Sunday, December 03, 2006

Love Languages: The Gift of Gift-Giving . . . and Receiving

It took me 22 years to realize I needed to make plans concerning gifts for my wife. We had another major "talk" about gifts just this past week--29 1/2 years into our marriage.

Here's what's going on--or what has gone on in the past!


First, let me tell you the story of how I was raised. That might help to explain a few things. But there is more--a lot more!--that follows. Give me a few minutes of your time. I think you will be well-rewarded.

When I was growing up, it was the standard in my parents' family that we kids got underwear and socks for Christmas. Not much else. Not much else, anyway, that I can remember! Our friends all got fancy toys. We did not.

When we kids got old enough to buy Christmas gifts for one another or for Mom and Dad, it was the "norm" to go out the day before Christmas--i.e., Christmas eve--and see what you could find. That night, you'd do your wrapping. Everyone in my parents' family did his or her wrapping on Christmas eve. Many times, Mom . . . --Oh! I remember one gift she once gave me that wasn’t socks or underwear! She once made me a bathrobe! . . . On Christmas day, when we opened our presents, Mom gave me a box with a promise that she would make me that robe. . . . I think she may have included the fabric inside the box. . . .

Anyway. You get the idea.

Christmas gifts were pretty much an afterthought. We didn't buy them till the last possible moment. Sometimes they didn't even exist yet. Maybe they weren't even wrapped. They were "thoughts in the mind."

Birthdays weren’t much better.

To this day (my mom died 20-some years ago), I don't think my dad has ever sent Sarita and me even a Christmas gift much less a gift. (When I talked with her about this the other evening, while we were having our "talk," she said she could count on one hand all the gifts my parents--either my dad on his own, or my dad and mom together, for the eight years she was still alive after Sarita and I got married. I thought maybe she was being ungenerous. --Not having any mind to remember any such things, I knew I was dependent on her memory for such things. . . . Well, she had to think very hard, but she did come up with five items, going back to our wedding.)

Anyway. If Dad sends us a card, it is an e-card . . . at the last minute. . . .

So. That was how I was raised. Gifts are "nothing."

Sarita, meanwhile, was raised very differently. A good illustration of exactly how differently: The first year we were married, we were (I probably should say, mostly, she was) finished shopping before the end of August. We were married in mid-June. We were done Christmas shopping before the end of August!

Then, in her family, they opened gifts on Christmas eve (so we could go to a Christmas service at church on Christmas morning). So that night, after we had opened our presents, as we climbed into bed, Sarita said, "So let's write our Christmas list for next year!"


"Oh! You could see what people wanted by the way they responded to the gifts other people received. . . ."

"You could?!?"

"Yes! . . ."

So we wrote out our list of probable gifts for the following Christmas. . . . "That way, if we see anything on sale throughout the year, we can pick it up. . . ."

So that's what we did.


Fast forward many years. I continued in my bumbling ways. Sarita was constantly disappointed. Not because I didn't want to get her things, but . . . I just "didn't think of it."

Then, sometime about seven or eight years ago (I remember, at the time, I said to myself that I was astonished it took me 22 years to learn this!), I woke up to the fact that I really needed to make plans to get her gifts in advance. Like: "Whenever you're together and she says she likes something, Buy it. You don't have to give it right then. . . . Stash it away for 'use' when the proper occasion presents itself."

So that's what I began to do. And Sarita would help me by actually "even" telling me things she would like as gifts. --Not just a month or a few weeks before her birthday or Christmas. But "whenever." As I say: maybe while we were on vacation somewhere and shopping together. (I don't do much shopping in stores that carry the kind of stuff she enjoys receiving! Indeed, I hate shopping malls. If I have something specific I want or need to purchase, I will venture inside just far enough to retrieve whatever-it-is I need. But, in general, don't ask me to 'go shopping,' in the sense of aimlessly wandering through stores to 'see what we can see.' . . . Only on occasion--maybe while we're on vacation, or during some other brief period when I'm in a strangely brain-dead moment--should you ask me to join you on such an excursion. . . . Or maybe you shouldn't. Maybe we should be out on a date or something and I should simply discover afterwards that, for some reason, we happened to find ourselves wandering the mall. . . .)


