How do I love thee? Let me count the ways…

I love this blogpost by The Sarah Monologues. I am like Sarah’s husband –  I’ve failed miserably at Statement Presents and organising sufficiently special celebrations for birthdays, Father’s Day etc.  Like her husband, for me it’s the little things that say “I love you” without actually saying “I love you”.

My Husband is more like Sarah. He makes sure my birthdays and Mother’s Day are “special” ie. chore free (at least until 11am) and he loves to give and receive thoughtful presents on these special days. Making the day special is what says “I love you” for him.

Sarah’s blogpost also reminded me of a fight Husband I had many years ago. I had been suffering from the flu and I asked if we could postpone his birthday celebration until the following weekend. Husband said “Of course”. At least I thought that was what he said. The next day, as agreed, we did not celebrate Husband’s birthday and that night Husband had the only tantrum of our marriage (I will not disclose how many tantrums I’ve had, lest I lose the shaky moral high ground from which I narrate this story).

To put this into context, Husband is as relaxed as I am highly strung. So his reaction to the non-birthday was a complete mystery to me. I launched the “But you said…” Defence, which failed.  Then I tried the mature response of flying into a hysterical rage, which also failed. And then I did what any woman would do in this situation – I called my best girlfriends to complain.

It was Friend B who told me about Love Languages.  Now I am not one to buy into self-help or pop psychology. (Actually, I totally am.  I love self-help books and even though I don’t have time to read them any more, I still occasionally buy them in airports in the hope that the mere act of acquisition will help me to live more authentically and take control of my life NOW etc).

The Love Languages theory goes that people show their love to others in different ways; and people need different things in order to feel loved.

In my family, my parents rarely say “I love you”, they never gush with emotion, birthdays are barely celebrated and I wouldn’t expect any one to buy me a cake let alone a present. But I can not think of a single day when my parents did not make me feel special or loved. They expressed this love by looking after me and I showed it back by looking after them and myself. My Husband’s mother thinks my upbringing was part Dickensian, part Vulcan.

So, shortly after Birthdaygate, when she blamed herself for her son’s tantrum righteous indignation with a “I should have bought him a cake, I always buy him a cake,” I resisted the temptation to administer the Vulcan death-grip and I realised that throughout Husband’s life, his beautiful mother made her son feel loved all the time, but especially special on birthdays – the big cake, the big card, the big present. This is how Husband understands being loved on this particular day and I had not said “I love you” in the way he needed to hear it.

When Husband and I got married, we should have exchanged decoder rings rather than wedding rings. It took Birthdaygate for us to start deciphering each other’s often heavily encrypted messages of love. Reverting to my professional training in times of crisis, I drafted Husband a contract list, stipulating my “acts of love”. The list included (but was not limited to):

– cooking his favourite food and making dinner every night;

– making sure his laundry was always done so that he didn’t have to go to work commando (cue the soundtrack to Born Free);

– enabling him to play football with his friends every week whilst I looked after the children, cooked his favourite Sunday lunch and checked his underpants;

– making time to talk, cuddle and check his underpants.

Whilst all this makes me sound pathetically Stepford, it is perhaps just typically Sri Lankan. I have been raised to show my love by looking after the object of my love. The self-martydom that is synonymous with this kind of “loving” will be reserved for a separate blogpost.

I also gave Husband a list of some of the things he does (…or could do) that make me feel loved by him:

– making my morning coffee;

– picking up after himself immediately rather than leaving it for “Later”, the place chores go to die or wait for me to do them;

– helping with household chores instead of assuming the magical house fairies will do it;

– doing the hard stuff with the children, not just the fun stuff;

– taking out the trash without being asked (I told him this is really all the seduction I need. I am quite easy.)

Specific performance of the above makes me feel special. I’m not saying I would say no to a Clinique gift pack or a Battle Star Galactica box set. I’m just saying that such gifts are not adequate damages for failure to comply.

The first couple of years after Birthdaygate I bought spare birthday cards, diarised reminders months in advance and researched presents – all for the dual purpose of making Husband feel special in the way that he understood it, and sadistically reminding him what a baby he was. The passing years have relaxed and reformed me. I now enjoy making Husband feel special on his birthday without making a point. He does my chores on my birthday and he does his chores most other days of the year. He does the hard stuff, not just the fun stuff, and often he makes the hard stuff more fun. On birthdays we both enjoy getting homemade cakes and cards from our children and we both love it when he takes out the trash.

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About Shankari Chandran

Six years ago we returned home from London to Sydney with our four young children and life has been chaos and comfort chocolate ever since.
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9 Responses to How do I love thee? Let me count the ways…

  1. Reema says:

    I know i say it every time but u write really well………………Hope u ve a great n special B’day this yr…….

  2. AAR says:

    I love it! I’m all for the extravagant gestures of love…and I show my husband I love him on special occasions by not spending any of his money!

  3. PetiteMum says:

    I’m all for extravagant gifts and doing their share and my share of the housework!,,,am I being too greedy?

  4. Nataliya says:

    I go MAD if I don’t get a card, I don’t really care for gifts but I must get a card!

  5. Amrit says:

    Hi Shanks, firstly very best wishes on your birthday. Secondly, I feel like an intruder reading your blog – but enjoy it greatly and can relate a lot to the ins and outs of life on planet S. Cant believe u have procreated so extravagantly!!! Anyway, was inspired enough to create my own little blog for some family travel we did – and hope its something my little ones will read one day. Hope life back in Oz proves to be a satisfying adventure (it may well be something on my side to grapple with someday), and hope u dont mind if i stop by and read of your exploits. Just so you know that non-cousins definitely read and enjoy it from time to time! Luv from, AB

  6. Cath says:

    I always look forward to your posts! You have just 100% described my own relationship – husband who is amazing at gifts and planning lovely surprises and keeping secrets, and wife (me) who can barely get the kids to make a home made card. But I am happy to report that we must be muddling through ok somehow because we just got back from a kids-free break (planned of course by my husband and babysitting courtesy of lovely in-laws) celebrating our 10 year anniversary. Bliss. And bliss to come home to 2 little girls flinging themselves at you at light speed. Please keep writing, I want to keep reading!

  7. Husband says:

    This explains why you never seemed to smile in your childhood photos – particularly on your birthday!

  8. Jn says:

    I find myself laughing out loud unapologetically when I read your newest posts. They crack me up and knowing what a dear fellow Husband is and what an amazing Duckiemom you are, it only cracks me even more. Happy all days both to you and Husband and to the little duckies.

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