It’s good to remember that so much of who we are and how we behave stems from how we were raised.
I grew up in a family where our Mom basically dreaded every holiday. It was a lot of annoyance and overwhelm and effort for so little reward, was the annual message. Despite this script, I do not share her disdain for any of the holidays or celebrations days. Our mom did make a deal (not a huge, overblown deal) about our immediate family birthdays; there was cake or special dessert, and for several years in our childhood, my sister and I got to choose our respective birthday dinner – be it specific dish or where the family would go out. My favorite place was Fong’s, a family-run Chinese restaurant about 10 minutes from our house. Sweet and Sour Chicken, wonton soup, egg roll with hot mustard, fortune cookie. I was in heaven. Mother would make sure we received a card, cards sent in the mail she’d saved in her ‘secret’ kitchen cabinet, and meaningful gifts, very often items she deemed worthy versus fad or trendy things we may have desired.
When Mother’s birthday came around, and at Christmas time, our father would roll out beautiful gifts – jewelry, English dinnerware she favored and collected, perfume, and, predictably, she would break into tears that he spent too much money or he shouldn’t have at all. (He did anyway.) And for a moment she seemed to feel loved, and she would be happier a day or two. Just that. Her humble awkward joy never lasted much past any celebration.
To be honest, I greatly love respect our father for trying so hard to please her. In my kid mind I wondered why he went over and above, some years trying to best the last. (And I pondered what had she done that was so extraordinary to have warranted such gifts?) Watching him give and her receive, I learned it wasn’t enough to say “I love you.” It wasn’t enough to give a card. It wasn’t enough to buy a thoughtful gift. He had to perform ALL those things EVERY year for every birthday, anniversary, Valentine’s Day. Thankfully, Easter, Arbor, Presidents’, Independence, Mother’s Day (she wasn’t HIS mother), Memorial, Labor and Thanksgiving days are virtually gift-less.
As a result, my upbringing taught me that this grand gesture, this show, is how men treat their special lady on special occasions. I never questioned it, but I did (until very recently) judge dates and boyfriends using the example of my folks’. Of many boyfriends and two fiances – with the exception of the early part of being with wasband (was my husband), and my current beau – hardly any were naturally thoughtful and generous. In my early 20’s, I had a boyfriend who gave me my first single lens reflex camera and a really good pair of German leather hiking boots. Speechless was I from his keen and targeted gifts. They meant so much, they validated who I was, or wanted to be. He understood my love of photography and helped me graduate to a real instrument. I soared. He wanted his partner to keep up. The boots did that. I’d never been so thought-of before, not by a partner. I still have the camera; the boots finally died after 30 years and I pitched them last summer. A fond farewell. Unfortunately, I dated men with a serious abundance of flaws and a glaring lack of sensitivity or awareness… Until current beau, who is a masterful blend of thoughtful, generous, and what he refers to as “pretty damn cheap.”
Now, current beau, with whom I am now living, after three-plus years long distance, IS thoughtful AND generous, and yes, he can be cheap. Sometimes. I don’t think of him as cheap but fiscally practical. This doesn’t mean he’s “bad.” I have come to understand that the predictable grand romantic gesture is not at the top of his vocabulary. It’s not dead last but it’s not at the top. It’s somewhere in the middle-ish. And just as I learned what to expect by watching my parents, perhaps the how-to-treat-your-woman memo didn’t go around his family like it did mine; maybe a different memo circulated there. Maybe his parents behaved differently and his upbringing did not include the every-holiday-make-a-fuss-about-the-romantic-gifts choreography. Come to think of it, he is not the “make a big fuss over me” sort of person at all. It’s OK to make a medium-sized fuss. He’s cool with that.
That said, this is the same man – yes, my beau, the man who refers to himself as “cheap” – who put together a surprise party for my 50th a few years ago OVER FACEBOOK! with friends of mine he had never met! and took a seven hour Amtrak to New York just to be there for the party, my actual birthday and that weekend. No one can tell me he doesn’t have his own snappy brand of the grand romantic gesture. It just doesn’t include many sparkly things or lavish restaurant dinners or horse and buggy rides or weekends in the country. And I’m OK with that.
When I was dating the no-fuss-making guys, my resentment was palpable to the point of dreading every gift-related date on the calendar, be it holiday, anniversary, birthday. I was disappointed regularly and eventually pled ill or working late or family emergency just to avoid being on a gifty date. NOT that they weren’t good, nice men. I just didn’t feel desired or lovable because they weren’t giving me some meaningful trinket to validate that.
*a ha! moment* somewhere in my early 40’s. Yes, it took THAT long. The model my parents provided worked for them. It didn’t work for me; it doesn’t work for me and my current partner, Mr. Virginia, the not-so-cheap WonderBeau.
This man does sweet, thoughtful and generous things every single day to make my life better, easier, more fun. He makes us brunch on Sundays, he pours me a glass of wine for dinner (when I’m in that mood), he offers to run a hot bath for me (when one of us has remembered to scrub the tub so a hot bath can be had), he works hard at a physically demanding job, he texts me from work to see how my day is going or from his weekend at the rescue squad to say good-night and I love you. He folds laundry, he starts laundry. He switches laundry from washer to dryer. He supports my writing, my art making (when I finally stop being annoyingly perfectionistic and just play), he listens to my bad days, tempers my hormone swings (deserves a medal for that one), acts as a soundingboard when I need to lay out thoughts to see them clearly, and he never complains when I leave the dinner dishes in the sink ’til the next morning or when my dog comes in after rolling in cow poop. He also hides paper and tinsel Halloween spiders around our bedroom (often tucked into my night clothes or under my pillow) making me gasp or cringe – and ultimately, laugh.
When I stopped valuing material things to validate my lovability it made a huge difference. It quieted the worry of whether or not I was loveable at all; and, the evidences of love are so much easier to see when you’re not looking for something else.
It is all right here, all the time, with this generous and loving partner of mine.
I just had to see it.