Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Suburban Man: Valentine's Day

By Rick Kaempfer

I’ve been told that everybody in America knows the ground rules of Valentine’s Day. Even though it’s supposedly a holiday for lovers, the responsibility for a gift is strictly a one-way proposition. The man is expected to get the woman a gift, and the woman is expected to receive that gift.

I never bought that concept and I thought my wife didn't either. She and I agreed not to get each other anything for Valentine's Day shortly after we were married, and I fully intended on keeping my end of the bargain. Inevitably, however, a well-intentioned high maintenance woman in my office (it wasn't always the same woman, but it was always the same message), would convince me I was a moron for not getting a gift.

A typical exchange would go something like this:

"What did you get your wife for Valentine's Day?"

“She said she didn’t want a gift,” I would say.

“Trust me,” High Maintenance Woman would reply, “She's only saying that because she doesn’t want to sound greedy.”


“Listen to me,” she would say, “If you don’t bring home a Valentine’s gift, you’re a dead man.”

Even though I was pretty sure I understood my wife better than High Maintenance Woman did, I started doubting myself. After all, I’m just a man. I can’t be expected to understand something as complex as a woman—-even the woman with whom I’ve chosen to spend the rest of my life. Who understands a woman better than another woman? She might be right.

Inevitably I would stop at the store and pick something up for my wife, and every year when I handed her the gift she was mad at me.

“I thought we agreed not to buy each other anything?” she would say.

“Did you really mean that?” I would ask.

“Of course I did. I said it, didn't I?”

I felt like such a fool. Why didn’t I trust my instincts? The next day when I told High-Maintenance Woman about my wife’s reaction, she explained that my wife was obligated to be mad at me to save face.

“That makes no sense,” I would say.

“Did she give you the traditional gift?” High Maintenance Woman asked coyly.

“She didn't get me anything."

"Not even the (wink) traditional gift?"

"There’s a traditional gift for a man?” I asked.

She winked again.

Oooooh. I get it. I’m slow, but I’m not that slow.

“Those are the ground rules?” I asked.

High Maintenance Woman nodded. “Everybody knows that.”

I never told my wife about these conversations, because I never knew what to believe. On the surface my wife is such a sensible and practical woman. It’s one of the main reasons I married her. I didn't want to believe that she had been living by these imaginary rules for all these years without telling me.

What if she is really a totally different person beneath the surface, waiting ten or fifteen years to show me her real self? What if she has just been pretending to communicate with me by using the traditional method (words) while actually integrating a devious subtext? My whole world could be built on a series of false assumptions.

That's the sort of thing I didn't want to know. Ignorance is bliss.

On the other hand, this is the year I'll find out if it's true or not. Now I’m the one at home, taking care of the kids, cooking the dinner, and (sort of) cleaning the house. If High Maintenance Woman was right (and my wife would know if she was or not), then I’m the one that should get the gift this year.

I already did my part. Yesterday I made a big point of reminding my wife not to get me anything. We’ll see if she brings me something or not.

If she does, I’m willing to give her the traditional gift in return.

Although, I’m still not 100% sure I know what that is.

This is the funniest Valentine's Day card I could find. Think she'll like it?

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