Men & Women: The Great Gift Giving Divide

Dave in Mexico

Late last night I finished today’s post. I asked Dave to edit it (as he always does) and by the time he finished reading I could tell something was up.  When I asked, he said,

“Well, it is a good read. [insert raises hands up in a swooping motion here] I’m not sure. It just doesn’t feel complete.”

“What do you mean?”

“I wanted more. I wanted you to go deeper. I wanted to understand.”

“I know. I wanted to convey the fact that many women feel or have felt like I do, especially when it comes to holidays and gift giving, yet I did not want to out anyone else by sharing their personal issues. How do I convey both and make sense?”

“I think it is ok to mention that this topic came up while you were at dinner with a bunch of women and I think you should talk about yourself and how you deal with it.”

We talked a little more and then Dave went upstairs. In an effort improve my writing and to understand what Dave meant, I paused, thought about my post and followed him upstairs and sat right next to him. I asked him to pause the television and said, “I have been thinking. I want to get this right. I am not sure if I can. Tell me what you mean?”

“You imply that women are unsatisfied, but what does that mean?  I just want to know what we men can do?”

“That’s it, Dave. That is what I am trying to say. Men and women are different and I don’t know if we can ever really be on the same page.  (My page lives in an urban setting and your page lives in the mountains.)  Being direct and always communicating is the only thing I can imagine that will bridge the great male/female divide. I bet, for instance, that women would read the initial post, nod their heads and totally get it.  You are a dude. You read my post and felt confused and unsatisfied. The cool thing is that we are talking about this disconnect, right?  The answer  (as vague as it may sound) is talking and when you open your mouth, be real. Yes, women get dissatisfied and men often do not understand why. Bottom line is that we (all women) are different in what we expect and how we perceive. And like you, we also change. What I wanted fifteen years ago is not what I want or need today. I wish I could solve the mystery for all of us.”

So here is what started our conversation:

The other night I went out to dinner with some girlfriends. There we sat in the Park City Café Rio, four adult women, different ages and all married.  One is newly-ish married and has no children. Another’s children are grown. The friend who brought me and I have children about the same ages, except she also has a seventeen year old daughter.

Maybe it was something one of them said. No. I just think it was in the air. With Valentine’s Day coming up, the conversation somehow moved to the space where I was talking about all the women who expect magic (and mindreading from their significant other) on February 14th. And when the magic does not happen hearts are inevitably broken because remember, “MEN ARE NOT MIND READERS!” And then I shared a little secret (which led me to a much bigger question and realization),

I have so many friends who say how awesome they think Dave is and how cool he is because he remembers things like Valentine’s Day. I always have to laugh. Yes, Dave is awesome! I love every inch of that man. This being said, I tell them, “I do not love Dave because he remembers every holiday and does everything I fantasize that he will do. Fifteen years ago if I waited for him to bring home flowers, if I had not opened my mouth and told him that I would like him to bring me flowers, I would still be waiting. I love Dave not because he is a mind reader. He is not a mind reader. I love him because he he handles it when I tell him what I want and does his very best to fulfill my greedy dreams.”

Dave in Mexico

“Dave.” I say.  “It is Valentine’s Day. If you do not get me flowers and a card, I will be very, very sad. The end.” It took a few years for him not to push back and tell me that to make more money, Valentine’s Day is a shameful, greedy and consumer-based travesty thought up by greeting card companies. Now, however, when I remind him that Valentine’s Day is next Tuesday, he keeps most of his strong opinions to himself and follows through. I love Dave for that. It is about give and take, isn’t it?  If you want it, ask for it. I laughed. They laughed.

Feeling like I was on a conversation roll and dreading any sort of lull, I had to ask, “So ladies how do your husbands handle the holidays?” The newly-ish married woman immediately piped in about her husband’s pink circa 1980’s skis and how they had been only married for a month. She knew he needed new skis and knew he would love them.  So she stealthily bought him a new pair of skis while they shopped at REI. You ask, “How could she buy him a new pair of skis and he did not notice?” And I tell you, “I have done the same sort of thing many many times. They are dudes and believe me, they will not notice.”

“What did he get you?” We all asked.

“You do not want to know,” she said.  “Since then he knows I always buy my own presents, wrap them and put them under the tree.”

I sensed we were onto something like say hitting a big fat marriage nerve when the woman who has been married for thirty years said, “He takes me shopping for birthdays and holidays. It took him twenty-five years, but he figured it out.” She continued to tell us about the first gift her husband gave her. It was something about her birthday and not knowing it was her birthday.  He abruptly left her birthday dinner to buy her a present. In his rush, he ran through a department store and bought her a random high priced kitchen item. When she unwrapped it, she burst into tears. “He is much better now,” she said.

