There is a great difference between being talked at and talked to. I’ve found, to my horror, that I have been talking AT people. Friends feel free to discuss their innermost secrets with me and what do I do? Talk over them. “Well, then, he came at me with a knife, and I said…” “Oh yeah!” I’ll interject. “That happened to me once! A knife as big as this, I’ll tell you…” Here I am, thinking I am a good friend when actually I am using the people I know as an audience. I should be ashamed. And I am. But it is so hard to shut up.

I feel impatient sometimes when my friends are telling me stories about how they feel and what is happening to them. Maybe it is having seen too many movies, but I always feel that I know where the tale is going. “Don’t tell me,” I’ll say in faux helpfulness, “Then Gandalf the wizard came to your rescue? Oh shoot! That’s Lord of the Rings. Sorry.” I got to thinking about this and it is not, in the end, the fact that I know the outcome of what they’re telling me. It is the fact that they want to tell me. They want me to hear them. They want to be listened to. That is what is important. And that is what it so hard to do: giving like that, when it really means something personal, takes a lot of application. At least on my part. Man, it is hard!

So I’ve decided that my gift to my mates – and myself – this holiday season is to become a better listener, no matter how incredibly boring it becomes. The trick to making normally silent men speak is (get this, talkative women) TO NOT SAY ANYTHING YOURSELF FOR SOME TIME. Many women don’t quite grasp this little trick of the trade: when you give someone airtime, they may feel they have time to actually formulate something worthwhile to say. Nature abhors a vacuum, remember. (Nature also abhors dusting and ironing and I know Nature would like a tumble dryer for Christmas too.)

The spirit of Christmas is not just the cool gifts that everyone goes into hock for. The spirit of Christmas, the notion of giving something really expensive and difficult to acquire, has more to do with giving of yourself than throwing money at somebody. My brother has a sign on his kitchen wall which says, “The best thing to spend on your kids is time.” That sort of goes for almost everyone and everything this Christmas. For those of us who have aged parents or parents whom we don’t like very much (I like mine, thank God), we all know what they want more than presents: they want our presence. I could never quite understand why my parents were the happiest with me when I would just sit and watch TV with them. Never mind I just flew a billion miles and trudged to Fortnum & Mason’s to get them something really pricey that they didn’t want.

This goes for partners, boyfriends, girlfriends, lovers and that too. Do they want you to take them out to a swanky restaurant? Yes they do. But they really would rather have you do something cheaper and more thoughtful. This could 1) go shopping with them without huffing every two minutes, 2) keeping your trap shut when you would normally blow a gasket, 3) give them sex (this is for sexual partners, obviously) which is a gift rarely refused and often returned, if you know what I mean. Use your noodle this Christmas: give in rather than give out. It really works.

If you’re married, Christmas will be a different kind of thing. To give your man or woman what s/he wants when they want it. Don’t slag them off in public. Don’t be impatient in private. Okay, maybe not that last one. But if you give just a bit to your nearest and dearest, they will probably give back to you. Or become an even bigger asshole than you recall. I truly believe that the gap between men and women is one of tit-for-tat rather than being from a different planet. Sure, men don’t clean things very well unless it has got a motor. And sure, they leave the bathroom in a state where ducks would be happy. But we women aren’t exactly perfect either. Do we hog the bathroom maybe? Do we mean we’re ready to go when we are not in fact actually ready? The point of this holiday season is LOVE, which means, I think, tolerance. Be tolerant with your loved ones this year. Be tolerant with yourself too. That’s my gift to you, cowboy. Happy Holidays. And remember: the only differences between you and children are you’re older and owe money.

Karen Krizanovich began her career as a Sex Agony Aunt for Sky Magazine and writes for The Sunday Times, GQ and others. When not being admired, she is much sought after.