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A Gift for All Seasons

I got nothing but wonderful gifts this year - from Bob, of course, because he's never given me a bad gift, but also from friends, who have given us beautiful and/or useful gifts that will be much enjoyed.  In fact, it's been years since I've gotten a really awful gift that simply couldn't be turned around somehow.

I remember the very first time I got a gift that I absolutely hated (and couldn't make work) quite clearly.  I was 13, and my Grandmother sent (to the US) a necklace and bracelet set of red wooden beads.  Absolutely not my taste, ugly, badly made, and just wrong all around.  I couldn't even use the beads for something else, because the paint/dye rubbed off if you touched it.  I realized that I had to write a long thank-you note (thank you notes in my family must be long and chatty; a short "thank you for the necklace" is not sufficient) and lie.

It's actually a clear indicator of how lucky I was that I didn't get a crap gift until I was 13.  One of the most awesome gifts I got from my parents (there have been many wonderful gifts, but this one was so unique I had to single it out) was a store mannequin on my 12th birthday (I was still in the UK) that my Father had acquired somewhere.  I wanted a mannequin I could dress up, and for many years, it stood in my room, dressed in some costume or other (it even came to the US with us).  That they listened to me and arranged for what must have seemed like an insane gift was so wonderful.

Hey, at least I never asked for a pony. 

One of the worst gifts I ever got was from my first husband the Christmas before we separated - my friends know this story, as it's funny now, but at the time, it was devastating.  We really didn't have any money - we barely squeezed a real tree out of the budget - and basically, had about $20 each to get each other a small gift.  I had made it very clear that there was one small brooch I was absolutely dying to have, that cost $15, and that was all I wanted.  I pointed out the catalog, the page, the item, and he was going to get it for me, right?


I got him a couple of small things I knew he loved.  He got me a video of a movie I didn't really care for, and a small figurine he got for free through work.

I couldn't help it - I cried.  He got mad at me.

It is the small things that destroy you - not the big disasters.  It's the little things that let you know, over and over again, that the person you're with just doesn't  think about you when they're considering stuff, they just go with whatever's convenient for them.  If you're like me, love and low self-esteem can carry you through for several years, but eventually, you starve for affection.  Especially the little things - what we call "love language".  People who care for each other learn their partner's love language, and how it is expressed, whether it's flowers for their birthday, or remembering to take out the trash.  It may seem like an effort at first, but it's worth it, right?

It damn well should be.  Bob and I try to seek out ways to show each other love in small things as well as big, because again, it's the little everyday things that count.  Bob doing laundry or unloading the dishwasher unprompted makes me feel like I'm with someone who cares, someone who makes the effort to get up with me each morning and make sure I get to my car okay, even though I get up at 5am.  Someone who never leaves or comes back without kissing me and telling me he loves me, someone who will pause their computer game when I need them - without whining or holding it against me later.

In return, I learn (and continue to learn - it never slides into complacency) what makes him feel loved, because I love him and want him to know that no matter what, he will always be first.

It's not the gift, it's the thinking behind the gift.  Taking the time to find out what makes me happy, and choosing accordingly.  And Bob takes the time.  My ex?  Not so much.

I think by year two of my last marriage, I realized that I was mostly a burden to him, and that he didn't really want to change the way he lived to accommodate me.  I didn't know any better, so I tried to do all the accommodating, and of course, got stuff wrong.  The escalating verbal and mental abuse was never enough to make me walk out (I know, I know), but it left me shattered and completely untrusting of my basic worth as a human being.  I am so grateful for Bob's patience in giving me the time and space and non-judgemental love to pull myself back together.  When we were first together, I couldn't say out loud "I am a good person" without cringing and crying.  Now, as all of you know, my self-esteem borders on megalomania.  I feel pretty good.

It is important that I acknowledge  that I was not the blameless innocent party in the failure of my first marriage - I did my share of bad things, some of them quite ignorantly cruel - but in my defense, I did those things because I was desperate for affection and love.  The fundamental refusal of my ex to make any effort in our relationship and his continual demands that I keep changing my personality to fit what he felt I should be while never giving me any positive feedback made me feel like I was tolerated at the best of times, and only useful when he wanted sex.  The rest of the time, I felt like I was a nuisance. 

Exacerbating all of this was my depression, which also didn't help my behaviour any.  We did have some good times, and I really honestly loved him deeply, but I couldn't keep up the one-sided nature of our relationship forever.  It came to a head when he basically said that since I didn't earn any money, I was responsible for everything else, and any money I did earn was to be handed over to him.  I was an adjunct of him, not a person to be considered. 

