When I was a preteen I dreamed of meeting a boy, falling in love, getting married, and then he would know exactly what to gift me for every occasion without me ever having to give him any clues. In fact, the least amount of clues I had to impart meant the greater his love for me; it would signify how much he knew and cared about me if he got it just right. You know, similar to when Richard Gere gave Julia Roberts the necklace in Pretty Woman (minus the hooking).
Okay, maybe that wasn’t quite my dream but it was definitely how I envisioned love to look like. That one-dimensional vision of love is what made me question my sister years ago when she told me that her and her husband didn’t exchange gifts. At the time I was a lonely, single girl in her late-20s with the highest expectations of blissful married life. My first knee-jerk reaction was to ask her incredulously, “like never, ever?!?” And her simple “nope” shattered all the romantic ideas I had of marriage in that instant. Truthfully, I felt sad for her but I wasn’t sure why. Was it because I had images of her spending her birthdays crying giftlessly in the corner of her house? But realistically this never seemed to bother her. I never really delved into this until fast forward a few years; I am now married with child, and my husband and I also do not exchange gifts. I realize this statement is controversial to many but please, no sympathies required here.
My husband and I are complete opposite souls (for the most part). He’s neat, orderly and “savantly” skillful with numbers; I am a bit messy, a little nuts and great with expressing myself (sometimes a bit too much he says). However, on the things that matter most in this life that we share (such as religion, financial principles, the value of experiences vs. things), we are evermore united. Sure, pre-marriage we exchanged gifts during all the noted occasions that every couple would typically celebrate together. And if I am honest, he was actually a better sentimental gifter than I was. There are a few reasons why we no longer exchange gifts but being terrible at it wasn’t one of those factors.
We share money. You see, we’re quite a pragmatic couple. We have always been very open about our finances and when we got married we agreed that we would share our finances without exception. We quite literally became one overnight (where money was concerned). Therefore, the concept of buying a gift for each other is essentially like buying our own gifts, so then what would be the purpose? Which leads to my next point…
We buy what we want, when we want. This statement sounds like we spend frivolously on a regular basis when it couldn’t be further from the truth. We often put thought into our purchases (obviously I am talking about more than a pack of gum here) and evaluate its worth in our lives (*ahem* sometimes he more than I). We ask ourselves, “does it bring us joy” or “create a convenience worth investing in?” My husband is a difficult man to shop for because of this reason. He thinks laboriously about whether or not this sacrifice, the parting of his money, is warranted. If he decides against getting something he really wanted, me turning around and buying it for him would be like him spending it on himself and thus, against his wishes (because again, if he really wanted it he would have bought it). Yes, my husband is frugal. The word frugal is often used as a negative characteristic to describe someone, but I truly admire him for everything he’s accomplished in his life considering where he came from and the lemons handed to him. So I completely understand where his frugality comes from; he requires his money to work for him (not the other way around). He is conscious of every dollar he earns and if he doesn’t deem something worth his dime, he will question whether or not it will bring value to his life (in more ways than one).
We don’t feel the need to keep up with a perceived image of how “great” our life is. Our life is great just as it is because we have each other and our health. Of course, the extra things make it nice but instead of always trying to keep up with the Jones’, we just try to appreciate all that we have including the journey we’ve traveled. On the topic of gift-giving between spouses, one of my good friends recently revealed to me that she buys her own Christmas present each year and makes her husband gift it to her (she said this with, what I interpreted as, a bit of a defeated eye-roll). She said she does this more for the children’s sake- so they can see their father doing something thoughtful for their mother, which I agreed was an earnest gesture. But as innocent and genuine as that intention is, it also lifts yet another veil from the playwright we all take part in- one big façade.
It’s not that important to us. Perhaps it’s not important to us because of all the reasons I listed above but perhaps it really isn’t that important, period. I’m not sure about you but I don’t remember the last time someone gave me a gift without me actually kind of knowing what to expect. Why? Because I likely gave them a precise list of “ideas (with specific colours, sizes, and stores from where they could get said items)”. To be frank, gifting has become boring and predictable in some circles and I’m just not here for it anymore.
Finally, it’s not our love language. My husband and I speak different languages. I speak English and he evidently speaks Accountant. I often forget he’s a full-fledged, successful, high-functioning human being who runs the finance department of a multi-national corporation during the week (and some weekends). But at home he’s still the man who can never find the item that is always, seemingly, right in front of him. Needless to say, of all the five love languages according to Gary Chapman, receiving gifts (thankfully) is ranked the lowest on both of our lists. The popular misconception is that our relationship is likely devoid of love and romantic gestures but what I believe to be “romantic” could be very different from what others consider as “romantic.” We simply made a conscious decision a long time ago to splurge on experiences and to no longer equate gifts as a measure of our love for one another. Trust me, I am in no way complaining about giving to others. I truly enjoy giving where I can and seeing people get joy from opening my gifts. And no shade to those who delight in receiving gifts either. I’m never going to detest a gift that required thought and effort from someone I care about. I’m simply saying it’s just not for my marriage.
The reality is what we’re taught in school and self-learned in social circles inform us of not who we are but who we ought to be. I’m not one who purposely goes against the grain just for the heck of it but sometimes I step back and challenge these ideologies. Why are we, as a society, so obsessed with stuff: particularly where it comes from, what brand our stuff is, and who gives us this stuff? We are essentially taught that stuff equals self-worth. Make no mistake, I am definitely not immune to this bygone doctrine. I am just as guilty of being part of the wolfpack: buying things I hope will make me seem like a better, thinner, trendier, or prettier version of myself- in the ultimate pursuit of happiness. And that’s my work-in-progress, one day at a time.
So, if not stuff, what is my idea of the perfect gift? As a writer and an avid reader, the perfect gift to me would be a card or book full of deep confessions of undying love with great sentimental value. Unfortunately for my husband, they don’t sell that on Amazon- trust me, I checked for him.