We shared our deep dark gift-giving horror stories. I felt for the woman who was not even there. She loved Wild Flowers.  To give her husband a hint that she would love for him to bring her home a bouquet of wild flowers, every time she and her husband went into the woods she would comment on how pretty the flowers were. I had to pipe in. “I bet everytime they were in the woods the husband did not get the hint, but instead would agree that the flowers were indeed pretty. If you want it you have to say, bring me home some wild flowers.”  We all had a story and at first I was surprised that I was not the only one. We talked about bread makers and stair steppers.  Not one, but two of us were given unwanted pairs of long underwear.  When Dave and I had been dating for about six months he was going home for the holidays and invited me to fly back to DC on Christmas Day.  I arrived. I met all of his friends. We still talk about the basketball game when Geoff had my back and Justin’s brother scared me.  Dave’s mom had no clue that we were dating and in her words (once we were engaged a year later), “I know you came to DC for a few visits (once for three weeks, by the way), but until you were engaged, I had no idea you were dating.”  On that first Christmas, I was excited. I had the very special boyfriend. I felt touched and honored that he invited me home to meet his family. Because I come from a family where Christmas was and means everything, I made and bought him several gifts. We went off by ourselves to exchange our presents. Of course I assumed Christmas meant the same to him as it did me. I made him his own stocking. I bought him a really cool print and some other awesome stuff. He loved everything and then said, “This is too much.” I felt sheepish as he handed me my present. I unwrapped it and there I saw a packaged pair of long underwear. “I know you could really use a pair. This is a good brand.” I waited. I waited some more and that was it. I burst into tears.  “What’s wrong?” Dave kindly asked.

“It’s Christmas! You are my boyfriend. I gave you all these thoughtful and special gifts and what did you give me?  A pair of long underwear.” By then I was sobbing. As I think about it now I do not feel sad for me. I feel a little embarrassed. Dave did a great job and you know what, fifteen years later and I still wear those long underwear.  In that very first moment Dave and I began to unravel the mysterious of male female gift-giving.  It has taken years and we both have acquiesced. It has been a long, arduous and continuous discussion. It took years for us to figure out why my expectations were so high. My expectations had nothing to do with Dave. The basket my family put all of its eggs in was Christmas.  I grew up poor and Christmas was the time we received new things like underwear, pajamas, socks and items we could return to Target for cash. I loved having my own cash. Christmas was filled with a lot of disappointment, tears and yummy yummy food. It was also filled with gifts my parents could not afford and stockings that were always stuffed to the brim. It was an emotionally charged and BIG GIANT holiday. Dave, on the other hand, comes from a family where his wants were afforded.  Even when Birthdays are sometimes forgotten Dave’s family lets it roll off. They are easy that way.  They had enough. Sure, Dave worked through high school, but he did not go without. I am confident that when he needed a sweat suit for gym that his mom did not sew him a sweat suit out of clearance material from the fabric store. His parents were able to buy him Air Jordans, Parachute Pants and Girbauds when they were fads.  They paid a big chunk of cash towards his Auction-purchased Pontiac Fiero.  Me, I worked from age eleven. I am not kidding. I babysat full time in the summers starting at age eleven. I shared the-ever-changing-ever-breaking-down family car with my brothers and sisters.  Often carrying extra water in the car to fill the over-heating radiator at each stoplight. (True story. That did happen.) When I wanted something new, I bought it myself. Christmas and my birthday were times that things were bought for me and for that and because I think our culture has taught women to have very high expectations on holidays.  I put high expectations on Dave.

Dave in Mexico

My friend then blurted out, “I told them next Christmas there will be no presents. We will just go out of town.” To which I cheekily responded, I think I will tell Dave and the boys, “Next Christmas I am going out of town — by myself.” Not true. Dave and the boys keep me in business. We are far from perfect and have worked hard to get to this place. This Christmas,  did I really want the carryon bag that had space for my laptop? Absolutely not.  Did I want a new carryon bag? Absolutely! When there are kinks, Dave is willing to work them out. When he only hears part of my request, he doesn’t fight me. He has learned it is happier to simply adjust.   This year he graciously took me to the luggage store so that I could exchange the laptop-holding carryon for a bigger sized, more-to-my-liking carryon. When I found the one I wanted it also had a bonus wet pocket (a pocket to keep swimsuits so nothing else gets wet), a place to clip in extraneous jackets on the outside (kids are always handing me their jackets) and no laptop compartment. A woman needs that space for clothes. It is always about the clothes.   Thank you Davy!

Remember women. Men do not read minds and they may not even understand what I am saying here. Really. However, unlike us, when you tell them what you want, they will not fall apart or be crazy passive aggressive.   They can deal with our ever-changing expectations and they will.  Sure, you may have to remind them all the time, but they can deal.  Open your mouth and tell them how you feel. Yes, you may have to place the wrapping paper and presents in their hands and then supervise while they wrap them, but they can handle all of this. Why? Because they are dudes. Be open and tell them what you need. Go team!

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