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Luke Ogar: When the Birthday of a Lover Brings Anxiety

A gift is meant to express deep love and concern, and not something else. It has nothing to do with a luxurious showoff or an impression that cannot be sustained



Oh, what a heaven is love; oh, what a hell.
Thomas Dekker

Expectation is the mother of disappointment. There is no better place to find this than in a relationship of two lovers. For some strange reason, the occasion of a birthday, which is meant for merriment and deep reflection, becomes a ripe opportunity for unnecessary tension.

The tension is not only felt by men worrying about their women’s gifts. Men, too, are emotional, and will demand the best gifts on their own special day. But what’s the perfect birthday gift? How does one communicate the feeling of love with the summary of a gift? On the flip side, what’s the best way to react to a gift that is below our expectation? How do we subtly tell a partner about the gift we really want?

Much Ado About A Gift
A gift is an unsolicited service or purchase carried out as an extension of goodwill. The essential attribute of a gift is its unsolicited nature. Making a request for a specific want does not carry the same weight as a favour granted without asking. There is nothing compared to that glorious feeling of love when a gift is offered — especially when it’s the same one we’ve been craving. It shows thoughtfulness and insight from a lover, his/her ability to read our minds and be attentive to details.

But this is often not the case in relationships. There are more hopes dashed and spirits crushed by mistimed or “inappropriate” gifts. While expecting a three-tier birthday cake to brandish before her friends and Facebook, he comes along with new shoes of which she has a dozen pairs already. In return, he expects a shiny, priceless wristwatch, but she thinks he doesn’t smell nice enough, and gets him a new set of cologne.

This unsolicited nature of the gift is the reason for it earning disappointment. Worse still, it is the same reason why the hurt of disappointment is often concealed in order not to offend the giver.

A Perfect Gift
Another reason for the birthday anxiety is the erroneous opinion that the costlier a gift, the more valuable it is. Everyone loves some sort of luxury, but no one prefers an expensive rag to a modest piece of clothing. To some people, that Rolex is not what they want, even if it costs $500; that Louis Vuitton bag is not the surest thing to bring her happiness. A gift must be customised to suit your lover’s favourite things or imminent needs – something that relays love more than just an expensive shopping item.

I once read an interesting birthday gift story. A certain woman complained that her husband never appreciated or complimented her for all the effort in keeping their home and the kids. To give her a perfect birthday gift, he engaged in a painstaking one-year devotion of writing in his diary about the good things he noticed about his wife. This was a daily affair. By the end of the one year, coinciding with her birthday, he presented the diary for a gift. After going through a few pages, she was overwhelmed with tears. There was nothing better she wanted, but more importantly, the gesture was never anticipated.

When Expectations Meet Disappointment
Pretence before a lover is a tough job; and it’s even tougher when it involves hiding a disappointment. It’s perfectly human to be full of expectations, especially from the one we love. But how do we handle disappointment? More importantly, will the disappointment lead to bigger problems?

A way to begin is by showing appreciation for the gift, no matter its meagre worth or luxurious appeal. For the reason of being a gift, there is no sense in rejecting it or demeaning its value. This is a major problem: that we feel entitled to a lover’s gift. We cannot be entitled to what is given cheerfully and without prompting. It is different from making a request that is met.

When we make a request, we’re asking for something specific to be done. When expecting a gift, there is nothing specific about it. Yes, we all have an idea of a perfect birthday gift, but it is not in our place to choose.

If we always insist on that perfect gift to make us happy, how hard it becomes to reciprocate the same gesture in exactness. Disappointment about a birthday experience should be short lived; there will be subsequent birthdays to celebrate. But when the hurt lingers, it points toward one thing: selfishness.

Rather than sulk at an awful birthday gift, we should be concerned about the state of our relationships: does our partner know us well enough, and vice versa? What can we do to improve communication with our lover?

The Bedrock Called Communication
A gift is a show of affection and a means of communication. A sub-par gift, by any definition, expresses a gap in communication between lovers. Going back to the story about the diary of compliments, it took a careful listening to the wife’s needs to give a really good gift that was within the means of her husband. She didn’t ask for a diary, but the process of writing for a year made him realize many good things about her. It led to a deeper love between them — and many compliments.

It is unwise if we wish for that Rolex or Louis Vuitton bag when our partners are unable to purchase them; most unwise if we get upset by their failure to do so. Our expectation should be within the reach of our partner, if only we listen enough to know the state of their affairs. So too, giving should be within the suitability of our partners, if only we listen enough to know what would really make them happy. In the end, a gift is meant to express deep love and concern, and not something else. It has nothing to do with a luxurious showoff or an impression that cannot be sustained.

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