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I judge relationships by presents.
I know I shouldn’t and I know that people have different ways of expressing their affection.
I’ve read "The Five Love Languages" and know that people express themselves through words, quality time, touch, acts of love, and giving gifts. Everyone has a different way to communicate how they feel and most people have two or three ways.
At the same time, I read into the gifts people give me. Like, I dated a guy for six years who got me handmade stone or silver necklaces and who wrote me funny poems every year until we got married. Every year. The poems even rhymed.
But then, once we got married, the gifts I got on those four Christmases were: a one-pound Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, a Tablemate (which was actually pretty awesome), a sports water bottle, and an iPad that I was only allowed to use when he didn’t need it for business, which was until I bought him his own. No more poems.
They were the kinds of gifts a teenage boy buys his mom.
I spoke up about it. He said he couldn’t predict what I’d like and what I wouldn’t. No duh, but cheap candy and an iPad on loan?
After the fourth Christmas of our marriage, we agreed to no more presents and my heart cracked a little.
He finally remembered my birthday on the tenth year we were together -- red velvet cupcakes delivered to me in Colorado, where I was spending a month at a writing program. My face hurt by the end of the day from smiling so much. He remembered. We were going to work out. Everything would be okay. That’s what a dozen red velvet cupcakes said to me.
So yeah, I read into presents.
It’s a double standard because I’m cool with a phone call from my siblings or e-mails from my friends on my birthday, but for a guy I’m seeing, it just doesn’t cut it.
So why does it matter if someone I’m involved with remembers to pick me up a card, make me a mixed CD, or buy me a used book of poetry? And isn’t Christmas overcommercialized?
It matters because I care about if a gentleman suitor pays attention. Does he think about me on these two milestones each year? Does he remember that I like free verse and dangly earrings? Does he care enough to agonize over what color scarf I’d look best in? Is he putting the effort in? Does he like me enough to sweat the small stuff?
Small stuff can be big stuff and I want to know -- is this for real?
My friends, framily, and family have shown me that they’re there for me through late night calls and text messages, that they’ll have coffee with me if I need someone to confide in, and that they care about me even if my socks don’t match, which is often. I know they pay attention.
We still exchange gifts, not necessarily at the holidays, although that happens too if we’re together. My sister will buy me makeup because she knows I’m still learning to use eyeliner. And because she thought of me. I’ll buy her a wellness book because I know she has personal goals in that area. And because I thought of her. There was no holiday or birthday. We just did it. Gifts are one of the many ways we express ourselves.
At the same time, I don’t expect presents from them, so I have to conclude I have a sixth love language, one not covered by the book: attention.
If a guy is doing that one thing I love –- paying attention –- then he should notice that I give him gifts -- not all the time, but at least on his birthday and Christmas. I want him to notice. The tokens of my affection might not be expensive, but they’ll be thoughtful. I’ll notice that he likes unusual jams and buy him lime curd. He doesn’t have any bowls and admired my stoneware ones, so guess what he’s getting.
If he can’t figure out that attention is my love language or doesn’t care to put in the same effort, then that’s a great cue that will help me think about if he’s the right person for me to me to spend my time and attention on. I don’t want to make everything explicit. I’m still a romantic. I’d like him to good-old-fashioned pay attention.
What do you think about gift giving and receiving? What does it mean to you? Is it different when you’re in a romantic relationship?