Making Birthdays Special – Or Not


Marriage, like most of life, is all about seeing things from someone else’s point of view. I’ve had to learn that Jonathan copes with things, especially arguments and emotions, much more slowly than I do.

That’s not what I wanted to discuss today. What I wanted to discuss is how marriage can sometimes force you to see the world in an entirely new way. Sounds like I’m talking about something life changing, right? Not really, though it’s certainly hard for me to process. I’m talking about presents.

Jon’s birthday is today, and for months I had no idea what to get him. I asked him multiple times what he wanted, and he replied: “nothing.” I was stymied by his reaction. The concept of not wanting any special commemoration for one’s birthday, nothing to make that day stand out from the other 364 days in the year, is, to me, completely inconceivable.

The weird thing is, if I heard someone else say they didn’t want to do anything for their birthday, I’d advise their loved ones to go along with the birthday person’s wishes. Whatever that person wants on their special day they get, even if it’s that that day isn’t made to be any more special than any other. As it so often is, it’s just so different when I’m forced to face my own advice.

The thought of not doing anything for Jon’s birthday, of not getting him anything that could be construed as a present (it didn’t have to be material), filled me with guilt. I thought it was horrible, because I love having a special birthday.

I’m not obsessed with presents either. Usually I can think of something I want, but sometimes I have a hard time doing so. At least I want Jon to make me a dinner or dessert or take me out somewhere: I just want to do something special for my birthday. I’d be really hurt if Jon didn’t provide that for me, so I struggled with the idea of not doing the same for him.

Whenever we had a discussion about it Jon told me that, although he appreciates it, I need to try to think of it from his point of view. He started to become annoyed that I kept pushing the idea with him. He’d be content if all I did was wish him a happy birthday, and if I wanted to commemorate it with a special dinner or cake, that would be good too.

Eventually I did think of some birthday ideas. I sewed up some tears in his favorite comforter, one that he should replace but doesn’t want to because he doesn’t think he’ll find one like it. Sewing is difficult for me, so the effort had extra meaning. I’ve also agreed to get up at the crack of dawn on a Sunday to free find parking right on the National Mall in DC, so we can see the monuments. He’s wanted to do that for at least a year, but I never liked the idea. That makes it a perfect birthday gift.

So for this year at least, I’ve managed to find a little loophole to our birthday conundrum. I’m not getting him physical presents, but I am getting him something. The day may come when I’ll have to accept the idea of getting Jon little to nothing for his birthday. But at least I’m starting to learn to see this particular issue from his point of view.

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*(The above image by Sura Nualpradid is from