Friday, August 25, 2006

Dismaying Story #39: To Ask or Not to Ask?

Melli asked me to consider the following question posted by TC, who maintains a blog called Twisted Cinderella's Almost Happily Ever After. TC writes:

Dear Andrew,

Do you know those girls? You know, the ones who wait quietly to see if their husband will remember their anniversary (or birthday or fill in other big important event here). She sits quietly simmering ready to pounce on him for forgetting something she has been thinking about and waiting on for days or weeks. And then he forgets, she pounces, foot tapping, arms crossed, face red . . . HOW DARE HE FORGET????

But . . . she remembered. She knew that he would probably forget. She knew that if he remembered he would do something nice for her. So, why play the game. Why not just remind him a few days in advance or even that morning? The way I see it, I would rather have a lovely anniversary that I reminded him about that he went and did something special for, than an anger-filled anniversary that I could have prevented with a few simple reminders.

I think some girls like catching their men in the act of showing that they don't care as much as the girls do. I think that is malarkey. Some guys just don't remember dates. It isn't a big deal if you don't let it be one. Isn't being with someone about more than his memory? If you remind him and he does something special, should that act feel marred in some way because you had to remind him it was coming up?

See I don't think so. What do you think?

Signed, TC

Dear TC,

I can understand both points of view on this issue, so let's look at it from a few different directions.

First I'd like to examine this poor guy you describe, the one with a terrible memory for dates. Perhaps a simple test or two could help diagnose what is going on. Pick one of his special interests. Is he into hunting? Ask him when hunting season begins. Or maybe he is a baseball or football fan. What are the chances he knows what time of year the playoffs start? I'll go way out on a limb and predict he'll be able to answer those questions easily. More than that, I bet those topics will be on his mind as those dates approach. He will remember those dates are coming up soon.

This isn't about his interests, though. You asked about those special occasions most of us like to acknowledge, like birthdays and anniversaries. Okay, take that same husband and ask him the date of your anniversary. Maybe a few truly hapless souls out there won't know (and if this applies to you ... GO FIND OUT!) but almost all husbands will be able to dredge up that date from memory. The same goes for your birthday; he knows it. So why is it so common for those dates to approach unnoticed in the minds of so many husbands?

The answer seems to be that all those irate wives have a point; many women actually do care about special occasions more than their men do. Who knows why this is; the Mars versus Venus phenomenon comes into effect here. He doesn't remember because he simply doesn't attach the same degree of importance to birthdays and anniversaries that you do.

I argue, though, that a lack of excitement about anniversaries does not indicate a lack of caring about you or your marriage. Many guys are deeply in love with their wives but still rank anniversaries right up there on the Ho Hum scale. If you want a guy like this to make a big deal out of the occasion, you must realize he will be doing so primarily for your benefit. You are asking him to do something nice for you. I agree with Twisted Cindy in the sense that it is unreasonable to expect hubby to "care" about your anniversary the same way you do. You might as well ask him to share your enthusiasm for clothes shopping or home decorating. Like it or not, some interests tend to be split along gender lines.

Of course, the guys also benefit from the celebrations. Many times he will end up enjoying the dinner (or party / trip / whatever) and these occasions can be important for creating those special memories that bond the two of you even closer together. Will he realize this ahead of time, though, and be as excited as you? Many guys will tend not to be.

Is it reasonable to expect that our partner "should just know what I want"? This is a common lament. Somehow it feels less romantic, less special to receive a nice turn if we have to ask for it. This can apply not only to gift giving occasions, but also "knowing" what restaurant we would like to go to tonight, what feels good in bed, and so on.

To me, this boils down into "the first time" versus "all the other times." It is silly to expect your partner to be a mind reader the first time a particular issue comes up. Let's say you have been married eleven months. Your first anniversary is coming up and you are excited about it. This is a big deal to you. You go out and buy him a moderately expensive gift and you have hopes that he will make reservations at an appropriately swanky restaurant, or perhaps you are even hoping for a weekend out of town. This is so obviously a big occasion that you don't discuss it with him; you trust him to realize this on his own.

In many cases that would be a mistake. How can you expect the two of you to be on the same page if you haven't talked about it? Here is my first guideline: When it is the first time, talk about your expectations. Work out a common ground between the two of you so both partners know what is expected of them and what they can expect from the other. It might seem less romantic, but you are setting yourself up for disappointment if you expect him to (a) be a mind reader, or (b) have exactly the same likes and dislikes as you.

