Thursday, September 20, 2012

If You Don't Know Me by Now

Amazon recommends books it thinks I'd enjoy based on my previous purchases, and its algorithms are pretty much on target. Netflix's film recommendations are usually in ballpark. Even the grocery store knows me well enough (Thank you/curse you, courtesy card!) to send coupons for items I buy regularly and new products I might like. I use a lot of those coupons, so the approach has merit.

Sadly, Amazon, Netflix, and the grocery store understand us better than some of the people we love.

Yesterday, Hubs handed me a nifty level that has a ruler on one side and a magnet on the other. He was sure I'd want it. Wrong. I admire its utility, but it speaks to me of DIY projects I'd like to leave on the back burner for another decade. Luckily, he found my rejection of his gift funny, and we laughed about it.

A not-so-happy memory centers around a former co-worker-- she of the great shoes, sleek pencil skirts, and chunky jewelry in silver and bronze. My co-worker showed me the gift her husband gave her for their anniversary. It was a necklace of tiny stones fashioned into delicate forget-me-knots—the flower that had decorated their long-ago wedding invitation.  "He took the invitation to a jeweler. It was thoughtful, I know, but does this necklace look like me?"

It may have looked like her twenty-two-year-old self, but did it resemble her at forty-two? Not even close. I didn't say that, but she knew what I was thinking.

Eventually, my co-worker and her husband divorced for many reasons. The catalyst for their break-up wasn't a gift she didn't like but one that convinced her the giver didn't understand that her taste, confidence level, and way of presenting herself had shifted 180 degrees.

An Amazon-like algorithm would have tracked those changes. A husband better attuned to her would have too, but we all know good, thoughtful men who need help keeping tabs on the interests and enthusiasms of the women in their lives.

A guy friend was so sure of his place in his new love's world, he dropped off his birthday present to her at an after-work drinks party thrown by her girlfriends.

"She didn't like the gift," he told me the next day.

I was afraid to ask. "What was it?"

"A Mister Coffee."

One look at my face and he got defensive. "The top-of-the-line Mister Coffee!"

"It's not about the money!" I took the side of the unknown-to-me woman who'd undoubtedly told her girlfriends about the hot but sensitive new guy in her life--and then, in front of them, opened his present of a small kitchen appliance.

Is there an algorithm that would have forced a man who'd been married twenty years to see his wife for the woman she'd become? Is there one for a guy who wants to show a woman he's fallen for her in a way that earns the approval of her girlfriends? If such an algorithm exists, could it be surgically implanted?

Does your significant other choose gifts that delight you and prove he/she gets you, or are you considering an algorithm implant?

While you're thinking, I give you Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes:


Louise behiel said...

One of the reasons I ended my marriage. He didn't know me at all.

Jennette Marie Powell said...

My husband's thoughtfulness does not normally extend to gifts. His usual way of getting around it is to ask me, "So, what do you want for your birthday?" Sigh. But he does have his moments: the year I'd ordered a new Camaro a month before they began production on them, I was obsessed - he picked up on that, and bought me an embroidered shirt with the car on it, exactly how I'd ordered the car!

Lark Howard said...

Great post! My husband is fabulous with gifts--perfect jewelry, a favorite expensive perfume, my dream sports car--so I don't mind when he asks what I want, I say "nothing", and he presents me with an Amazon gift card over a lovely dinner out. I said I didn't want anything and I didn't.

I did date a guy for a couple of years who was clueless--a set of expensive Swiss knives for Christmas, a microwave for a birthday and a floor lamp as a get well gift after I had surgery. All were things I needed and thoughtful in a way (he WAS an engineer) but way down on the romantic, appreciate-me-as-a-woman scale. We were doomed. And as far as I know, he never has married. :-)

Coleen Patrick said...

My husband used to get me things for the kitchen. He meant well, but I always saw them as "chore gifts." Kind of like that level (I'm laughing).
Now my hub knows he can't go wrong with Starbucks gift cards. Love me some fancy (expensive)coffee. :)

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Louise, it hurts not to be known. Congratulaitons on creating a net of family and friends who do get you. Congratulations, too, on turning your pain to the service of others as a therapist.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Jennette, a great gift--like the shirt with your Camaro on it--creates good will that lasts for years. Your husband gets a pass for the other times.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

A floor lamp as a get-well gift? Oh, Lark! I'm guessing the engineer pictured you reading comfortably in your sick bed, but something went missing in translation. The buddy who gave his then-girlfriend the Mr. Coffee would have been better off making a present of two mugs and a note that said, "There's no one I'd rather have coffee with in the morning."

You lucked out with Steve!

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

"Chore gifts" is the perfect description for most kitchen items, Coleen. Enjoy your Starbucks!

Sheila Seabrook said...

I'm blessed, Pat. My husband actually listens to me and makes a mental note of what I say. Occasionally he doesn't quite get it right, but I know his heart is in it. :)

Kassandra Lamb said...

My husband's lousy at gifts most of the time. Lemme tell you about the empress waistline, bright yellow bodiced, bathrobe (from the high waist down it was brown patchwork) he bought me one year for Christmas. UGLIE!!! Ever since then I give him a detailed list. For my birthday, he usually asks "What do you want?"

