He is impossible, which, if I could simply accept this fact–accept him, as is–would make my life easier. We’re no longer new, despite the fact that every time we learn something new about each other, we’re quick to state the opposite. “Wait, so you like chocolate only if it comes with something else, like a nut? You don’t like it on its own, truly? We’re totally new.” Today is our seventh wedding anniversary. I gave him a card.
He doesn’t accept gifts graciously. One year for his birthday, I presented him with an iPad, having just been released to the market. He’d done the research pre-release, said it was a waste of money, he had no interest. I should have listened, right? Believe people when they tell you things. Only, I believed that I knew him better than he knew himself. So, I bought it, wrapped it, handed it to him after he blew out his candles (on the special cupcakes I had made). When he saw it, his face tightened. “I told you not to,” wasn’t said in a sweet, “Oh, you shouldn’t have,” bloom of admiration. It was said in a tone reserved for a dog who’d just shit in his favorite pair of shoes. He couldn’t return it, the iPad or the lack of grace. The gift was forced upon him, and it grew to be one of his all time favorite things. He may have admitted as much, only not in so many words. Actually, with no words. He just smiles with a sideways glance, as if caught enjoying something.
This singular gifting triumph, however, has henceforth lead to a series of failures. Last year, for Christmas/ Hanukkah, I bought him rugged man shoes, warm nubby socks, a quilted jacket–all very man about town, fashion forward but still practical. I slipped a handwritten note inside each gift, one inside the inner pocket of his jacket, with an iPod playlist of songs, a wound up note rigged around the socks, some bit about thanking him for always letting me put my cold feet on him. All returns.
He doesn’t garden. There will never be a tool shed in his life. He thankfully has zero interest in golf. He’s not particular about wine or cheese. He’s not into cigars. He’d sooner die than wear an Hermes belt (agreed!). I buy him shoes during the year, so they’re seldom gift worthy. He wants no part of more cufflinks, and he never wears ties or suits. He’s not a coffee book table guy (does anyone ever truly want a coffee table book?!) Cashmere sweaters he has. As a wedding gift, I gave him a very special watch. We just ordered a big shipment of Texas BBQ, so that was out. Though nothing says, “Seven years strong” like vacuum-sealed sausage. Over the years I’ve bought him more food gifts than I can count. Gifts for the Margarita Machine, for the grill, chili bowls with a ladle and Vietnamese cinnamon, with a chili cookbook. A deep fryer with Thomas Keller’s fried chicken mix. A pandora-friendly satellite radio for his car, which he went on to sell along with the car.
With my father, I gave up a long time ago. He told me not to waste any money, that he was always just happy with a card, that there’s nothing he wants. If he wants something, he buys it. This year, for his birthday, I drew him a picture, and got him a card with a dancing mustache. It was perfect.
Over the years my favorite gifts from Phil have mostly been jewelry–because those are the gifts I wear and love daily, the gifts that line a jewelry box and tell a story. I remember each and every piece of jewelry given to me, from different suitors, from girlfriends, from my parents. It lasts. Diamond earrings, pearl earrings, a gold ring engraved with my favorite quote. The Straight Up and Thirty scrapbook gift was a hero, and something that took planning, which I love. When he does last-minute, for the most part, he does it well: once he wrapped my own cowboy boots up in paper, and inserted a note that these shoes would be doing some walking in Austin, for a week, while he stayed home with the kids. Then there was the last-minute Mother’s Day video edited by iPhone gift. Vegas is the gift that keeps on giving, how we love going there, we really do–he totally took me by surprise, while there, when he bought me the IT BAG. I think that’s my favorite gift, because it’s beautiful, it was a surprise that took some scheming, I use it daily, and it was a very Pretty Woman moment. That he did that still takes my breath away.
He’s had some fails, too. Like the most disappointing Mother’s Day to date, which I somewhat forgive and would gladly forget, if he’d step things up and prove that he finally gets it! NOTHING LAST MINUTE IS VERY LASTING. I also realize that writing about this isn’t ever going to paint myself in a very favorable light. It’s very, how can he win with such demanding expectations? Isn’t it the thought that counts? Yes, the thought that went into it counts, so does the effort, and ultimately what there is to show for it, the token of expression. If I were to read this, I’d want to shove the writer into an airplane bathroom and keep her locked up for an hour. Because who talks about this, complains, when there’s so much good in her life? Get over it.
I’m not over it, but this year, I can wear it more loosely. It’s not some dramatic anti-climactic, overboard tear-filled moment. I’m actually happier this year than I have been in our marriage. I feel good about where we are, how much better things are. If marriage is about acceptance and communication, then here’s mine. I accept that he has sucked some in the gifting department, but I also believe with good communication (CLEARLY SPELLED OUT) that this can be a teaching moment.
One year for our anniversary, when we were living in Austin, he went to a cheesy lingerie shop and presented me with some sheer black negligé, something a college boyfriend might pick up for Valentine’s Day. It’s not something worthy of celebrating the day you chose to marry each other; it’s not special. It’s not wrapped special with scented paper in glossy boxes. It wasn’t intentional; it was black polyester. We sat in couples therapy, and I remember the therapist eventually saying to Phil, “Well, at least you know not to make that mistake again.” This year he did not make the same mistake, no. This year, he bought white polyester.
Wife of seven years, you get her polyester. No wonder it’s called the Seven Year Itch! Notice that the black thong is still attached, never worn.
Clearly, I haven’t been clear. I’m going to spell it out. Mother’s Day, Christmas, and our Anniversary matter to me! Give yourself 4-6 weeks for delivery, and plan ahead. Gift wrap, scheme. Think of a way to involve a waiter! An anniversary gift can be a gift for us, a weekend away, ideally to somewhere neither of us has been before. Or something cool for the house, a cloud of sexy cotton bedding. For my birthday, something small for me to unwrap, a charm, a perfume without synthetics, or a Trish McEvoy makeup planner. Candles on a cake made of fresh whipped cream (not buttercream), yes, sing. Valentine’s Day, here’s a secret: avoid Victoria’s Secret. I would much prefer a pima cotton nightgown. There. It might sound demanding, but at least it’s spelled out. NOTHING POLYESTER. By the way, flame-retardant as they are, polyester pajamas don’t even touch the bodies of our children, which you know, have always known, since I rant on about how they must be 100% cotton, or forget it.
Today, you left the gift on our bed. And when you later phoned to ask me how I liked it, you said, “Did I get the right material this year?” Seriously. You KNEW, knew enough to look, or remember to infer that you looked, even if you didn’t. I peeped out a small, “no,” to which you responded, “I’m sorry. I’m the worst!” Which made me smile through my quick tears. You then searched Lord & Taylor, went to Manhasset’s Americana, looked for flowers but they were all “Dark fall colors.” So, you came home with Lychee Sake and Cherry Bourbon for yourself. I know you tried, but let me put you our of your misery. In the future, refer to this list or hunt down my pinterest boards to get an overall sense of my style. When in doubt, do what I do, and ask Leigha.
As for me, I think what I’ve learned is that you will likely always begrudge any gift I give, you’ll say you don’t need it, don’t like it, maybe even infer that it’s really a gift for ME, secretly disguised as something for you. I will expect this. And you can choose to return it, which will never hurt my feelings. I’m just going to assume that you want to return it. I think it’s a better plan than only giving you a card from the heart, as I did this year.