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Charlie Hatton
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The Guide That Keeps On Gifting

My wife and I had our wedding anniversary this weekend. I won’t give away exactly how long we’ve been married — let’s just say that if our wedding cake were a baby, it would have a learner’s permit, a smart mouth and a stupid haircut by now.

(Also, we probably wouldn’t have eaten it. That sort of thing is frowned upon, from what I understand.

At least, it was before the Duggars. I’m guessing people are more fifty-fifty about the idea now. Maybe that’s just me.)

For the first few years of marriage, we stuck closely to those handy gift-giving guides that tell newlyweds what their spouse wants that year, so there’s no need to actually speak to each other about it. This strict adherence was my idea, because I’m a bit of a romantic, somewhat of a puzzle solver, and a gigantic idiot.

See, it sounds good to have a gifting guide. You think that takes the pressure off. Nobody has to ask what the other wants, or worry about getting too much or too little — it’s all taken care of for you, with an idea ready for every year. Just peachy.

Until you actually look at the list, and see what a moron you’ve been for trusting other people for advice.

Because other people give ‘paper’ or ‘clocks’ for first anniversary presents, apparently. Now, I’m no expert on the institution of marriage; I’ve only walked the ‘pookie bear plank’ once, after all. But I can think of a lot of ways to express love and affection and gratitude for a first full year of marital togetherness. A lot. Three or four, at least. And at least one that involves keeping your pants on. Mostly.

But none of those ways involves at any time saying the words:

Here, honey, I brung you a Casio and two reams of Hammermill watermark bond. Happah Anniversarah!

I salvaged that one by gifting her tickets to a show she wanted to see. Or hoped she wanted to see. We had “The List”, so we didn’t actually talk about it. But the tickets were paper, so my job was done. And I assumed the gifts — like all marriages, of course — got easier and easier over the years.

Year Two was “cotton” or “china”. In other words, one thing that probably came in sizes, which I couldn’t afford to get wrong, and another thing that I couldn’t afford, period. Two years into our marriage, she was a grad student and I was working for a startup, getting paid every fourteen weeks or so. Mostly in pizza. So while I don’t remember exactly what I bought her, it was definitely something cotton.

(Though perhaps something cotton made in China. I really was a stickler for the rules back then. And what did it matter if it was shoddy or itched? I wasn’t wearing the whatever-it-was.)

It went on like this for a few years. Around mid-April I’d look up the gift guide and see the godforsaken suggestion there.

(Seriously, year seven: “wool or copper” or “desk sets”? We’re celebrating an anniversary here, for crissakes, not a high school graduation sponsored by effing SkyMall. I can see why most people divorce, rather than dealing with your train wreck bullshit. Idiot.)

Then I’d agonize for weeks over this completely foreign set of criteria and my own personal anniversary agenda — “is wood or silverware more likely to get us naked?” — and eventually get so nervewracked that I wouldn’t even enjoy the day. Too much list, too little living seemed to be my problem — and while my wife played along with the to-the-letter gifting, I’m pretty sure she never gave half a fire-glazed rat’s ass whether or not she received “pottery” after nine years of putting up with me.

Which is good, because by then I think I’d seen the light and given up. The pressure of following someone else’s list — someone who doesn’t know that we have all the “lace” and “textiles or furs” we need already, thanks — eventually got to be too much, and we both stopped paying attention altogether.

(By the way, year thirteen, what the hell is that list, anyway — “lace” or “textiles or furs”?

Were we supposed to develop some kinky sort of cross-dressing beaver pelt trader cosplay fetish in the first dozen years of marriage, or something? Because we definitely missed that memo.

I’ll be honest. I spaced out a little between “to have and to hold” and “you may now kiss the bride”, but I’m pretty sure the vows didn’t include anything about fishnet stockings and a muskrat thong. I would have caught that, I’m pretty sure.)

These days, things are a lot easier on the anniversary front. For one thing, the guides have pretty well given up, too. The “Traditional” gift-giving suggestions kick over to ever five years after number fifteen — I’m not sure what you’re supposed to do on “off” years like, say, twenty-three. Conveniently “forget” that it’s happening? Hiss at each other over a glass of champagne? Repeat the year twenty suggestion until further notice?

(And christ, that’s china again. How many gilded gravy boats can one happy freaking couple need, anyway?)

The “Modern” guide isn’t much better; you can tell they’re just going through the motions. Year sixteen is “silver hollowware”. Twenty-eight is “orchids”. Twenty-four is “musical instruments” — “yo, honey, here’s a French horn — kiss kiss, don’t blow it all in one place, a’ight?

Seriously, I could do better than that, and I’ve proven I’m a moron. Here:

Year Sixteen: Vodka tonics

Year Twenty-four: Leaving the toilet seat in the preferred position

Year Twenty-eight: Boggle

(Hey, I never said I’d do great; I just said better. Would you rather have a xylophone or a commode lid that’s always where you want it?

I rest my case.)

So we’ve given up on “The List”. Now we exchange cards, have a nice dinner out, carve another notch in our marital calendar, and call it another year celebrated. Maybe it’s a little more low-key that in the past — but it’s also lower-stress, and we don’t have a pile of freaking anniversary pottery cluttering up the basement.

Personally, I don’t think of it as less romantic. I just think we’re playing with confidence now. We’re like a rookie getting his first taste of the major leagues. It’s fine to squeal and dance around after your first home run. But if you’re still whooping after fifteen or twenty, the veterans will take you aside and tell you:

Hey, kid, come on — act like you’ve been there before.

And we’ve been there. Many, many times, we’ve been there — all the way up to “silver hollowware”. Whatever in the hell that is. I’ve got to say, I don’t miss the list. Being married usually isn’t so tough; following that damned list is hard.

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