"I never, ever act disappointed. I always know there was something that prompted that person to give me that gift. It was chosen with the best of intentions, so I try to see value in it that way," she says.
While she won't let a bum gift ruin her holiday, she says a girlfriend has. "One friend of mine broke up with a guy because he got her a kitchen appliance for Christmas. She was hoping for an engagement ring. She said she didn't want to spend her life coaching him, telling him what she wanted all the time. She felt he should be paying more attention," she says.
Mrs. Squire and her husband Robert have avoided the problem of buying for each other by investing in joint gifts for their home in Pasadena. This year, they bought a laptop computer. In the past, they've bought a TV, VCR and stereo.
If men sometimes slip up when it comes to gifts, comic Bob Somerby says women should blame stores, not their mates. "Women's clothing is so confusing," says Mr. Somerby, 46. "I don't understand how they buy it for themselves. There are so many different departments. You hit the third floor and it's better sportswear. Better than what? The sportswear on the second floor?"
Although he doesn't have a girlfriend to buy for this season, he recalls one recent date who was a breeze to satisfy.
"Her idea of a surprise was to go to the store, point to the item she wanted and then turn her back while I bought it. That alone would be reason enough to marry someone," says Mr. Somerby, who lives in Bolton Hill and does commentary for WBAL-AM radio.
Lora Wong has a fail-safe way of getting what she wants for Christmas.
"My husband always says 'Come on, Dear. We're going to the mall to pick out your present.' I used to think it was unromantic. Now I don't because I get exactly what I want. And it's never something I'd buy for myself," says Mrs. Wong, 29, who lives in Towson.
She, on the other hand, will still surprise him. But she considers her gifts -- usually sweaters, pants and turtlenecks -- to be boring.
Her most daring gift, a pair of opera glasses she bought for him years ago, has never been used.
"Every time I try to be creative, it turns out stupid," says Mrs. Wong, who is the area director for the American Heart Association.
Rest assured, it's not just men who fail to please. The first year Mr. Leone and Ms. Seraydarian exchanged presents, she bought him a tan poplin jacket that he said looked like something his grandfather would wear.
But the good news is that even if couples have a rocky start, it's possible to improve their gift-giving technique.
For Mr. Leone, the turning point came several years ago when he found a Macy's flier on his pillow. An attached note read: Dear John, Lee's been a very good girl this year. I think she'd like a few of the things circled in this catalog. Love, Santa.
That year, Ms. Seraydarian got several gifts she'd circled and several surprises. Since then, they've vowed to be more specific with hints and ideas.
There's one gift, though, Ms. Seraydarian wants that she's never going to receive from her husband.
"I will never get her a waffle iron," says Mr. Leone. "It has bad connotations. I now stay out of the kitchen when it comes to Christmas gifts."
To improve your chances of giving the right gift, Joyce Baker, the manager of personal shopping at Owings Mills mall, offers these tips:
* Do your homework. When shopping, know the person's size, color preferences, favorite stores and hobbies. Some women make up small cards with that information and give them to men.
* Don't expect anyone to be a mind reader. If there are things you like, point them out to your spouse or significant other.
* Pay attention. This is the time of year when people are apt to drop hints about what they want. Listen and act on them.
* Presentation helps. Wrapping a piece of jewelry in a small pouch and tucking it into a small jewelry box heightens the
anticipation and also shows more thought.
* Mix it up. If you're being daring with a surprise gift, play it safe by also getting a present that you know your mate will need or want.
* Don't let a disappointing gift get you down. Remember, this person cared enough to invest time and money in a present. A less-than-ideal gift doesn't mean the giver doesn't care.
* Keep receipts. It's much easier to exchange or return something when you have the sales slip.
TIPS FOR THE CLUELESS
Here are some gifts that land in the holiday danger zone. To play it safe, buy them only if a spouse or significant other has requested them:
* Vacuum cleaners
* Exercise videos
* Lingerie that makes a woman look like a French maid
* Flannel clothing
* Auto accessories
* Anything that can't be returned
* Furry slippers with the heads of small animals on them
* Soap on a rope
* Boxer shorts with silly graphics
* Books on how to be a better husband
* Smelly after-shave
* White handkerchiefs
* Anything that can't be returned