Was it a man who invented the rationalization “It’s the thought that counts” to cover his failure to do something important? Or was it a woman who invented it to cover for a man’s failure?
Either way what’s important is that thoughts are worthless––they don’t exist outside of the thinker’s mind and they don’t count for anything––unless they lead to actions. Actions (and inactions) are what count because they are what people experience.
Let’s run some scenarios:
He says, “I meant to get you a gift.”
She thinks, “He didn’t just forget. He knew what was expected and still didn’t follow through.”
He says, “I tried to get you a gift.”
She thinks, “How hard can it be?” and “How important am I anyway?”
He says, “It’s the thought that counts, dear.”
She thinks, “Why didn’t he follow through?”
Better to say you screwed up and are sorry and you will do your best to see that it doesn’t happen again. Fallen on your sword with an apology is required; but the whole mess leaves a hollow place in the love.
And if you have really tried and failed, make your failed effort the gift. One of my father’s best friends tried for years to get him some Tompkins County King apples––his favorite from his childhood fifty years earlier. Several Christmases in a row his gift was the correspondence (pre-internet) of her attempts to find those apples. That showed effort and that equaled caring and love and respect for the friendship.
I have failed. The only time my mother ever yelled at me with real anger was when I returned home for Christmas without any gifts. The memory always hurts.
Now, I usually cover with something less adequate until I can make it right. In a pinch I have drawn a picture of a gift with an explanation of my efforts and when I expect those efforts to produce results.
Offering nothing where something is supposed to be leaves a gaping hole!
It is the effort that counts only when the effort produces results!
Thinking, no matter how well intentioned, will only get you in trouble if that is all you did.
The thought, unpursued, is an insult.