Having taught this to enough people, I figured it’s time to write it down and help the brothers out.
A lot of men have a hard time with anniversary presents for their wives. What the hell does she want? It depends on her, obviously, and one size never fits all. My philosophy is that she doesn’t want something practical, useful or that will go away (wilt, be eaten, etc.). She also doesn’t tend to want something that isn’t specific to her. The money matters a lot less than the thought you put into it, so there are not easy outs. Flowers and candy? Throwing money at the problem. Anyone can go out and buy that. Jewelry? If you have that kind of money and it’s something that would matter mainly to her, and not to just any woman. If you’re celebrating being married to her, she isn’t just any woman. She’s your wife. She’s special. She was better than the rest, and I should hope you still think so.
Sure, tickets to her favorite concert are an option, and those go away, which could be okay. But I cling to the view that something she can keep over the years, and remember what you meant, is most likely to be treasured. Five years from now, none of her friends are going to look at concert tickets, adore them and ask where she got them.
If you have time and are handy, making something is nice. Anything that is unique–that there is only one of, and just for her–sends a very welcome message. Something you already have, in a display you made that adds to it, is a good thing. Some years you just spot the perfect thing. And some years, it’s down to the wire, and damn it, nothing has shown up, no ideas, you’re stuck. You went out and looked at all the usual places. Nada. There isn’t any more time to mess around. This is a dilemma.
When that happens, do this.
You are going to deploy the ultimate weapon: women. You won’t even know any of them, and you don’t care. This is a sure shot. All you have to do is think a little bit beforehand, and cooperate when the time comes. I’m not making this up. I have done this more than once.
First: game face. It shouldn’t be hard for you to look a little frustrated, but don’t look angry frustrated. You’re going to a place where you are somewhat out of your element, and it is important to seem a little vulnerable. Many of us don’t do vulnerable well. You must. Drop your guard. There is something about a vulnerable man that lights up the ‘I must help’ indicators in women like a Christmas tree. It’s one of the greatest reasons to value them as relatives, friends and partners–and there are so many. Not every woman, no given woman all the time, but in the main, most of them most of the time.
Second: use your brain. Look back on the last year of her life and yours together, what was major for her. A big achievement? What all did she do? Think of something to celebrate, to commemorate, something you’re proud of about her. Something where she reached a goal, finished something, conquered something. It can involve you in some way but it should center on her role. Have that stuff in mind, because you’re going to need it.
Next, game face on, go to the kind of place she likes to look around, typically an artwork or craft type of place, small business, no chains. Make sure you go at a time when there are several women in the store, including a female shopkeeper/cashier. Go in, greet the shopkeeper politely, and look around a bit. Wait for her to ask if she can help you find anything. Your finger is on the launch button; push it. Keep wandering sort of aimlessly and dumbly, and say something like: “Well, I’m having trouble. Our anniversary is coming up. I’m really proud of my wife, she’s done a lot this year, and I want to get her something that will celebrate that. I haven’t had any luck finding the right thing.” Don’t be loud, but do not make any effort not to be heard by the other shoppers. Most of all, don’t be embarrassed about it. You want to be the man who just showed that he loves his wife and isn’t one damn bit ashamed of that, doesn’t give a shit who hears him.
Ignition. Now it’s a treasure hunt. The shopkeeper will start to ask you questions. Trust that the other women heard you. What does she like? What did she accomplish or do? What colors does she like? Any flowers or animals or symbols that mean a lot to her? What’s your budget range? Be completely honest. Answer anything and everything. If it’s about what she did, let your pride shine a bit. Before you came in, the shopkeeper was bored and most of the women were just puttering around. Now they have a mission.
See, this is the women’s world. It’s different, and this must be respected. In their world, change is swift and sudden, and they tend to handle it more smoothly than we do. Now the lines between shopkeeper and customer tend to blur, even vanish. The other women are likely to ask you questions. Answer everyone. This is fun for them on a couple of levels. Not only are they helping someone who seems like a very nice man, they have a goal. Their shopping day just got better and you are the cause. They like this.
Now all you have to do is come look at stuff when summoned. They will consider your budget, everything you said. Go around and look at the stuff. Don’t be afraid to say something wouldn’t quite work, but obviously, be polite, as to any volunteer taking time to help a stranger. If it surely wouldn’t work, explain why, so that adds to what they know. Keep checking out things, and in between, you of course keep looking, or making a show of it. You won’t be the one who finds it, but you have to keep trying for appearance’s sake.
Eventually someone will find something suitable, the kind of thing you would never have thought of as fitting, because you do not see the world through your wife’s eyes. Sometimes takes only a few minutes. The women are more likely to see it as she would see it. If you think the thing sends a radically different different message than the woman who found it, it’s fine to say so, but if your helper stands her ground, be prepared. That’s the signal for the other women to come over and weigh in. They will all agree with each other about the interpretation, exactly as custom specifies. At this point, custom and good manners require you to bow to their collective wisdom and agree with them. That’s the debate you should lose, and gracefully–because if that’s how they all see it, you probably just found the perfect gift. One year I was doing this, and one lady found a statuette of a female figure in chrome, head back, holding a platter (spiked for a votive candle) high in the air. I asked: “That looks like the barmaid bringing beer. Is that what I should be saying?” The women gathered around to evaluate the piece and weigh in. They all agreed that it looked very feminine and triumphant and strong, and not like a barmaid. Of course, I followed the script, and accepted their judgment without being grumpy. (At anniversary time, my wife loved it. Later, when I told her the barmaid story, she laughed and laughed. More to the point, she agreed with my helpers, and chided me good-naturedly for the utter, sheer, egregious maleness of my own first impression.)
At some point, they find it, and you know it. Now all there is to do is thank the women for their help, tell them you’re sure your wife will love it, pay for your purchase, and head out. Everyone is happy. You’re bailed out. The shopkeeper did some business and had fun. The other shoppers had fun, and helped a nice guy do something thoughtful. They loved the romance of it, the process of it, the newness and difference.
Not much was asked of you. All you did was show up, say the right things, answer questions, be appreciative and respectful, and pay the cashier.
This is not hard. And it will save your husbandly ass from a big disappointment.
If you blow it at anniversary time, it is now officially your own damn fault.