In the list titled ‘Things I have a problem with’ is the matter of buying a gift for the wife. If you have been married for a decent amount of time, familiarity breeds even more familiarity, which breeds such familiarity that you don’t know just what is the right gift at that moment in time. It is a universal problem, I discovered recently, not that that is any consolation.
In the early years, these things are straightforward. You buy a bunch of flowers or a box of chocolates or a couple of earrings and the issue is closed. A few years later, the mere fact that you remembered your spouse’s birthday or the date of your anniversary is gift enough. Everything else – the romantic candlelight dinner, the flowers, the surprise visit to Venice – is a bonus. Sometimes if the bonus is good enough you don’t have to remember the date at all.
This is followed by a short phase when both parties forget the anniversary and wake up one morning to realise, "Hey, last Wednesday was our anniversary you know…" At which point the spouse who hears this must have the intelligence to say, "Oh I forgot too…" even if he/she remembered and was wondering when the other would take the hint thrown around the house and dropped into most conversations, e.g. "Do you know Queen Elizabeth is about to celebrate her 70th wedding anniversary?" This is called a key word hint.
And then comes that wonderful phase when the guilt is driven out of all forgetfulness. Neither spouse genuinely remembers the date, and when they do a month later, merely laugh it off. And promise to go out for dinner on the weekend, something they forget to follow up and thus have another reason for a laugh later.
And so back to the gift. Clothes, jewellery, books, coupons for free spa treatment, cars, flowers, rare first editions, potted plants, electronic gizmos, foreign trips having all lost their charm over years of acting as gifts, the question hangs in the air for a long time. And it is not just one half of the couple which spends restless nights wondering what that special surprise should be.
The pause following "Happy Anniversary Darling…" on the day is one of the longest experienced by human beings. There is anticipation, excitement, suspended judgement ("I will love whatever he gives me"), even slight annoyance in that pause.
For next year, I have it all worked out – as I am sure a lot of people around the world have. I shall break into the pause with the magic words: "We have a doctor’s appointment today. We are getting the Covid-19 vaccine." Nothing says it better.