Then there is the issue of recurring occasions. Is it reasonable to expect him to remember from the second time onward? Yes, but only if you have discussed your desire for him to remember and he has agreed to take on that responsibility. That is my second guideline: The issue of remembering special occasions on an ongoing basis is a separate topic and should be discussed explicitly. This remembering doesn't seem all that important to Twisted Cindy, and that's fine for her. Go ahead and remind him, hopefully when there is still time to make suitably lavish arrangements. Other women, though, feel special when their husband cares enough to remember on his own. That is an understandable desire and a reasonable thing to request from your partner -- to request, not simply to expect without ever discussing it. Ask him to put the dates in his day timer if he has to, or put a big calendar in his workshop. If you explain how important it is to you and he is truly a caring husband, he will find a way.

This is similar to Dismaying Story #28: Care, Give, Repeat. This was about a woman who wants her husband to put a little effort into making special occasions special. In this case they had the explicit discussion; she asked him to remember a few specific occasions. It was a matter of explaining to him how important the issue was to her and asking him to give her the gift of caring and remembering.

What if you go through all that and he STILL doesn't remember your anniversary? I think a certain amount of toe tapping and arm crossing would be in order. She would be justified in feeling disappointed because he didn't live up to his end of the bargain.

Finally, TC suggests that some women might want an excuse to give their man a hard time. This can happen, and tends to be tied into low self-esteem. The cycle goes like this:
  • I feel bad about myself, so I fear I will be treated badly. I am constantly examining his behavior, looking to see if he is doing so.
  • When something upsetting happens, I feel personally attacked. I am certain part of the cause is that others perceive me as unworthy. So I attack, feeling completely justified in "defending myself."
  • He is still here after the argument. He may have even apologized. This proves I have nothing to worry about, at least for the moment. My fear is temporarily fed and I have been reassured.
  • Before long, however, my typical self-doubt thought patterns re-assert themselves and the cycle is ready to start anew.
Some women do get a "fix" of reassurance in this way every time they complain about how they are treated by their husbands.

This pattern is destructive to your relationship and in some cases can turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy. He feels badly about your attacks and may react poorly. He might sulk or be less anxious to attend to your needs, passively objecting to the attacks. You resent his behavior, feel that he is treating you badly, and on you go. Such a pattern can even end in divorce.

I doubt, however, that this is the most common reason why women choose not to remind their husbands about upcoming special occasions. The simpler and more likely explanation is that many women expect men to care about the occasions in the same way they do. A more reasonable approach seems to be to recognize your differences and discuss your desires explicitly.

All the best,

Do you have a different opinion about this issue? As always, I welcome your emails and comments.


  1. I like your response to this.
    I have not had a problem remembering special dates.
    For one I write them down in case I forget and two I care to remember.
    I still remember when all of my exs birthdays are and when we met but what I have always looked at, is why are these dates so special.
    So if there are 3 days a year that are special what does it make the other 362 or 363?
    Are they less important?
    Shouldn’t everyday be special when you ‘re with someone you love or is the possibility of receiving a gift that makes it special?
    My parents don’t celebrate any day as special other than the ones on the calendar and they are happy with each other.
    They buy things for each other if they see something the other would like for no reason.
    Wouldn’t it be more special to get flowers from your partner for no reason rather on a day you expect to get some?
    Great post Andrew and welcome back

  2. Great post.

    Regrettably, in the beginning, I was guilty of trying to set my husband up for failure with remembering dates and anniversaries. My Ex NEVER remembered anything and I just assumed that all men were like that. However, I didn't like it and I was totally prepared to jump all over my husband when he "forgot". He never forgot, in fact, he remembers more dates and special occasions than I do. I do wonder if I wanted him to forget so I had an excuse to be mad...which is incredibly destructive and stupid. We've been together long enough now that I've learned I don't need to look for reasons to argue and be upset... they are just there naturally. LOL

    I guess what it really boils down to is that my husband provides enough proof everyday that he loves me and whether or not we celebrate my birthday on my birthday is really irrelevant.

    A little surprise bling never hurts though... hehehe

    Also - women shouldn't just assume that they should be on the receiving end of anniversaries. It should be a special occasion for both. If the day goes by and nothing is said or happens - I think both people are to blame. He's just as entitled as she is to celebrate and feel "appreciated".

  3. communication -- one of the keys to success in any relationship

    thanks for your insight...wonderful as always!

  4. Hi Andrew...

    I have one of those forgetful husbands... But I learned that if I want something special... I need to remind him a few days in advance.

    I am happier because I know that I will get what I want... Something special like eating at a restaurant...

  5. It took about ten years for my mother to train my dad into this. I think that, in their case, it's also a personality difference--Mom is extremely organized and specializes in considering all ramifications of something for years to come, and Dad just doesn't work that way. He does care--he has always put a tremendous amount of thought into our birthday and Christmas gifts--he just needs to be reminded to plan ahead.

