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.