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Valentine’s Day came with its fair share of controversies

Valentine’s Day came with its fair share of controversies, chief among them, the giving and receiving of gifts, with many viewing it as a love celebration that has been overly commercialised. NJERI MAINA dissects the science that is gifting

During this eponymous month of love, social media has been rife with discussions on gifting, whether it is a foreign idea, whether it is a necessity, the minimum threshold that the gifts worth should reach, and even whether women should gift their men and whether men should actually accept those presents.

The only thing many seemed to agree on is that if there is a couple in a relationship, the man should try to gift the lady, albeit not necessarily on Valentine’s Day. This came hot on the heels of some drama that played out on Twitter, where a girl dragged a guy through the mud after buying him clothes worth Sh6,200 from Mr Price back in 2014.

This rubbed many the wrong way, and they felt it was wrong to gift someone then talk about it with all and sundry, while trying to economically shame the recipient.


Gifting is a tradition as old as time. In African culture, one would never visit another homestead without carrying a basketful of goodies to gift the family they were visiting. Subjects would send presents to their lords and chiefs in an attempt to win favour, while kings exchanged gifts with other neighbouring kings, with whom they had peace agreements, to show appreciation for support given.

The age-old tradition of dowry is based on the idea of showing gratitude through gifting. In this case, the potential husband gifts the bride’s parents as a way of thanking them for raising his wife-to-be.

Bonfire Adventures CEO Simon Kabu publicly gifted his wife Sarah Kabu a Range Rover for her 39th birthday in 2017.

Parents would gift their children with the most honoured of gifts; blessings, which were bestowed either by spitting on the child’s head or the parent spitting on their chests while invoking the child’s name.

Husbands would gift their wives when they birthed them sons, with something the wife might have been asking for for a while, be it a type of food or even a dress (or loin cloth as the case may be).

The husband would also give said wife an elevated status in a polygamous set-up, which translated to more influence and even at times a larger inheritance for the sons in future. It is clear that gifting is not culturally as foreign an idea as many would like to think. It is also clearly undeniable that gifts are laden with meaning in both the giver and the recipient’s case.


There is nothing more expensive than a free gift, Michel de Montaigne, a renowned French philosopher, once said. This is the attitude and suspicion with which most people approach presents; that any gift is given with the aim of creating a channel through which the recipient is beholden to the giver and expected to return the gift in kind some time in the future.

A considerable number of men believe that women gift men with hopes that the man will gift them back with something bigger or more luxurious. Many women, on the other hand, think that men gift women with the aim of making them more malleable to their advances, especially in the nascent stages of a relationship.

But, it does not have to be so cynical and bleak. According to consultant psychologist and Amazon Counseling Centre CEO Dr Silas Kiriinya, gifting is a personal issue.

It is up to the couple to work out the dynamics of the relationship and figure out if the giving and receiving of presents will be part of their expressive gestures, and what role gifting will play in their relationship.

With increased Internet penetration, gifting has slowly shifted from being a private affair to a public one. This may not be an issue since at times, the gifting maybe happening in a public set-up.

The age-old tradition of dowry is based on the idea of showing gratitude through gifting.

Also, if the recipient of the gift is big on public display of affection (PDA).

However, if the reason the gifting is public is for the giver to show off and/or shame the recipient financially or in any other way or form, the gift should probably not be given to begin with.


Psychologist Maurice Matheka, a relationship expert and sex therapist, cautions against using gifts as a power tool. “It is important to be wary of how gifting happens in your relationship, more so if one of the partners is using gifts to exert influence, or using sex or their bodies as a reward for good behaviour and withdrawing sex as punishment or a show of disapproval. This could seriously impair the dynamics of the relationship, and can even breed resentment,” he explains.

“Sex, just like gifting, should be purely fun and about enhancing intimacy, and should therefore be free of any obligations. There is nothing wrong with a girlfriend buying lingerie and gifting sex to the boyfriend for Valentine’s, so long as it is not a conditional action meant to garner favour or a follow up gift,” adds Matheka.


The association between gifting and cheating is a phenomenon that has existed for quite a while. It is not uncommon to find wives who can tell how badly their husbands have messed up depending on how lavish the gift they have received is. The extravagance of the present is believed to be directly proportional to the indiscretion committed.

“This narrative bases its argument in the belief that gifts communicate love, so, if the unfaithful man gifts his partner, in his mind, he thinks he has blinded her about his cheating behaviour.

He may also be trying to assuage his guilty conscience,” Dr Kiriinya expounds, adding that if gifts are not a regular thing in the relationship, the gift can lead to suspicion and the wife might come to have a negative association with gifts, even when they are given in good faith.

“This can only be resolved when the partners have a common understanding of the real meaning and intention of gifting by openly communicating about it,” he says.


The question of whether one should throw out gifts from their past relationship once it is over is a dicey one that is often a centerpiece of many debates. Dr Kiriinya says keeping or throwing away a gift depends on the meaning associated with it.

“If the present was given and thereafter the recipient molested or battered by the giver, it might remind one of the pain they went through. As they process the trauma, one is advised to keep the gift away, otherwise it will be an object of retraumatisation.

It is also important to consider your current partner’s feelings towards the present from the ex. Are they comfortable with it? Which one is more important to you, the gift from the ex or the current relationship?” the doctor urges.

“However, if your partner has no problem with goodies from your ex and it does not affect your current relationship in any way, please keep your gift and enjoy it,” he adds.

It would seem that it is a matter of personal judgment based on context and the current relationship and partner, whether to dispose of the gift or keep it.

Matheka concurs, explaining that majority of men keep presents due to their functionality, unlike women, who do it out of sentimental value and dregs of feelings for the person who gifted them and the relationship that was.

However, he says, emotional maturity and open communication between partners should be the basis and foundation of any relationship, which would guide how they handle such a matter.

“There should be clear communication between partners on what they allow or disallow in the relationship. Taking your boyfriend’s plates and smashing them because they are from his ex, for example, is a clear sign of underlying emotional issues and baggage probably from previous relationships.

Whether to discard previous gifts from a former flame should be a decision which both parties discuss and agree on,” the psychologist elucidates.


Gary Chapmans’ book The Five Languages of Love can help couples, friends and relatives better understand each other and therefore better connect. Despite the capitalistic nature of Valentine’s and the belief that gifting is the universal show of love, Gary describes five different love languages. These are; gifting, words of affirmation, quality time, physical touch and acts of service.

Though some people express and receive love in one or two of the said languages, it is clear that there are more ways to show and receive love other than through buying expensive gifts.

It is also important to note that gifting does not have to be the giving of something physical and tangible. Partners can gift each other with undivided attention, time, and other intangible things that ensure that they feel loved and appreciated.

“With or without presents, people should keep loving each other. Where people can afford a gift and both partners understand what gifting means to them, then buying them is a habit to keep. These are called rituals of love, which are important, though not necessary, in keeping the relationship warm,” Dr Kiriinya explains.

“But, people should never replace love with material gifts as the right kind of love in itself is a gift. Moreover, associating presents with love is a false premise as it would mean that the more valuable a gift is, the more the love, which is not always true,” he concludes.

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