Reality Truck

The Thought that Counts

Does Prada make a crown of thorns for the Catholic who has everything?

—my friend Scot

My insignificant other is getting a calendar for Christmas. On it, I’ve inscribed important (to me) dates color-coded in order of priority—to assist him in suitably planning appropriate commemorations. It’s not a long list (birthday, anniversary, Valentine’s Day, and Christmas…in that order). I helpfully included a long list of work-related functions, so he’ll be less tempted to throw it away.

Admittedly, it is NOT a great gift, but he’s getting a wide array of stocking stuffers that will more than make up for it, and it may afford me some peace of mind.

Over lengthy negotiations, I’ve accepted the fact that he really doesn’t think most special occasions are all that special (and would just as soon skip them)—and he’s accepted the fact that those he fails to observe appropriately means that I get to break something that belongs to him—of equal or greater value to the token of affection I think he should’ve provided as an indication of his fondness for me. I plan to start with the car.

I think it’s a decent compromise.

We both know neither one of us is going to change our minds on this; we’re old enough to know we can each modify our behavior to some extent, if not our feelings; and we both realize that by now we have enough invested in each other and all our flaws that the theory of mutual annihilation applies, making it far more productive for us to work out our problems than blow each other to bits—though we each maintain one hand on the button (options limited to a Cold War, or détente and perestroika).

It’d be easy to split this issue on gender lines—and yeah, it is probably true that wives and girlfriends are the ones who shoulder most of the gift-giving, card-sending, special occasion, holiday responsibilities in most relationships—I just don’t buy that this is a fair system, and I’m not budging.

I was about six or seven when I cleared up any confusion about my expectations of the men in my family. After we’d opened all our presents one cheery 1970s Christmas morning, I looked up from the chaotic display of materialistic loot; fixed my father with a steely gaze, and asked, “so what did you get us?”

He explained that ALL the presents were from Mom AND Daddy (presumably since he paid the bills, though he wisely didn’t go into that)—but I was having none of it—I had seen my mother do all the shopping, all the hiding (I nearly broke a leg climbing up to find the Mickey Mouse watch on top of the fridge), and all the wrapping that went on in Mrs. Claus’s workshop.

I laid down the law. I told him that I expected to see some appropriate reflection of his devotion within the week; that it couldn’t be anything he’d buy in a store; and that my mom was not allowed to help.

I guess he could’ve just said, No, but he good-naturedly went along with it— and I’m still proud of the blow I struck for womankind when he unearthed an antique silver spoon, polished it up, took it to his metalshop, and fashioned it into a beautiful, delicate little ring for me.

My dad’s a stubborn guy, and he could’ve easily blown off my incipient independence and assertions of how I thought the world was supposed to work—but he didn’t. He knew I wasn’t developing nasty tendencies of entitlement or asking to be spoiled—I just wanted to be acknowledged—and he encouraged that.

So when any man in my life tells me, “I don’t celebrate those things; that’s just me” I think it’s about as socially unacceptable as someone nonchalantly confessing, “Hey, I don’t bathe. Y’know, that’s just me.”

The misconception seems to be that acknowledging a fault is the same as atoning for it—particularly if it’s a pervasive one—and we all have to fall in and tolerate it. We don’t.
Sure, do what you want. Skip the bath. Proclaim February 14 Hallmark’s evil machination. That’s fine. But the rest of society has gotten together and decided we’re going to do things a different way. You can come along for the ride, or you can die old and alone. Take your pick.

I still don’t know what the man in my life is getting me for Christmas, but I’m not sweating it, for several reasons. It’s a mass holiday. We’re both completely overwhelmed by professional, familial and social obligations. If we get to it by January, we’ll be lucky. Pragmatism usually prevails over sentiment in both our worlds.

Second, I do think he tried (which is what’s important) and yet I suspect his execution may be a little rusty (which is ok).

I concluded this when he casually, almost desultorily asked me a few weeks ago what I thought of S&M. We were in a public setting which (thankfully) precluded any possibility that this was a proposition, but at the same time, I knew he had something on his mind, since this isn’t exactly routine chatter (even for us).

Sure, I can be pretty bossy…But I couldn’t really think of anything I’d done to prompt this line of inquiry.

Turns out, he had stumbled upon some sexy little book he thought I might like, but it was gone by the time he went back to buy it. I guess all that was left by way of related subject matter was something in the S&M genre. Dimly knowing that this might or might not be the kinda “surprise” gift I’d appreciate, he had the good sense and forethought to just ask outright.

My gently truthful response was, “Uhh, I’ve never really thought about it. But if I was into that kinda thing, which end of the riding crop do you think you’d have been on by now?” Point taken.

I think we were both kinda relieved.

On the other hand, if Burberry makes a buggy whip…welllll, I doooo pride myself on being open-minded and non-judgmental. n

Reprinted Ace 2003.