What he is fabulous at is picking out great sentimental cards that say just the right thing. Sometimes he quits while he's ahead and just sticks a gift certificate inside the card!

sarah andre said...

Oops...still thinking it's a MWF blog!

I consider myself the luckiest woman alive, in fact I need to be very careful pointing at something and saying 'oh, that's pretty,' because it'll show up wrapped at the next gift-giving occasion. Often I looked at it 'for the first time' and he'll remind me where we were and what I'd said, and there are times I think 'well, I DID like it, but I sure didn't want it for ME.'

He sends bouquets of flowers randomly, and like Kassandra, his cards say all the perfect things that I know he wants to say but oddly can't 'speak' romantically.

I implemented 1/2 birthday celebrations...(6 months after your birthday,) as another gift giving occasion because I am so horrifically spoiled. But buying for him, the man who has everything, fills me with anxiety, so that celebration has come around to bite me in the ass.

DH wasn't always like this. In the dating days he was an appliance-giver. The birthday gift he gave me after 3 years of dating was a brand new invention: A digital camera.
I was expecting a ring.

I burst into tears. And God Bless the poor man--you've never seen such a shocked face. That's when he began paying extra careful attention to my likes and dislikes.

And no, I haven't let him forget that gift.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Sheila, you're telling me your husband has a natural, built-in, God-given algorithm? And he keeps it operating efficiently by LISTENING to you? (I think Amazon is sitting up and paying attention now. Is your husband available for focus groups?) Seriously, girlfriend, you're one of the lucky ones.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Hi, Kassandra! A sentimental card that says the right thing earns a guy a pass on the gift. Yes, I'm making up these rules as I go along, but I believe in them. (See the pass Jennette's husband earned based on the Camaro he had embroidered on a tee shirt for her.)

Ugh on that bathrobe, though. Lark's floor lamp is looking lovely thanks to your description of the robe. Yellow's a color for larks. Even the sun doesn't fully power up before nine or so. As for the brown patchwork, I have no words.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Oh, Sarah! I can picture you bursting into tears on the birthday that also represented three years of dating. Three years! Put a ring on it! How touching, though, that your guy did an about face and now picks up on your likes. You're right, though, you have to be careful when admiring things. There's so much I think is gorgeous, but that doesn't mean I want it for myself. You know, a casual remark of mine might have lead to my husband coming home with that level. I have to stop hanging out at Home Depot.

Lynette M Burrows said...

Since my birthday is the week of Christmas, my ex- gave me a 'personal safe' one year as a birthday / Christmas present. He was clueless at times. Now, my current husband - he's given me a cuddly stuffed gorilla with beautiful earrings in its ears, he made me both an office for writing and a studio for doing stained glass, and he gifts me every day with sweet words and attention. I'm definitely one of the lucky ones now. LOL! You do have to stop hanging at Home Depot with your hubby, Pat.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Hi, Lynette! I'm telling my daughters about the stuffed animal with the beautiful earrings in its ears. Your guy understands presentation--and he builds things!You did well.

The safe could have worked as a gift if your ex had included a sappy note that said you held his heart in safekeeping. Without the note, the gift's a dud. If Kassandra's husband had told her she was his sunshine when he presented her with the yellow robe, she might have gotten a kick out of wearing it. (Notice how I've blanked out the brown patchwork.)Lark's floor lamp might have worked with some kind of "you light up my life" message. I'm trying to come up with a sentimental justification for the level, but I've got nothing.

Liz Flaherty said...

My hero tends to buy me what he thinks I should have rather than what I really want (I want something I can use till it breaks without it being a problem; he thinks I should have the best whether I want it or not--not sure how you argue that). However, when I decided I wanted to bake more, he bought me a stand mixer--which I'd never had. It may be a "chore gift" but the important thing is that it's exactly what I wanted.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Liz, I'm making up these rules as I go along, and your case prompted two of them. 1. Gifts that are ardently desired never fall under the "chore" umbrella, even if they're kitchen appliances. 2. Because baked goods aren't necessary to sustain life(happiness is another topic), baking is a choice, not a chore. Your pursuit of baking bliss is a hobby or passion, not work. Your guy gets extra points for buying a gift that supports your passion.

What's more, he's absolutely right to get you the best. What a guy. Sigh. Bake him something nice, will you?

Anonymous said...

My step-dad had it all worked out. I would call him two days before whatever gifting day was coming up, and arrange to meet him in town to help him shop. Then I would call Mom and ask her what she could get excited about. That would be the big gift, then I would guide his choices in terms of the romantic side gifts.
Of course, this was primarily necessary because EVER day was gift day for him. If he knew she wanted a new camera, computer, blender, whatever, he would research the available options and when he came home from his next rotation, he would hand her the best version he could afford.
By the time it came around to the official gifting days, he was out of ideas...
Which was why Mom always pretended that her gift was a total surprise.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Hi, Charis! How wonderful that every day was gift day for your dad--and what a great system you and your mom devised to ensure he always gifted something she wanted on those special occasions. Can I adopt you?