I hadn’t really planned anything for my wife’s birthday, other than taking the day off work. I suspected that we could hang out, have breakfast/lunch/dinner somewhere, and just enjoy each other’s company. I had visions of what her cake would look like, but hadn’t really put anything together.
This would be my undoing.
My intention was to give her the opportunity to do whatever she wanted. To choose the things that make her happy. What I failed to understand is that she wanted me to plan something. She wanted me to make the day special. What she didn’t want was to decide. She didn’t want to pick out what to do, where to go, what to eat. She wanted her day to be special, and to not have to make those choices. No matter how many things I proposed, all I was really offering was a choice.
What I didn’t manage to put together was that she hates trying to choose. For her, the cereal isle of the grocery store is both gripping and paralyzing. Trying to decide what to spend a ten-dollar Walgreens gift card on is sheer agony. I should’ve read the signs. I should’ve seen the light.
But I didn’t. Instead, I was an jerk.
She worked on her homework for a bit, as she is aspiring to be a teacher, then announced that she would shortly be ready for the world. We headed out early in the afternoon for a day of frolic. My intention was to take her wherever she wished to go. She gave me a short list of places, standard stuff really, couple discount stores like Homegoods and Tuesday Mornings, but nothing out of the ordinary. As we headed back toward our apartment, we hit one last store: A specialty grocery store, to grab a little chunk of cake from their wonderful bakery. This is where things went downhill rather quickly.
She headed toward the back of the store for the bakery, I was drawn by the allure of the bulk coffee bins, to supply my french press for the weekend. I figured she would pick something wonderful for us to share, so I went about my business. As I finished up with the coffee grinder my wife found me, her demeanor visibly changed. Her hands, empty. She was upset and I could tell – I just couldn’t tell why.
Shortly after we got home, about 5:30, my wife posed a question: “Are we in for the night?” In hindsight, I should have answered that question very differently. What I should have said was: No, let’s go have dinner/buy a cake/have a party. Instead, what I said was: “I suppose.” For her, that was the final straw. She got – justifiably – angry.
Instead of apologizing, I argued back.
She told me how she just wanted some acknowledgement of her day. I expressed, all too bluntly, that I offered her several opportunities to go and do: Breakfast, dinner, cake. I explained, in my unkindest tone, that I would have given her anything she wanted, all he would have needed to do was ask. But that wasn’t the point. I should have made an effort. I should have done more. Her cell phone rang, interrupting our debate. She slipped into our bedroom and I slipped out into the dark, rain-soaked evening to try to remedy the situation. I was angry. Quite angry. It wouldn’t be until later that I realized I was in a mess of my own making. That I had destroyed my wife’s birthday. We’ve been married for nearly fifteen years. I should have known better.
It is said the road to hell paved with good intentions. I’ll go as far to say that the bricks formed with those intentions create a bumpy path, where individuals stumble and fall inflicting pain and sorrow. Pain for themselves, damage to their friendships, and absolute agony within their marriage.
Truth be told, I had some pangs of guilt throughout the day for not having something for her to unwrap. As we wandered through the drug store earlier in the day, I felt guilty for not even going to the trouble of getting a card. But as I stood there, in Walgreens, wandering among the greeting cards and stuffed bears, I lamented that it was too late. It most certainly wasn’t.
The day was salvaged to some extent. In my late night run, I purchased some rather feeble gifts and ordered some stuff from Amazon (which will show up tomorrow). There was a gift bag properly loaded with some new socks from The Gap (I know it sounds like crap, but the girl LOVES her socks). The day after, I baked the cake I had intended to create in the week leading up to her birthday. Strawberry with buttercream frosting, topped with fresh berries, all from scratch.
I got something from my wife’s birthday. A rather simple lesson: The best day for her is one where she doesn’t have to make decisions. It stirs a memory of her mentioning that very thing to me before. I wont forget it again. The greatest tragedy is, that for me to learn this lesson, my wife had to suffer. I’ll likely stumble again, but I’ll do a much better job of doing, instead of just intending to do good.