In high school I worked at a Hallmark. The day before and Valentine’s Day were always busy and often came with the desperate man. 80% of our customers were women on a usual day, but the holiday of love brought in many more men. Two things struck me about these desperate men: They didn’t want to screw up and they hadn’t planned at all. This was exemplified in their desire for me to pick the perfect gift for their significant other, because clearly my gender made me an expert.
At 16 years old and a “sales associate” it wasn’t my job to teach them the lesson that proper planning often averts crisis like they were currently experiencing. Instead I would ask them what their wife/girlfriend was interested in and worked to find something special for them. After they weighed their options and selected, I loved to watch the relief cross their face when I asked if they would like the item gift wrapped too.
Each time I wrapped a gift, I did it with precision so that it would look as special as these men wanted it to be. (Whether it was that special, is debatable. Let’s talk about the desirability of glass figurines another day.) While I rang the transaction, I told my customer that it would take me a couple of minutes to wrap the gift and it might be a good time to grab a pen and write a note about how they felt about the recipient. With few exception, I think the real gift was sealed in the card and not in the beautifully wrapped box.
I’m married to a sometimes desperate man. For those married, we all have a sometimes desperate man… He doesn’t want to screw up. What I’ve come to learn over the course of our marriage is that I need to focus on that fact and not the lack of planning that may have led to a screw up.
Early in our marriage, he had forgotten to buy me a birthday gift. It’s five days after Christmas and his birthday as well… Don’t judge. We were at Sears with my parents shopping and he asked my mom what I might like. She was recalling what was on my Christmas list and got confused about my list and his list. Her conclusion based on the store was that I wanted an electric screw driver. It should be noted that this was something HE had asked for. Desperate man.
When we celebrated our birthdays, I was disappointed and angry that he would give me a gift he himself wanted… That he could be so thoughtless. I stewed and seethed. At the time I couldn’t move past the screw up and lack of planning, telling myself a story that I wasn’t important to him, unworthy of his time and thought. I couldn’t bring myself to see that the desperate man doesn’t want to screw up, because he loves deeply and in spite of all of his imperfections wants to deliver perfection.
After the electric screw driver, I have lowered my expectations. For us it is too much to expect the perfect gift or a grand gesture of love among all the holidays and celebrations throughout the year. Instead I’ve come to collect up all the small gestures that occur everyday: doing something without being asked; asking how my day is, really listening, and giving me a hug; keeping the kids busy for an hour so I can get something done; and knowing every corner of my soul and loving me wholly anyway.
For my part, I always ask ahead of time (if he hasn’t already) whether we are doing something special for Valentine’s Day and what the expectations are. This year we agreed that nothing was necessary or expected. He was working on Valentine’s Day and it was already a packed weekend.
Our celebration consisted of only something small. Last Monday when Chipotle ran their RAINCHECK promo for a free burrito, I e-mailed him the instructions, but he didn’t have time to redeem it. I did. When I got the free burrito coupon, I screen shot it and texted it to him Friday with “Happy Valentine’s Day!” greetings. I wasn’t going to use it and he loves going there for lunch – win-win. His delight was the only gift I needed this holiday.