When Mel and I first started going out, I warned her about me. I told her that I wasn’t as sentimental as some people. I was trying to lower her expectations in advance.
I mentioned that I was fine with her being my gal, that’d I’d be good to her, but that she needed to realize that I wasn’t her. I had my own way of thinking and doing that might clash with her understanding of what it means to be in a relationship. I’m not that focused on little picture things, preferring to get the big picture right. Macro over micro, with compromises between.
Specifically, I told her that when it comes to things like birthdays, anniversaries, Valentine’s Day and the like, I might forget them completely. It wasn’t that I meant to be an asshole about it, it’s just that these things don’t register with me as important. Even if they mean something to her, which I realize and respect, I could still not remember. I set the boundary early: she shouldn’t measure my love for her looking for cards and gifts at “just the right moment” to confirm her worth in my eyes. I’ll do that every day; watch me.
I could care less about my birthday; who needs to be reminded that they’re getting older? To me, birthdays are risky: maybe one year she’ll be happy to be a year older and the next she’ll break down weeping. Who knows? Anniversaries raise troubling questions: do you use the day you met, the first time you did it, the first time exclusivity is discussed? These have the possibility of misunderstanding built into them. Marriage might exist just so there’ll be an exact date us men can focus on; one day per year that we can mark off the calendar to throw a cheeseburger into her and tell her she’s loved (ok, I was conjuring Dice Clay a bit there, not necessary at all).
Anyway, I was a little concerned about letting my gal down. I also wanted to get it right. So after telling her all this, I asked her how she felt about it; was there something we could do?
She thought for a moment, looking pensive in that delightful way she does, eyes averted to one side, looking down a bit, clearly searching her feelings for an answer.
“Ok. I get it,” she told me. You can imagine my relief and surprise at that. Was I off the hook? There had to be more. Then she added:
“Here’s what you’re going to do: go into a card shop. Do it now, today if you can. When you’re there, spend a little time and pick out cards that have some meaning that cover all the important dates: Valentine’s, anniversary, my birthday, and whatever else you think of. Buy a bunch of them; get yourself a whole supply. These, you’ll bring home and you’ll keep somewhere. And when those days arrive, and you realize in the middle of the night, or the morning of, that you’ve forgotten completely something that’s important to me, you will go and retrieve one of your cards, fill it out nicely the way you do, and leave it on the table in the kitchen for me.”
“Will that work?” I asked, dumbfounded.
“Sure it will,” she answered. “I know you won’t do it on purpose but those things are important to a girl. If you could make that one little effort, it would mean the world to me. Even though I will know the card came from your stash, I’ll overlook that and feel loved and appreciated in the moment.”
“Really” I asked? “Really,” she answered.
Well… this was amazing, I thought to myself. What a brilliant solution. Here was a way to satisfy her and me at the same time. This was the kind of innovation I was looking for in a relationship!
So that’s what I did. Off I went to the card shop and bought a whole supply of cards. I also realized at the time that I was being hypnotized into a longer term commitment. As I picked out and reviewed card after card for every occasion, with their pithy comments and warm sappy sentiments, I let go of my reservations. I felt much closer to her than before.
I’m not big on searching for love. I think lust is a far better measure of compatibility, especially at the beginning. Lust is what makes us hunger for each other; it’s the private ideal between us that makes for a life together without secrets, a life of acceptance and tolerance.
This card strategy became a representation for what we were capable of as a couple. It was a symbol of our love. It’s also such a sweet encouragement for me as a man that most times I haven’t had to resort to the blank card file I keep in my filing cabinet. I tend to remember these special occasions because they are wrapped emotionally in understanding and empathy for each other. What a gift Melissa has been to my life.
Then I knocked her up. Sure enough, I hadn’t planned on that. I remembered her birthday in early February, and was righteously there for her on Valentines. But with Charlotte arriving in April, life was being lived more on the fly, with new adaptations required beyond my normal scope. I was fine with that, and happy that this motherhood thing was mostly her department.
So it was that I sat there discussing what I should do for my ageing mother on Mother’s Day. Ma was in her eighties by then. She’d raised nine kids to adulthood, after having ten pregnancies in twelve years. Should I send flowers? Visit personally? Get her a card?
Of course, I forgot all about that it was Mel’s first Mother’s Day too. No card for her. Oops!
She was mother of my little girl, whom I’d lived with all through her pregnancy and the miscarriage that preceded it; whom I’d watched deliver our child after an eighteen hour labour that culminated with a heroic and bloody birth. I’d completely left her out. What a jerk.
I suppose you could say I warned her. After all, no one told me that I should go out and get Mother’s Day cards and add those to my stash. Yes, it seems obvious, but… apparently it wasn’t that obvious to me.
She got over it. I somehow made amends, made unnecessary when she realized that you acknowledge your own mother on mother’s day, and less that your gal is a mother. She’d have to wait until her child sent her cards in the years ahead, she reasoned. But I was happy to make sure her future Mother’s Days are significant. You can also bet your bottom dollar that I went out and bought more damn cards and added them to my stash. I’m not taking a chance at getting fooled twice.
So here we are, almost ten years in. We have two kids now: my little girl Charlotte who will turn five this spring, and Howard, our two year old boy whom I named after my father. Things are going great. There are thirty years between us and our love life is as good as it was when we met. If anything, it’s better. Ask me how.
I’ve returned to my counselling/coaching profession over the past few years, something I prefer to do on a limited basis. No more than six or eight clients at a time. I also keep my hand in sales as an energy consultant. Mel and I just sold our house by the lake in the small Ontario town where we live. We are looking for an acreage in the county where we can keep a hobby farm and let our kids roam free in the fresh air. I know: you give a gal a couple of kids and now she wants chickens. It’s OK: I’m fifty-eight; I want to see the stars at night when I go outside.
This weekend, it’s been minus 22 Celsius (-4 F) and so we didn’t leave the house much. Our boy is recovering from a hospital visit Friday night and got pretty sick yesterday and through the night. We are sticking pretty close to home. This morning I got up and realized that I hadn’t got Mel anything for Valentine’s Day.
In the old days, I might have probed by asking if she’d like me to go get her something. Ha! What a bullshit that ploy was! I know better now to believe a woman when they say they don’t need anything on an occasion. No. That’s a trap. Guys generally don’t give a shit about sentimental stuff like Valentine’s and Mother’s Day and birthdays and anniversaries. Most women do; that’s just the reality of the situation. It’s not like it’s some kind of test of love, but in so many ways, it is.
I’m lucky that my gal walked me through this those years ago. Just as I prepared her to accept me, she countered with an offer to accept her. We settled… and I have a file of cards ready.
This morning, I went down into the basement where I currently keep my filing cabinets and searched my stash. I did a quick inventory of what remains and found the perfect card to present to Melissa. I filled it out, writing, “You…and only you,” with such a profound sense of gratitude for the way she’s been in my life. I’m a very lucky man.
And how did I sign it? Love and lust, Christopher.
She loved it.
© CKWallace, 2016. all rights reserved.
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According to Facebook, here’s a picture of Mel waiting for an ultrasound taken exactly five years ago today, just before Charlotte was born. What a beautiful woman.