I've always known my wife enjoys receiving presents. She said as much while we were dating. But then, several years ago, I read The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman. The book theorized that we usually do for others what we want them to do for us. That's when I knew I was in trouble.
My wife regularly gives me presents. Just small, thoughtful stuff most of the time—but lots of it. If she runs an errand, she comes back with a cup of coffee for me. If she's at the grocery store, she picks out something she knows I'll like. If she goes on a trip to see her family, she sends me postcards from every gas station along the route.
Although I thought it was nice of her to think of me while she was out, for some reason I never felt the need to reciprocate. While I enjoyed receiving the gifts, they didn't fill any deep need I had. I'm embarrassed to say they were often set aside and forgotten soon after I received them.
But as I read the book, I understood suddenly why she did it. In one of those moments of crystal-clear realization, it hit me that each present was an effort to train her hopelessly oblivious husband. Unfortunately, none of her attempts ever made it through my thick head.
Learning to give
Resolved to do better, I tried to develop the gift-giving skill. Searching for support, I confessed my struggles to other men, but most of them had similar issues. We were too absorbed in "stuff"—we weren't sure what that stuff was, but we knew it was really important—to remember to give presents to our wives.
Eventually, I found one husband who had a brilliant idea. He bought dozens of greeting cards and stored them in a desk drawer at work. Whenever he realized he'd forgotten an important occasion, he filled out a card on his lunch break. Crisis averted!
His innovation resonated with my efficiency-trained mind. Why not plan the presents at the beginning of the year? It made a lot more sense than trusting my stuff-absorbed brain to be spontaneous.
So I bought two calendars, one for me and one for my wife, and picked a day each month to be a "Moni-Day" (my wife's name is Monica). I wrote the name of a present in that day's square on each calendar. Then, on Monica's calendar, I covered the square by taping down a small piece of paper labeled "Moni-Day." (Caution: don't forget to write down the gifts in your own calendar. You'll need not only the reminder, but sometimes the advance preparation.)
Later editions of the calendar incorporated a weekly Moni-Day, which goes to prove an important principle—today's extra effort is tomorrow's expectation. In other words, start small, and work your way up.