Many people will be purchasing a plethora of gifts for their respective Sweeties this Valentine’s Day. Many will be given as heart-felt expressions of love and will stand as mere symbols, pointing to the genuine gift of having that Sweetie present in the Giver’s life.
Many will not. (The gifts, that is.)
As a woman I can attest to (and be appalled by) the tendency of some women to measure the value of “their” men by what kind of display he is willing to put forward February 14th. He must invest money, emotion, and/or time; and the greater the opportunity given for the woman to publicly humiliate him by potentially rejecting his overtures, the better.
Stand naked before me so that I may judge thee harshly, for I am your Queen!
This is love?
I have also been the recipient of many presents with the emotional cabling (forget “strings”) heavy enough to support a wrecking ball. When either partner wishes to keep things “low-key” perhaps for legitimate financial reasons, it is not within the other’s best interest to insist on purchasing an iPod the receiver did not ask for, with money neither of you really had to spend. Opting out of gifts is not an invitation to pile-on—especially if your finances are merged. However, given the dynamics of such dysfunctional relationships, the receiver is then slave to the giver, now required to “appreciate” the extravagance to preserve the emotional state of the giver.
Then there is the Gifting-by-Force. This is a new experience for me as I now live separate from my family, communicate sparingly, and items arrive unannounced in the mail. Since my daughter’s birth I have appreciated many of these packages and hoped they would be useful for many months. But when she was small and money was tight yet the occasional Apple product was still purchased, clothing or toys which could be returned to Wal-Mart transformed into much needed formula and diapers. These care packages became my manna from Heaven, nourishing my child and lowering my stress levels for another week.
Then we received a box from my favorite aunt and godmother. Clothes, many of them very nice; they seemed to have come from a high-end child’s clothing store. I reveled in the quality and unique design of the garments.
But they had no tags.
My first rationalization was to think she “de-commercialized” the clothes, the way someone might take toys out of the packaging to say they were brought by Santa. “Well, it’s a good thing they fit.” I thought.
But it nagged at me. What if they hadn’t fit. Why would someone risk spending all that money on clothes, “de-commercialize” them, only to have them not fit and be non-returnable—non-exchangeable?
My favorite aunt, whom I have always reflected on with a warm nostalgia, would have preferred the risk of the clothes not fitting their intended wearer, than to risk outright rejection of the gift.
Dearest Aunt, we have a word for Love-By-Force. It pains me to think you know not the level of faith required--never mind religious devotion--to know, gift or no gift, returned or not, that I still love you and appreciate everything you do for me and mine. Maybe you haven’t heard it enough. I know I haven’t had many opportunities to say it.
I wonder if it was you who told my mother to pull the tags off clothes. She used to not do that and now she does. Maybe you thought it was a good idea and told her so after she expressed concern to you. Or maybe you didn’t say anything and she thought of it herself the same way you did. Because you are both cut of the same cloth, raised in the same household, with the same emotionally distant parents who didn’t know how to love their children as they needed to be loved.
To the both of you: I love you dearly. As much as I would love to love the gifts you send to my child and myself, they only serve to inflict pain when I am not given the opportunity to accept them of my own free will, or put them to use as I need them best.
So this Valentine’s Day, whether you give flowers, chocolate, jewelry, or a quiet evening at home watching The Notebook, know that the best gifts are those given freely and please don’t take it personal when the mere symbol of your affection doesn’t work out as you hoped. Because flowers disturb allergies, chocolate disrupts diet plans, jewelry might be too symbolic, and I don’t even like The Notebook. Because I would prefer to be able to say, “the best gift in my life is having you in it.”