Of course, I wasn't able to articulate most of this at the time - it's taken years of introspection and soul-searching to separate my failures from his, and to realize which of his demands were completely unreasonable, and where I needed to adjust my own attitude.  Fortunately, I'm with someone who makes the same effort with me, so the relationship is a true two-way street.  My first marriage was made for the wrong reasons, with the wrong person, and I got myself there by not being self-aware enough to pinpoint my motivations.

Don't make life-changing decisions on impulse is what I'm saying.

Finding real love blew that dreary compromise of a marriage out of the water, but I'm not sorry I experienced it.  I learned the importance of the unspoken language of caring, and I never take the love I have now for granted.  I'm not entitled to be loved like this, I'm privileged.  I'm not owed or guaranteed a great relationship, so I'd better take the time and the effort to nuture this love and keep it healthy.

Because the best gift of all is his presence by my side.  I've proved to myself I can live without love, but I'm not such a fool as to assume that no matter what I do, love will always be there for me.  In turn, I work hard to make sure that Bob feels loved every day, no matter what.

I got your back, baby.  Merry Christmas.

(source:  http://www.bunny-comic.com)


( 17 brains — Leave a chunk of brain! )
Dec. 28th, 2009 04:40 pm (UTC)
The first Christmas after we were married, my husband gave me a big package of chocolates. I patiently and carefully explained to him why this was a bad gift since I'm diabetic and tend to not be able to control myself with good chocolates. He seemed to get it. But then the last Valentine's Day we were together, he got me 18 chocolate covered strawberries. I ended up throwing out 15 of them. It still hurts to think about.
Dec. 28th, 2009 04:53 pm (UTC)
It's not the gift, it's the thinking behind the gift. Taking the time to find out what makes me happy, and choosing accordingly.

This is a notion I have been trying to get across to my father for years. I don't want money, I don't want a gift card, I want you to go find me a gift that you think I'll like. I got a Cusinart this year. I really really wanted one :) He listened.
Dec. 28th, 2009 05:06 pm (UTC)
The thinking behind teh gift is what I am all about. Sadly I had to buy my own gift from my folks, and everyone knows I dislike it, and money just tickes me off.
Dec. 28th, 2009 05:26 pm (UTC)
*sniffle* Merry Christmas, and congratulations on your lovely marriage!

My worst gift was from an ex - he bought me a cheesecake poster of a female comic character. Uh, yeah, I like comic books, but seriously??
Dec. 28th, 2009 05:40 pm (UTC)
We're about to go through what's left in my grandmother's workroom. I've no idea what's in there, but I'm fairly certain there's still a lot of miniature making stuff. She used to make formal doll houses. If you might use some of it in your new doll house, I'd be happy to box it up and send it to you.
Dec. 28th, 2009 06:23 pm (UTC)
Yes please! \^o^/
Dec. 28th, 2009 07:18 pm (UTC)
My First Valentines Day
We don't normally celebrate Valentine's Day.. but I knew my husband was the one because I'm allergic to roses. They don't just make me sneeze; I can't breathe to the point of DAYS after exposure. If anyone in these "cube farms" get roses, I am completely hosed.

Anyways, our first valentine's Day, (before diabetes). I was at work and received a package (he was still in the mid west). Inside the package was a dozen chocolate roses in a chocolate heart shaped box. Now THAT'S what I call putting some thought. He could have just sent me a card or something; but he went a little farther.

We also give each other christmas lists, but the best presents are the ones "off list". Those are the ones that make me feel most loved... and generally they're not the expensive gifts

Dec. 28th, 2009 07:33 pm (UTC)
This year my husband was amazing! He went to the Mall and stood in a line of screaming holiday children at Build-A-Bear to make the WWF Gray Wolf for me because I mentioned I wanted one and it is not only a present for me but also helps wolves in the wild. Better than diamonds or rubies or gold.

He speaks the language of caring fluently and I am so joyous to have found him.
Dec. 28th, 2009 07:36 pm (UTC)
Arn just gave me one of those lamps that are specifically for embroiderers/hand-sewers... then told me that 'we'd have to accessorize". He explained that we needed to buy a new chair to go with it. He'd noticed that I'd stopped stitching while we watched TV and that I'm no longer comfortable in "my" chair but that I would spend hours in there with him anyway because that was what he enjoyed - watching TV together.