I tried to "wake up" more to the subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) hints Sarita would throw my way about things she'd like for a birthday or Christmas gift.

And I have done very well, for the last seven or eight years--she will tell you so, herself-- . . . when it comes to Christmas and birthdays.

But I have continued to fail in another, deeper manner.

One day someone recommended Gary Chapman's The Five Love Languages. We got a copy and I went through it. Neither Sarita nor I had any question that my love language is Touch . . . and/or Closeness. (Chapman doesn't say anything, specifically, about a "language" of Closeness. I'm making that up. But I correlate the two. It means--and has always meant--a great deal to me that no one--no one, not even any of our kids, even when they were exceptionally young--should "get between" Sarita and me. If we were sitting in church: no one sat between us. Ever. It was simply understood. The symbolism was too great, too meaninful. So, yes, "Touch" is vital--I'll just about sit in her lap if she would let me--but "mere" closeness is "good enough." . . . But don't get too far away or I'll start thinking--being sure--that "something is wrong" between us. She's angry at me. Or something. . . .)

But what about Sarita? What is her love language?

I was convinced it is Gifts. (After all, I reasoned, gifts mean something to her. Deeply. She cries when I do a lousy job of giving her gifts. Of all the languages, it's the only one that "makes sense.")

But, for some reason, Sarita denied that Gifts are her language. (Maybe she was afraid of looking graspy, selfish, more interested in things than relationship?) I have no idea why whe said what she did. It didn't make sense to me. But that's what she said. She couldn't tell me what her language is. She just said Gifts are not it.

For some reason, I felt myself let "off the hook" for her love language, since she couldn't (or wouldn't) tell me. So I permitted myself to "simply" give her nice gifts at Christmas and her birthday. . . .

But then, just this past week, we had to have a little "come to Jesus" meeting. And somehow, now, she admitted Gifts probably are her love language. The fact that I don't give her gifts makes her feel unloved, unappreciated, as if I never think of her.

"I know," she said, "if I don't touch you, if I don't kiss you first thing in the morning, if I don't hold your hand or put my hand on your thigh while we're driving: you don't feel loved. I don't have any need for that kind of touch. I don't touch you like that for my sake. I do it for you. It's a conscious, deliberate decision on my part to do that for you. . . . So why wouldn't you reciprocate for me by giving me a little gift once in a while? It doesn't have to be big. Just a little something that says, 'I've been thinking of you.' . . ."

Well . . .

I had to confess I have a lot of "baggage" to work through.

For example, I asked: "What if you don't like what I pick for you? --I mean, if we're shopping together, I know there are times when you will pick something completely different from what I would choose. . . ."

Or: "Y'know, we've been in Costco and I've asked, 'How about if we get a bunch of those beautiful flowers?' --I think they're gorgeous and I'd love to get them for you, but you say no, you don't want them. . . ."

Or, "A few weeks ago, we were in the store and you were looking at something and I knew you really wanted it and I wanted to get it for you, but I could just 'hear' you reprimand me: 'We can't afford that! Why'd you buy that!?!'" . . .



I think I've gotten--at least temporarily--a better "handle" on things.

At this point, certainly, we are in a much better financial position than we used to be a few years ago. We're not in need, financially. So I'm sure, even if she were to complain that I "shouldn't have," I wouldn't actually be placing ourselves in any financial difficulties by acquiring whatever-it-is that I got her. . . .

But . . . It is true that those little negative comments at different times about things I have gotten her or that I wanted to get her: they have discouraged me. . . .

So we have worked through some of the issues, talked them out, strategized: "Here's what you can do, John. . . ."

