Where has the romance gone? Remember all those cute little things you used to do when you first started going out? You know, the stuff that made each of you feel like floating on air while simultaneously making your friends sick?
You may have thought it was a secret, but we all knew about those cute little notes and gifts you'd give each other on the anniversary of every month or week of your first date. We saw the stuffed animals sitting on your dashboard, the personalized poems penned in your notebook. We even heard you recite them—in baby talk, no less—when you thought we weren't paying attention. They went something like:
Remember when we first started dating?
You've grown in so many ways.
There's nothing about you that I'm hating.
I love these past ten days.
So what happened, Cupcake? First came love, then came marriage. But perhaps with the exception of bringing home a baby carriage, the fountain of spontaneous gifts dramatically slowed to the trickle of an occasional greeting card. Store-bought, not homemade.
Okay, I'll admit it. This is the story of my life. It's not that we've fallen out of love. I guess you can say we've gotten comfortable with one another.
No, I'm not cheap. And apparently, I'm not alone on this, since many couples seem to slack off a little more in the gift department with each passing year of marriage.
It all starts on your wedding day. You've heard of couples buying each other keepsake wedding gifts like pearl earrings and engraved watches—at least they did around the turn of the last century. But between selecting the cake frosting and getting that Top Ten request list ready for the band, who has time to shop? And you don't want to see each other before the ceremony—it's bad luck. So instead you send a note and some flowers letting your soon-to-be lifetime partner know how special this date is always going to be to you. You really meant to do that.
Then a year later, your surprise trip to the Bahamas has to be exchanged for an overnight at a Holidome thirty miles from home. You opted for that big screen television a few months back, and at the moment, you're a little cash shy. Don't worry, you can make it up next year, right?
You really mean that. But as the second anniversary date rolls around, you figure your marriage survived without the major trip. And you convince yourself that Number Two isn't really a milestone year anyway. Besides, the Packers are playing the Bears. Who wouldn't love two tickets to that?
Apparently, she doesn't.
Nor does she particularly care for the leather miniskirt I give her for our third anniversary. Now I'm not totally to blame for that one. You see I was standing in line at the grocery story on the day before our anniversary, wondering what to get her, when the bagger asked, "Paper or plastic?" That's it! If something made of paper is the traditional gift for the first year, I wonder what's on tap for Year Three? It turns out it's leather. She'll see I still think she's sexy after three long years. Instead, she thinks I'm trying to make her my trophy wife. I sleep on the den sofa that night—it's the one covered in leather.
The same thing happens on Year Five. The traditional gift is wood, so I buy a birdhouse for her and end up in the doghouse. Apparently, the fifth anniversary is considered a milestone year.
Because of our busy schedules and three children who love to share with us everything from diapers to dance lessons, my wife and I mutually agree not to exchange gifts for our sixth anniversary. Well, that works out great for me … that is, until evening when she slips me a wrapped present. It isn't extravagant. Just a paperweight for my desk. But it suddenly looks taller than I feel. I know a hug just isn't going to do it for her. Unfortunately, that's all I have to offer. Where is one of those corny poems when you need it? "The years have been kind, and so has your … " Oh, forget it.
The following year, we're saving for a bigger house, so we decide to "not exchange" again. I know what that means. And I decided to beat her to the punch by presenting her with a pair of earrings. No, not the expensive kind. Just a simple pair of sterling silver for every day. Well, it turns out she's mad because I bought a gift and she didn't. Apparently, she has no recollection of the year before.
With the purchase of another token gift the following year, I decide to wait it out. If she doesn't have one for me, I've learned not to give this one to her. Well, I hope I saved that receipt because the exchange never happens. But I can tell it bothers her. The next couple of days are unseasonably cool at the Theodore's.
We have a lot to talk about the following year. I made arrangements with a sitter so that we can go out for a romantic dinner. Just the two of us—we can actually finish every sentence we start. While waiting for our food, I confess to her about last year and give her the gift that has remained unopened. Before she can argue with me, I explain the situation and demand that it's okay if a gift is received without one to give in exchange. This brings both tears and laughter to my wife, and I think she's just realizing she's really stuck with me. Then she begins a confession of her own and reaches into her purse for the dusty gift she's been waiting a whole year to give me. That's when we understand how much more than material possessions we've given each other as nearly a decade has gone by. No, I'm still not admitting I'm cheap. But the best is yet to come. Without surprises or disappointments, we've been openly communicating with one another about what to do for our big ten-year anniversary. Which is just six months away.
We've decided again—no token gifts. Because we'll be needing our money for our pull-out-all-the-stops trip to the Bahamas. It is, after all, a milestone year.
Conrad Theodore writes for a variety of magazines. In between deadlines, you can usually find him walking the malls in search of the perfect gift for his wife.
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