Christmas shopping for friends and relatives is pretty easy. If you know what they want, great. If not, you can buy them silly gag gifts, or just pick up any old junk at the last minute and slap a note that says TO: RECIPIENT on it. Bam, done. You are the world's greatest friend.
These methods are not quite as effective with your significant other. You cannot just swing by the supermarket on the way to your girlfriend's house and buy her a banana. Gag gifts are even less effective ("I bought you these giant underpants! Ha ha ha where are you going.") So get to work figuring out what your SO actually wants, before it's Christmas Eve and you're standing there with nothing but some coupons for free hugs.
1.) Shop Like a Detective
Shopping with your SO is often a tug-of-war between your conflicting interests. You spent ten minutes in Sephora, so he gets to spend ten minutes in a store that sells swords and pewter wizards. You want to try on jeans; he wants to try out his new katana. You turn to ask him how these jeans look, but he is out in the parking lot, fighting pewter wizards with his katana.
Figuring out what your SO wants is just a matter of paying attention while he browses, and asking leading questions until he reveals what he likes. "Oh, look at this wizard!" you might say, pointing at any random figurine. "It sure is a... good... wizard."
"No, that wizard is for babies," your SO will clarify. "This one is the best wizard." Refrain from following up with something cheesy like "And what if someone got you that for Christmas," because that just ruins the surprise. Instead, tell him that wizards are stupid and his hobbies are terrible. That way he will be totally surprised when you buy him the good wizard for Christmas instead of just dumping him.
2.) Consult Her Friends
Some people get along great with their girlfriends' friends, but these people might as well live on the moon with their pet unicorns, because they are fictional. For the rest of you, your girlfriend's friends probably treat you like a traffic cone—they won't intentionally hit you with a car, but they wouldn't lose any sleep over it. But this is one instance where they might actually hear you out, finding it sweet that you care enough about your girlfriend to ask. Watch out for intentionally misleading advice. ("Kelly's favorite thing is eels. For Christmas you should get her a bag of eels.")
3.) Consult His FB Friends
This approach can be invaluable, as your boyfriend's friends are well-versed in whichever hot video game releases are coming up, which collector's editions ship with a 300-pound viking, and so forth. However, it runs the same risks as above; they may just ignore you, or reply by sending you a link to a YouTube video entitled FAT DOG GETS TIRED!! Which of course you will watch, because it sounds awesome. An hour later you will have watched dozens of videos of dogs rollerskating and dogs eating cakes, and in total exasperation you will simply buy your boyfriend a fat dog and call it a day.
4.) Consult Your Brain
Your brain is basically a gross pink computer that lives in your head and knows everything. Despite the fact that this is horrifying if you really think about it, at least your brain is more than capable of remembering some things your boyfriend enjoys, other than making out with your face. Are there bands he mentions a lot? Is there some author he's always reading? When you two are kissing, does he sometimes accidentally say "I love you too, Spider-Man?" This is all valuable gift-giving intel.
What's the best gift you've ever given to an SO?
Related post: Gifts Not To Give