DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I’m a mid-30s cis woman who is happily married to a mid-30s cis man.
When we got married two years ago — and when I was still in the swooning stage — I asked my husband if he could surprise me with flowers sometime. This is an unusual request for me because I’m not usually the cutesy or flowery type, but perhaps I’ve seen one too many rom-coms. I just thought it sounded sweet, and my husband said he would do it sometime.
Now we’re about to enter our third year of marriage and I’ve still never gotten flowers. I bring it up occasionally (and I do mean only every few months at the most, not nagging!) and he always says that he just never thinks about doing anything like that.
For the record, I have gotten him lots of things over the years to show my affection — a new case for his electronic equipment, a video game he had been wanting, new tools, etc. He loved all of this stuff, but he’s never reciprocated.
I have to admit — like a stupid schoolgirl — I get my hopes up a little every Valentine’s Day or whenever my birthday rolls around, but nada. We’ve had discussions about romance or ways to keep our affections alive, but he usually says that’s “not his thing.” Last time I brought up the flowers, I said I wanted to feel surprised by them just once in my life — and I literally mean once will do — but he got annoyed and said he showed his love when he married me and doesn’t need to do it every day. I suppose he has a point and maybe I’m asking too much.
On one hand, I feel like a fool of the utmost proportions. With everything that’s going on in the world, I’m worried about some stupid flowers?! And yet, that also makes me angry. For goodness sake, it’s one bouquet of damn flowers. That’s all I’ve ever asked for and somehow that’s too much for him.
I’d be lying, Doc, if I said I wasn’t spiraling into resentment here. And for what? I don’t know.
I suppose I just needed to get this off my chest. I guess I’ll just buy myself some flowers and be done with it.
I Never Promised You A Rose Garden
DEAR I NEVER PROMISED YOU A ROSE GARDEN: What we have here is… failure to communicate. The problem you’re both running into is that while you’re both speaking, you’re not being UNDERSTOOD, and those crossed wires are leading to everyone getting annoyed or — in your case — disappointed on the regular.
The problem here is that the two of you have different communication styles, especially in how you communicate love and affection to one another. I’m sure you’ve heard of The Five Love Languages before; while people can (and frequently do) quibble about the accuracy or specificity of the “languages”, the concept is legit. Different people have different ways of showing their partners how they feel. One person may express love for people by giving gifts, because they like being able to provide little hits of joy for people they care about. Another person may express their feelings through words, or through making sure that the people they care for are provided for and want for nothing.
However, the problem that frequently arises is that sometimes our partners may not see that as expressing love and affection. Just as we have ways of showing that we care, we tend to have ways of wanting to RECIEVE love too… and sometimes the way one person demonstrates it and the other person receives it can clash. Somebody who is very concerned about paying their own way and supporting themselves, for example, may be uncomfortable with receiving gifts, no matter how well intentioned. Another person may have all of their needs provided for and live a secure lifestyle, but feel unloved because their partner doesn’t express love verbally or doesn’t spend a lot of time with them.
When these communication styles clash, conflicts arise. Both parties start feeling upset because here they are shouting “love” as loudly as they can, but getting nothing back and wondering why their partner is so cold or closed off.
And it only gets worse when the people involved don’t get that. While it’s very easy to say “I prove my love via X”, it doesn’t help as much if that’s not the love language your partner speaks or understands. It’s the “Ghost” conflict; Patrick Swayze may be saying “I love you” when he says “ditto”, but that doesn’t mean that it hits the same way.
And while yes, it’s important for people in a relationship to learn how their partners say “I love you” or express affection, it’s also important that they learn how to “hear” what their partner is saying too… and to make an effort to speak that language. Because even if someone “should know by now” how you feel… it’s still nice to be reminded every once in a while.
Case in point: you express your love by getting things for your husband, and you’d like the same in return — in this case, some flowers. The way your husband thinks about and shows love doesn’t follow the same lines; he’s not the “buy gifts to show love” type, and so it doesn’t occur to him to do so. And while that may well be true — it’s a foreign language that he’s not fluent in, so it takes conscious effort to “think” in it — that doesn’t change the fact that hey, it’d be very sweet of him to make the effort.
You may know he loves you by virtue of the fact that he married you, but that doesn’t mean that you only ever wanted to hear “I love you” once, and never again. After all, part of what helps keep a marriage alive and vital is to stay affectionate and flirty. Gomez and Morticia didn’t get to where they were by never reminding each other how much they loved and desired each other.
So no, you’re not being unreasonable by being upset over this. You’re definitely not asking too much. You’ve made an entirely reasonable request — you would like your husband to show love for you by surprising you with flowers — and he says “it’s not his thing”. While that may be true… that’s not really much of an excuse. It may not be how he shows love, but it’s also not something so outside of normal behavior that it would be an impossible challenge for him. You’ve asked for something so common that it’s practically a cliche, and he doesn’t seem to grok it.
Well… since we’re already talking about communication, it’s time to use your words. Just a little more bluntly and directly. While I know you would prefer to be surprised — that it be a spontaneous display of affection from him — sometimes you need to take the bull by the metaphorical horns and say “LISTEN UP, MOTHERF--KER.”
Tell him, straight up, that this is actually important to you. That while you know this isn’t how he shows love, but it has meaning for you and that this is something you want from him. He can set a calendar alert, set up a reminder on his smartphone or even get on his computer that night and schedule a delivery for a random day in the future… but you want this gesture from him.
It may not be quite the same as it being completely unprompted and spontaneous from him this time, but letting him know that no, this is has a LOT of significance to you might make him realize that this is a very simple thing he can do that would make you happy.
But none of that can happen until you stop hinting and start just straight up telling him that this is something you want from him. After that, you two can have a longer discussion about how you prefer to give and receive love… but first, tell him you want some flowers.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, email@example.com