Sarita told me of what my sister-in-law once told her about a conversation she (my s-i-l) had with my brother. (He's got the same weak gift-giving background I do!)

According to Sarita, my s-i-l realized it was helpful if she gave my brother a list of possible gifts that she would like to receive. (Sarita has been doing that with and for me, too. In fact, she has made that a discipline and habit for our family: "Tell me what you would want within this kind of budget: $____. --I am willing to spend up to $____, total, for all your gifts." --The kids will give us a list that includes stuff that, if we purchased it all, would definitely go over the stated total; but they and we know that no one needs to be surprised or disappointed by false expectations. And Sarita and I know best what to get them--what they would enjoy--and they know we're not going to get them "the moon." . . .)


Back to my s-i-l.

She told my brother about something she had seen in a particular store (and what store it was, etc.). She then said, "Do you want to know which one?!?"

"No, thanks," he said. "I want to choose the one for you." --And he did. And it turned out to be the very one that she wanted. . . . Very satisfying for both parties.

Kind of along the same lines: I love to get Sarita jewelry. But I have very strong preferences in what I want to get her. I am very unexcited about diamonds. I love brightly-colored semi-precious stones instead.

I think Sarita has agreed to let me choose--usually with her, but occasionally not--what jewelry she would enjoy but that I really like. That way, I feel special pleasure in the giving--I am really and truly excited about the piece--but/and she is excited, too.


Oh. And one last thing.

I really do have a stash of [more expensive] presents that I can pick from when the "big events" come. By the time I give them to her, she has more or less forgotten about a lot of them. (Actually, unlike me, she actually does remember almost everything we ever buy. But, she has no idea when I'm going to give her whatever-it-is. That way it is a surprise for her.)

And for the "little things" that I have, just this week, realized I want to give her (because I know they mean so much to her and I love her and I want her to know it--just as she knows how much her touch means to me and she loves me and she wants me to know it!) . . .

--She suggested, when I'm at Home Depot, I could pick out a flower for her. . . .

So I had to go to Home Depot yesterday. And I looked for a flower.

What a joy!

I spent about 15 minutes mulling over exactly which succulent I wanted to buy her.

And then--actually, this was a few minutes before I went to Home Depot--I was at the grocery store. (I often--about once a week--eat a sandwich at the grocery store. So I was at the store and ate my "on my own" lunch.) . . . I had to pick up milk and a couple of other things. While I was there, I saw that avocadoes were on sale.

I, myself, could care less about avocadoes. I don't dislike them, per se. But I have no hankering for them at all.

But I saw they were on sale. And Sarita loves them. So I bought a couple for her. --A "gift."

And I know she loves Granny Smith apples (which I don't enjoy). I knew we were out of them. --I decided to buy her a bag. Another "gift."

That's not the way I think. But I am, just now, beginning to realize that's the way she thinks. Gifts--even little things, like avocadoes and Granny Smith apples--tell her I've been thinking of her. And that means "the world" to her.

I didn't make a big deal out of these things. I just "threw them in" the mix of stuff I picked up at the grocery store.

But I figured she'd "get the message" that I had been thinking about her.

And, especially after our conversation this past week, I figured she probably wouldn't "chew me out" too much for having "wasted" money on her by buying those special things.

And guess what? She didn't "chew me out." And she did notice. --A perfect "win" all the way around!

I love giving Sarita gifts. I just haven't felt very "free" about it.


I hope maybe something of what I've written here might be of help to someone.

Old habits of mind ("We're too poor!" "We can't afford that!") and old "tapes" ("Why did you get me that?!?" "No. I don't want any cut flowers.") take a long time to overcome. . . .

If, therefore, you're someone who has the Gift love language and your spouse does not, you probably need to talk about these issues. And you will need to talk about them more than once. You will probably need to provide your spouse a bit of coaching. But I'm sure s/he will "come around" . . . if you give him or her a chance.
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