My husband and I have been married for 14 years, together for more than 18. Nearly two decades together creates a lot of gift-giving opportunities for a couple. Birthdays. Anniversaries. Valentine’s Days. Christmases. Eventually Mothers’ Days and Fathers’ Days were added to the list. All in, there are no less than six occasions for the exchange of gifts, or at least a sappy and over-priced card.
Over the years, there have been some hits and misses, big gifts (the puppies we got for our first anniversary immediately come to mind) and small gifts, silly gifts and extravagant gifts. And just about everything in between.
But these days my favorite gift is the one that we give each other — which is absolutely nothing.
That’s right, our gift to each other is nothing at all.
Now, before you think we’ve devolved into an unromantic couple of sticks in the mud, let me explain. First, the gift isn’t really nothing. In fact, it’s something all right. It’s letting each other off the hook. It’s the knowledge that we don’t need to spend a half hour we don’t have looking through cheesy cards that will get tossed into the recycling bin a few days later. It’s an intentional acknowledgment that we are in the thick of it, we’re busy as hell, and we don’t need to add one more thing to our mile-long to-do list. And its an understanding that we don’t need a specific day — whether it’s a birthday or an anniversary — to express our love and commitment to each other.
And lest you think this is just some martyr-ish wife saying “I don’t really want anything” which is translated as “I really want the perfect gift but I want you to read my mind without me having to tell you that,” rest assured that is not the case. In fact, our no-gift agreement is just as much a gift for me as it is for my husband. Because the last thing I need to add to my never-ending list of chores is “buy a not-that-funny anniversary card” or “online shop for something my husband probably doesn’t want anyway.”
Because, here’s the thing: my husband is hard to shop for, and we’re at the point in our lives and our relationship when we can meet each of our own needs ourselves. If I want a massage, I make an appointment for one. If he needs some new t-shirts or grill tools, he picks them out. We don’t need to guess or leave not-so-subtle hints for things we want and can get ourselves only to feel disappointed because (surprise!) our partner couldn’t read our mind.
And it’s not like we don’t acknowledge our anniversary or each other’s birthday. There will be sweet looks and “remember when’s” as we reminisce back on that warm Saturday afternoon 14 years ago when we said “I do.” We might snuggle up on the couch for a few minutes after the kids are in bed and before one of us (likely me) has crashed on the couch. And we’ll spend a few minutes in the rush of the day to acknowledge the commitment we made to each other all those years ago, the commitment we have continued to make each day since then.
Of course, gifts are wonderful. It’s nice to know that our beloved was thinking about us, and picked out something just for us. And we do that. A few weeks ago, my husband bought me a throw pillow that said, “I heart my awesome wife.” It wasn’t my birthday, or an anniversary. Just a random Tuesday morning. He often comes home with bags full of candy bars when he knows that I’ve had a rough day or I’m PMSing. And he leaves sweet notes around the house and sends smitten emails sometimes for no reason at all.
Those are the things that matter. Not obligatory baubles for birthdays and anniversaries. Because, you know what, I can’t remember what my husband got me for my birthday two years ago, but I’ll never forget that throw pillow. Or the candy bars. Or the short, but heart-felt emails, on a random Thursday afternoon.