    I don't know if this is actually so or not since I'm not married, but it has always seemed to me that the way anniversaries are marketed is decidedly female-oriented. I'm not sure if that's BECAUSE women are "expected" to remember, or if it reinforces women remembering and men forgetting because it looks too much like Valentine's Day and brings up the old familiar romance anxiety my male friends so lament.

    Which is to say, I guess, that I've always sort of suspected that there was an element of fantasy built into it that isn't really fair to either side.

  6. I always look at it this way. There are some things my guy is good at which I am really bad at and vice versa. He pointed out to me he wanted to get me books to read for Christmas but did not know which authors I liked. I told him not to feel bad because I know he likes computer games but I do not know which ones he likes to play.

    I think people need to lighten up. If you are with someone who deliberately waits to make you feel bad about yourself because you forgot an important date, that is not a person I would want to be

    Sure it would be nice to be surprised with a weekend getaway without the kids but the fact that the best part of my day is when he comes home from work is like an anniversary gift every day.

    So be thankful you have a loved one people!

  7. Excellent view Andrew! I knew this would be a great topic! WELCOME BACK from vacation! We're going in two weeks! Can't wait to feel the sand between my toes!!!

  8. I put the DH in such a spot on our last anniversary knowing he'd forget. Just to prove a point.

    It did go over well, he did feel guilty. Our next Anniversary is coming up though and I plan to remind him this time around. See we share the same Birthday which is good, he can't forget that. The same should go for our anniversary.

    Mother's Day is the only "my day" I can honestly claim now. I insist on a day off then.

  9. I watched my Mom trap my Dad into these things year after year. It made me feel that she had a stupid gene or enjoyed telling her friends how pitiful her lot in life was. Those were the times she forgot that on Valentine's Day, he always went out, bought and delivered heart shaped candy boxes to each of his "girls". Grand-daughters got little ones, his daughters got medium sized boxes and Mom got a huge box of Fanny Farmer's best.
    I won't allow my honey to forget special occasions --- I just vocally keep trying to decide how we should celebrate. The one thing he cannot do --- is give me anything on Valentine's Day --- that belongs to my memory of my Dad.

  10. OK Here is my take-- BTW your advice was excellent.

    I think that when we sit and fester on an issue-- expecting our spouses to do something like forget our anniversary-- we unknowningly put out such a negative vive that we assist in their forgetting. Perhaps they are wondering why we are in a mood? So set him up to succeed and not to fail-- by casually reminiscing about when you first met and saying can you believe it's already been .. . . (this way no one is disappointed or in the dog house on your special day-- and you can just have fun)

    It doesn't jsut work for dates wither.
    I've been able to "telepathically" so to speak get my husband to do all sorts of things he doesn't want to do without ever asking him-- just through body language. Nobody wants a nag, but with a little sugar and a few glances, he'll just make those changes. My hubby recently cut short a camping trip (I was secretly angry about for well-founded reasons)so he could be with his family. He said he didn't know why he did it-- he just had a feeling he needed to be home. That feeling was the eye darts I'd been sending out(as well as the well planned "I'm going to miss you".) I asked him if he knew I was angry with him and he said he didn't have a clue. he just missed me.

  11. I personally thnk that women feel hurt when men forget stuff is because women care more about being "chosen" you know, cherished.

    ANyway. I was married before my current (and only real) husband. I remember an embarassing moment near the end of that relationship when friends asked us what we did for our 8th wedding anniversary - we just looked at each other, faces turning red, and said nothing. We had both forgotten that our anniversary passed nearly three weeks earlier!

  12. I agree with the fact that men simply do not attach the same amount of significance to occasions as women do. My husband doesn't seem to care about his own birthday so why should he get excited about mine or the girls'?

    I prefer to go ahead and make a big deal about it myself. I'll make the arrangements for babysitting and buy myself a present (because I know what I want and what size I need) and this works out ok for us both.

    In the end, my husband shows me how much he values me on a day to day basis. I don't need the flowers and presents on holidays.

    But that's just me ;)

  13. My husband never forgets. But sadly, this year I did, lol. We both had a good laugh, as did our friends.

  14. Anonymous6:32 PM

    Today is our 27th anniversary. I reminded my husband of the date several times in the past couple of weeks. I asked him what he wanted. I made a suggestion for something he could get me.
    He forgot. I called him today (we don't get up and out of the house together) from work and he said "oh, today's our anniversary? I thought it was the 28th!" What a dick. I should have known he would ignore our anniversary.
    For Valentine's Day he gave me a cheap box of drugstore candy (not wrapped), not even a card, and as soon as he gave it to me he wanted it back so he could eat some.
    Disappointed? Yeah. I'll say!

  15. Oy! Even *I* would have remembered with THAT many reminders! Have you thought about buying him some underwear with the special date printed on it, along with a gift suggestion? That way when he gets up that morning...