I hadn't even thought of it, being uncomfortable. You know how it goes, you adapt. But he noticed. And fixed it. Like you, I am so lucky to be loved by someone that special.
Dec. 28th, 2009 10:01 pm (UTC)
I always regard the poor choices in old relationships as twisted blessings in their way - they serve to prepare us to recognize the absolute joy we get in finding the right person later. Everyone makes at least one poor choice, somewhere along the way - heaven knows, before I met my wonderful SO, I dated a stunning loser - gifts? ha! lying, cheating, scamming money, and a total failure in his own life, skipping from job to job - which lead to his disparaging me (and every woman he dated before, as it turned out), to make himself feel better.

I'm delighted to hear that people are happy, long term, in their relationships. I sometimes wonder if we aren't encouraged as women to rush headlong into marriage with the first guy that seems okay, or asks, because we want the big dress and the big day, all the while failing to ask ourselves if this is someone we think we'll be able to build a solid relationship with in the years to come.

I heard Germaine Greer on NPR today talking about this (she has an odd perspective, but she's a very smart woman) and how making that poor choice dooms so many women to a quick shift to single motherhood with divorce and thus economic frustration. Often true that, but we don't seem to be slowing our romance with the big, young wedding as soon as possible. Perhaps we need to be teaching young girls to anticipate other successes beyond weddings when they're still small enough to imagine the wonder of using their talents with their imagination - instead of endlessly fixating on a wedding day.
Dec. 28th, 2009 11:13 pm (UTC)
Very interesting that you should mention the Love Languages
My husband bought a book about learning each other's love language, and he even read it! So, far he is trying, and it is easy to fall back into bad patterns.

It has taken me a long time to appreciate gifts - no matter what they are, as long as some attempt is made. In fact, I even like appliances now. I'm just hard to buy for, mostly because I have become very utilitarian about the things I get.

I'm glad that you have Bob, as it seems, many friends too. I, too am fortunate as I have a husband that loves me in his own way and a most wonderful daughter.
Dec. 29th, 2009 02:13 am (UTC)
I had to share this with my husband.
Dec. 29th, 2009 04:00 am (UTC)
xoxoxo you. Of all people, you should get wonderful gifts, and be blessed with people who give 'em. I know really well what it's like to be on the receiving end of an 'obligation' gift, and the grand dame of them all, a narcissists' gift. (Once I was past the toy stage, my mother bought clothes that she thought were attractive but that I hated and would never wear. Except she bought them in her size, not mine. I was not allowed to exchange them. Guess whose closet they went into? She could have avoided the entire ordeal by simply buying them for herself in the first place.)

Anyhow, screw that. Have some snowbunnehs. I don't think they're exactly the same as your cartoon Bunnehs, but they made me smile ;)

::sigh:: LJ refuses to upload snowbunneh picture. Will try again later >:\
Dec. 29th, 2009 10:55 am (UTC)
I await snowbunnehs with great anticipation. :)
Jan. 5th, 2010 11:28 pm (UTC)
Finally, snowbunnies.
Dec. 29th, 2009 07:05 am (UTC)
The very first Valentines day that my husband and I were dating he got me cordless staple gun. He had watched me struggling with an ancient manual one while working on an upholstry project and knew I'd never be able to justify buying an upgrade since 'I already had one'. He also bought one of those cheesy drugstore boxes of chocolates to present it in. I think he ate the chocolates.

Most romantic gift ever. That's when I knew.
Dec. 29th, 2009 09:24 pm (UTC)
I think women in general are just better intuitive gift givers based on the way our brains work. My husband will tell me in March about some book he is lusting after and I will remember and get it for Christmas or birthday and he will be shocked and surprised (how did you know!) because of course, he forgot all about it. My husband is just not a good gift buyer, but that's okay. But one year - for Valentine's Day - he dragged a male friend all over Estrella trying to find me the right earrings - he knew they had to be cabochons and involve pearls and finally, after dragging said bitching male friend to all the jewelers, found me the perfect pair, with cabochon garnets and teeny pink freshwater pearls. They were gorgeous - one of the best presents he had ever given me. The week after Estrella, we went out of town for a wedding and through a series of tragic, but unrelated events, a small packet that had some of my jewelry in in, including the earrings, got thrown away. I was very upset, but it wasn't fixable, so I moved on. In the meantime, he contacted the jeweller he bought them from. He had to go to Albuquerque for a VA appt that November...the merchant had a store front for Christmas - he went to the store and spent an hour with the lady, going through all her stock in the back, until he found the same pair. That was, bar none, the best present I've ever been given. They were maybe a pair of $20 earrings, but....I still have them and think of that every time I wear them.
( 17 brains — Leave a chunk of brain! )

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