The first Christmas that I knew Ron, I think we exchanged gifts, but I have no memory of what we gave each other. The following Christmas, we were living together, and while I don’t specifically remember what I gave him, I do remember some of his gifts to me – mostly, because I did not like them. None of the gifts were truly awful per se – in fact some of them were quite nice. The problem was that they were not really for “me.” They were items for our home – a home, I might add, that was already full of stuff since we had combined households.
For instance, he bought me a set of coffee mugs that were lovely, but our cupboards were already bursting with mugs, not only with the ones that matched our dishes, but with a dozen random ones I had bought or received as gifts over the years, along with ones Ron had brought into the relationship. He bought me a single pillow sham that was very pretty, but an odd item to have only one of, and didn’t match the bedding we already had. He spent a lot of money to have a print I already owned custom framed, without realizing the reason it wasn’t framed was because I didn’t like it anymore and was considering getting rid of it – and I definitely didn’t like the frame he had picked. It was clear to me as I opened the various items that he had honestly chosen things that HE liked and wanted to own, but I didn’t see myself in any of it, and in a weird way that hurt my feelings, because it made me feel like he didn’t really know or understand me. I don’t hide disappointment well, and I was way too blunt about not liking what he had given me – Ron is one of the most unselfish people I know, and I can guarantee his heart was in the right place. But as I continued to open packages and find things that felt more like gifts for him than me, I started to get mad – especially when he would excitedly take the item out of my hands and say, “Isn’t this cool? I really like this!” I think I finally said something really snotty like, “WHY DON’T I JUST LET YOU OPEN THEM SINCE THEY ARE CLEARLY THINGS YOU BOUGHT FOR YOURSELF?” And then I gave him a mini lecture about how you are supposed to buy the recipient something THEY want, not what YOU want.
Yep, nothing like a little Christmas morning bitchiness to make the holiday really special and memorable.
(Did I mention that I am not going to look good in this story? I’m not. It is not one of my finer moments, but I feel compelled to tell it anyway.)
When Valentine’s Day came around, I decided to circumvent any more household gifts by being very direct about what I wanted. I made him a specific list, and then very sternly said, “NO household items of any kind. NO artwork. ONLY GET THINGS THAT APPEAR ON THIS LIST.” He took the list and nodded silently.
A few days later, we were in Nordstrom’s together, and I saw a pair of shoes that I absolutely loved. They were little kitten heel sling backs – red fabric with orange leather trim, and dainty little orange leather flowers. I tried them on and went all swoony with desire. “THESE would make a great Valentine’s Day gift,” I declared, prancing around the shoe department in them while Ron sat on one of the couches and watched. I couldn’t read his expression, so I decided to hint heavily. “I LOVE these. Something like this would be GREAT. I would be SO HAPPY to receive a pair of these shoes in a size 6.5. They would just make a PERECT gift. Waiting around to buy them would probably be a mistake, because then my size might be sold out, and I would be VERY disappointed not to get them, since they are something I REALLY REALLY want. Because I LOVE THESE SHOES AND I WANT THEM FOR VALENTINE’S DAY.” Again, Ron was silent, and just nodded.
On the morning of Valentine’s Day, Ron set out some wrapped packages for me in the living room, to be opened later that night after dinner. My eyes lit up at the sight of packages, but on closer inspection, I started to seethe. I am a very good gift guesser – it drives people crazy. If I have an opportunity to touch and shake a package, I am right about what’s inside of it probably 98% of the time, unless it’s something totally random. And I could tell from the packages, that not one of them was shoes – in fact, two of them were from categories I had specifically forbid – artwork and household items. I could tell the big tissue wrapped package was a large basket full of bottles – I figured alcohol or maybe Torani syrups, and then there was a long tube that held a rolled up piece of artwork of some kind. There was also a smaller box that I knew held perfume, which was on my list, so that was fine. But I became quietly furious that a) Ron had defied me and gotten more household/artwork stuff, and b) he had ignored my blatant hints for the shoes.
I am not even going to try to defend my bad behavior in this situation, or rationalize why I was so ungracious and materialistic at this point in my life. It’s just where I was at. I’m not proud of it, and in retrospect I know it was an ugly way to behave. It’s kind of hard for me to imagine being that upset about a gift at this point in my life, but I know at the time, it felt like a big deal. And so I spent the entire day sulking and being mad at Ron. I even remember vacuuming the living room and purposely ramming the vacuum into the side of the wrapped basket with violent, vengeful jabs to make myself feel better.
When it came time to open our gifts, I was sullen and listless. “Can you tell what I got you?” Ron asked.
“I have a pretty good guess,” I snarled. “Some kind of alcohol or syrups or something in the basket, which I might add is FOR THE HOUSE, and then some piece of artwork I’ll probably hate, which is also FOR THE STUPID HOUSE. Oh, and perfume. Which I did ask for. Am I right?” Ron just shrugged and kind of smiled, but didn’t meet my eyes.
He handed me the small box to open first. I was right, it was the perfume.
Next he gave me the basket. I was right about that one too — stupid Torani syrups for making flavored coffees. I got free coffee at work at that point in my life, and was perpetually late every day with no time to make a coffee in the morning, so the sight of the bottles totally annoyed me. I muttered a lackluster thank you and shoved the basket aside.
Then he handed me the tube. I glared at him. “I TOLD you didn’t want any artwork,” I said icily, ripping off the paper. I tipped the tube to shake out whatever hateful print lay inside, and was shocked as the red and orange shoes slid neatly into my lap.
I was speechless. And embarrassed. And ashamed of myself. I peeked at Ron, who looked downright smug about the whole thing. He had totally tricked me, and I had behaved like a mean, spoiled brat. It was one of those awkward moments where you have to say, “I’m sorry” before you can say, “thank you.” Very humbling and humiliating.
But here was my real punishment – for the way I had acted, I really didn’t deserve the shoes, and I knew it. I had gotten my heart’s desire, but in such a disgraceful way, I was never able to look at the shoes without being reminded of what a bitch I can be. They came with a heavy price tag of guilt, and as a result, I never wore them as much as I should have – especially considering the fuss I made about wanting them.
That Valentine’s Day was almost ten years ago. But every day, I have seen the shoes in my closet and felt a little cringe of embarrassment. I can’t remember the last time I wore them – they don’t really go with my lifestyle anymore. So I decided to part with not only the shoes, but the feelings attached to them as well. The work I’ve done around my relationship with possessions this past year has caused me to do a lot of self-reflection and has changed me a lot, and I think it’s time to stop feeling bad about my past mistakes. I don’t need a daily reminder of what a bitch I can be – I am well aware. And any items I own that carry the stink of that phase need to be set free.