I'm trying to keep my business, my triplets, and my waistline under control. I excel at one of those, fail at another one of those, and one is a work in progress. Which is which is day dependant.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Love and Birthdays

I recently did something which was out of character for me. I let a very good friend's birthday go by without doing anything about it other than a phone call. Didn't send a card, buy a gift, organise for cupcakes to be delivered - nothing at all. This is unusual because I am a huge fan of birthdays, no matter what age you are - birthdays are "the festival of YOU" and therefore are worthy of marking in some way.  I'm also a fan of creative gift giving, in so much as I love to spend ages finding the exact right thing for someone. Something not necessarily expensive, but something which serves as a reminder to them that they are loved, that I thought about them, and something unexpected which makes them smile on the inside as well as the outside. To not have done any of that for him was well outside of my normal behaviour.  I ended up spending quite a while mentally beating myself up about the fact that I didn't do anything about this birthday (in retrospect, my time would have been better spent finding a good present...).

I ended up chatting to a different friend about my angst over this - and she too admitted that she used to be a gift giver, a festival of you celebrator, and just one of those friends who makes you feel fabulously awesome when it's your big day. Notice I say, "used to be," because she also admitted that she no longer engages in any of that because the lack of return began to get too painful for her.

We started to talk about the nature of giving - about how it really is meant to be about the giving and not the receiving, how it feels good to give, about how much joy we get out of the process of giving..you get the idea. I would really like to believe that I'm one of those people who is happy just to give and never expects to get in return, and in some ways I *am* like that, but not in the case of birthdays. If the person is unable (for whatever reason) to give in return - then yes, I love the giving and I'm happy to give with no return expected. But if the person IS able to give in return, well, I can't help but think that they should be doing the returning, too.  I should define "giving" not necessarily as a gift in return. I suppose I mean they should 'give' either in terms of effort made, acknowledgement of my effort, or even plain old heartfelt gratitude for what they got. In short, make a big deal over the fact that I made a big deal for you.

In thinking about this, I started to question why I care if they give back to me or not. Surely it shouldn't matter, should it? Here's the conclusion I came to - the giving, for me anyway, is about the giving but it's also very much about the unsaid message which comes with the giving. When there is nothing returned, I interpret that as an indication of their level of care, and so if it doesn't match mine (again, not monetarily) it ends up feeling like a rejection of sorts.

In other words, if I'm making an effort to find the right card, send you the cupcakes, find the right gift, write you a heartfelt note - what I'm really doing is telling you that you are loved, and that I care about you enough to make all this effort and I damn well hope you feel the same. It's not about the gift or the card or the organising per se, it's about the emotion and love behind those things. Long term readers of this blog will be familiar with a good example of this - the birthday cake fiascoes of the last few years. To me, DH's epic birthday cake fails were like he was saying, "I don't give enough of a shit about you to get this done properly." Anyone who knows DH and I in real life knows that we are (still) madly in love and made for each other and he loves me heaps - so it's a little ridiculous to get that interpretation from a shitty birthday cake. Yes, the giving in itself is wonderful and I enjoy it...but I also expect some sort of validation of those emotions that came along with the gift.

There are of course a few very big flaws in this sort of thinking, namely the assumptions that the other person a) attaches the same values to birthdays in general, b) attaches the same emotions to the birthday celebrating effort, and c) actually understands the enormity of the unspoken message in the gift/effort they got in the first place. The fact is, DH shows me every single day that he loves me more than I probably deserve to be loved...and yet, I still take it to heart when I make a big deal over him, but he doesn't make a big deal over me (note: I've since gotten him better trained...). 

This brings me back to the question of why I let a friend's birthday pass without making a big deal of it (and no, I've not fully forgiven myself for it. I'm slow, what can I say?). The simple answer is just self preservation. At the moment I'm feeling less than stellar - emotionally speaking- and frankly I could not take what I thought might be rejection. If his reaction was anything other than hugely grateful, if he did not appreciate the effort, if he didn't go out of his way to tell me how fabulous I was and how much he loved it (whatever "it" might have been) ... I'd have been a mess. I would have beat myself up about the effort being wasted, that I should have known better, that the relationship is unbalanced, and so on. In other words a heap of self talk which would serve no purpose other than making me feel even crappier than I already do about this situation. I just couldn't do it. My friend ended up with just a (loving and enthusiastic) birthday phone call, and I ended up feeling shit about my lack of effort. I'm not even sure he noticed my lack of effort in the first place, because after all birthdays are MY thing, not his - but that's neither here nor there as it's me who is left with 10 rounds of mental boxing.

As I invest more in learning about myself, I'm learning just how many interesting ... quirks... I've got. Not least of which is the capacity to love hugely, but also the need to BE loved in the same huge way, and the need to see/hear/feel evidence of that love. I'm yet to work out if the latter is a blessing or a curse, but at least I know this year I should end up with a reasonable birthday cake... because DH loves me enough to know not to piss me off with another shitty one (or possibly, he loves himself enough to not tolerate my carrying on about it!).

Love and birthdays. Who knew they were so fraught? 

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