Tuesday, March 11, 2014

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Why I Suck at Special Occasions (Part III)

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After about 30 minutes of driving, I started to realize that when it came to Mel's birthday,  I had no idea what I was doing. This was my first real introduction to the complicated mess that is special occasions. I’d always assumed that I was really good at special occasions. When we were dating, I’d bring her flowers, or take her out to dinner, and she always seemed happy with that. Before our argument over the candle lit breakfast, I was a little pompous, seeing myself has high and mighty and better than others at making my wife happy on holidays. When in fact, Mel was probably just being gracious, and only getting a few hours of sleep had obviously loosened her tongue a little. This whole experience was a real touch of reality for me.

While I was out, I went to a jewelry store and bought Mel the ring she wanted. I came home, placed it on the table, and then we didn’t talk much most of her birthday. Eventually, later that night, we reconciled. Mel apologized and acknowledged all the work I’d put into her birthday. And I apologized for getting her up so early. By the next day, we were good.
Knowing what I know now, I realize that the last thing Mel values is a candle lit breakfast on her birthday. What she values is sleep. She probably assumed that I understood that, but I didn’t at the time. I think the real problem was husbands have a lot of people telling them how to treat their wives, and I was trying to fit that mold. TV, movies, and friends told me what I was doing was sweet. I’d always been told being a sweet husband meant bringing flowers and candy. It meant holding candle light meals. But no one told me that she might not like my flowers, or she might not enjoy my candy (or cake in this example). No one ever told me that a candle light meal would go over much better with my wife if it were at dinner time and not at 7:30 AM after she’d been at work the night before until 2AM.
Thinking back, my original plan was to make it a candle light dinner, but I didn’t know how I would surprise her with that. I wasn’t that sneaky. Making it a candle light breakfast seemed like the perfect way to make it a surprise, and surprises were supposed to be sweet. But I didn’t think about other contributing factors. I was laboring under the notion: it’s the thought that counts. But in reality that’s not always true. Mel has gotten me things over the years that suck. And we are close enough for me to tell her so. The problem was that I was trying to force my understanding of being sweet onto our marriage, and when it didn’t work, I got really frustrated.
Now as far as the list of gifts, well, that was a test. Mel tested me a lot at this time. I think a lot of people test their lovers early in marriage. I don’t know if it’s a subconscious way to make sure that you made the right decision before you’ve been married too long to get it annulled, or what.
I am going to be honest here; I tested Mel a lot too at this time. For example, I’m a big fan of crappy action movies, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Steven Seagull crappy.  I used to send Mel to Hollywood Video (I know. Just mentioning Hollywood video makes me sound old), and tell her to pick me up an action movie. But I’d never tell her a title. I’d just say, “Get something I’d like.” And I will say, to her credit, that she did a good job of finding movies that interested me. Although it wasn’t that hard. I’d watch about anything with blood, violence, and a revenge plot. And she did a good job faking an interest in the movies she picked up for me. She’d sit through the whole thing. She never complained. In fact, she didn’t say much at all. It took her a few years before she ever told me she didn’t like crappy action movies. I did other things, too, like talking about farts and other gross stuff to see her reaction, holding onto photos of my ex-girlfriend, that sort of thing. It was all petty and stupid.
So I suppose what I’m trying to say here is that I am not guiltless when it comes to testing a spouse’s love. But on Mel’s birthday, I didn’t really think about any of that. In fact, at the time, I didn’t realize that I was testing Mel. I thought I was building a connection with her, or something. I thought that I was just reminding myself how cool she was for watching crappy action films with me.
And Mel, well, I think she was doing the same thing. I think she was just trying to remind herself that I was a sweet and loving man who really understood her inside and out. The kind of man that could look at a list and easily spot what was important. The really crazy thing about all of this is that even after almost 10 years of marriage, I still don’t know Mel as well as I should. If Mel gave me that same list today, I’d still probably get it wrong.
I have to assume that I still hold plenty of mysteries, and Mel surprises me everyday. Frankly, I find how complex she is really exciting.

People are complicated, and who they are today is not who they will be years from now. So this crazy notion that we both had of understanding each other well enough to pick out movies for each other, or look at a list of wants and pick out what was most wanted, and get it right every time, was really idealistic and foolish, but neither of us understood that at the time.
This was not the only time I screwed up on Mel’s birthday; in fact I think we had a similar argument the following year. I don’t know if I’ve ever got her birthday just right. Or Christmas. Or any holiday for that matter. I still find holidays as confusing as I did the year Mel gave me the list of things she wanted. But I must say that we don’t argue anymore. Perhaps this is a story of lowered expectations. Maybe Mel has just accepted that I’m never going to get it right, and she is going to have to love me anyway. But I don’t really like thinking that way. What I like to think is that Mel has started to understand that I’m not going to get it right, but I’m trying never the less. She is giving me the benefit of the doubt. And well, sometimes that is the best gift anyone can receive. 

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Clint Edwards was blessed with a charming and spitfire wife, a video game obsessed little boy, and a snarky little girl in a Cinderella play dress. When Clint was 9-years-old his father left. With no example of fatherhood, he had to learn how to be a father and husband through trial and error. His essays on parenting and marriage have been featured in New York Times Motherlode, Huffington Post Parents, Huffington Post Weddings, and The Good Men Project. He lives in Oregon. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.
Photo by Lucinda Higley