some thought and energy into it. It really is true that it’s the thought that counts, as long as that thought isn’t, “I’m just not that into you.”

ALL MADE UP Cosmetics/fragrance gifts can put you on shaky ground. On one hand, they say, “I love looking at you, and I love smelling you on my sweater.” On the other hand, it says, “I wish you looked and smelled differently than you do.” So, unless she asked for a new scent or you are the makeup whisperer, and she adores that about you, steer clear of the cosmetic counter. Although if, “take a hint, we’re through” is your intended holiday message, I believe you can still buy the latest celebrity-branded scent at your local drugstore.

THE INSIDE SCOOP This is romance nirvana. Get her that bracelet she saw in the window when you passed that antique shop. Pick up that bag that she keeps mentioning whenever she sees it on a celeb. Grab that vase that she gushed over at the art museum. Or maybe you have other insider info, something her best friend told you or a story she told you about a trip she took or something she’s loved her whole life. Memory gifts are great too. Have an album made of your Instagram photos or frame a favorite shot. Anything that says “I listen,” also says “I care.”