Life / Sex & relationships

Better to Receive: How the Holidays Taught Me to Take What My Husband Gives

giving and receivingYou meet someone. You fall in lust. Then like. Then, if you’re lucky, love. I guess we could debate the exact order of those events, but in my experience that’s the basic road that leads to conscious coupling. And in those heady first few months and years, you fall in love with that person’s best qualities, while hopefully not ignoring as much as making peace with their faults and accepting them. They do the same for you. That is the long-term relationship/marital contract. A connubial quid pro quo.

What is weird is that sometimes the plates beneath the relationship shift. Sometimes the faults you just lived with become aspects of that person that you love and admire. On the flip side, sometimes that thing that made you like your partner becomes that thing that makes you want to run a potato peeler over your shin. What made you burn so hot and bright becomes a raging fire perfect for self-immolation.

Once upon a time, my husband bought me a paper cutter. It was the perfect gift. Perfect. It was breathtaking. So breathtaking, in fact, that mere moments after I opened it I found myself doubled over with my head between my knees, huffing into a paper bag.

My husband is an incredible man, and he has a gift. Many gifts, really, but right now I’m speaking of one in particular: his gift for gifts, for gift-giving. It’s not a matter of extravagance – of simply throwing money at the problem. The man can spend $.14 and get me exactly what I wanted. Something I mentioned months ago that I possibly off-handedly muttered once under my breath in passing kind of maybe. And magically, over the holidays or on my birthday or an anniversary, it will appear, beautifully wrapped and waiting for me at exactly the right moment.

At the beginning of our relationship, this was one of the things that made me swoon, “How did he know I wanted…???” and “How could he possibly have figured out…??? I thought I was the luckiest boy in the world ~ until ~ until one day I was out shopping for him for Christmas and I found myself covered head to toe in a cold, drenching sweat. Trembling and unsteady, I had to sit and regroup. What is happening to me, I wondered through a hazy brain? It was the paper cutter reaction times 1,000.

There I was, in the middle of the mall, struck down: performance anxiety.

(Sound cue: Billy Joel’s Pressure)

All these years I’d been enjoying his perfect gifts without a care in the world. Willy nilly. La dee da. Happy, happy, happy. Taking, taking, taking. And until that moment, it had never dawned on me: what if I haven’t been giving as well as I’ve been receiving? What if I haven’t been measuring up? What if I’ve never measured up? What if all these years he’s been white-knuckling every gift exchange? What if his Pavlovian response to seeing boxes under the tree is to send up silent but mighty prayers to the God of Hassle-Free Exchanges? What if he doesn’t need a toe ring? (Another toe ring?) What if he’s spent the latter part of every Christmas hiding in the bathroom with his phone, crouched on the toilet with his hand over his mouth whisper-dishing the Edible Arrangement I’d painstakingly designed for him to some friend or other? What if he doesn’t need another pair of Crocs? Or a collectible spoon? What if he only pretended to like the Thomas Kinkade wallpaper? Oh my God, is this why he drinks before we open gifts? What if I’ve driven him to drink?! What if I’ve ruined Christmas?! What if what if what if?

I couldn’t stop them. They rained down on me like hail. Each what if a rejected gift pelting and pummeling me.

By the time the paramedics arrived, I’d eaten half of his Edible Arrangement and unceremoniously discarded the tube-socks that played Bobby Brown’s Every Little Step that I was, at one point, quite confident he would love. It was a rough day. But as I was being wheeled out, the Valium helped me to reflect on my marriage: He gives, I receive. Those are our strengths, our talents. That’s what makes our planet spin. So I try to give as good as I get, but the truth is that no one can top my husband.

P.S. For anyone who’s confused about my excitement regarding the paper cutter: I was an actor for many, many years. I auditioned a lot. Headshots are 8×10. Paper is 8.5×11. That paper cutter was like manna from heaven.

FEATURE PHOTO CREDIT: MARTHA STEWART

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4 Comments

  1. Clare Masson says:

    The only thing that stopped my from laughing was a fear of what the presents under the tree will look like this year. All the visuals associated with this post are lovely. Lovely!

    I can’t even buy a newspaper here with a comics section to wrap gifts in. You can see how low my bar is set.

  2. Clare ~ I think a gift wrapped in a newspaper headline about the CIA torture report is sometimes appropriate.

  3. Mark LaSalle says:

    As a former graphic arts/printing professional and a father of a 16 y/o daughter who is constantly auditioning for something, I understand the love of a good paper cutter !

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