A friend asks: “When it comes to anniversaries, is the onus only on the husband to do something special (i.e., buy presents, flowers, etc.), or does the wife have some responsibility to do something nice as well?”

2015-04-06 15.44.22To My Dear Sons,

In point of fact, it’s no one’s job. At the risk of no longer getting phone calls from my dear daughters-in-law, there is no “rule” that says anniversaries or birthdays or job promotions need to be acknowledged with presents, or at all.

But there is another factor here that is incumbent on each of us.

Tikun olam, the reparation of the world, is one of the “jobs” we Jews proclaim rather constantly as part of our raison d’être. But in reality, it is too big a job for one people, and certainly for an individual. Each human being has to do his or her part.

An aspect of repairing the world is to help other people to get through life. One of the steps toward accomplishing this is to listen intently and to truly try to get to know those closest to us.

We all were raised differently, grew up with different values, had different priorities emphasized by our parents and cultures. Yet we often choose to marry people with entirely different worldviews than our own.

Listen to her. Hear her stories. Did her parents make parties exactly on her birthday, and try their very best to give her a piece of the moon? (Meanwhile, maybe your parents gave you “a hearty hi-ho and a handshake,” and a wish for a great year, and a scruff of your hair — sometime during the period around your birthday.) It stands to reason that you’re going to have slightly different expectations regarding birthdays and anniversaries and presents, as well as different feelings about celebrating yearly events.

Share with each other. Mind-reading should never be expected in marriage. Listen to each other. Try as hard as you can to meet each other’s (reasonable) expectations. Try to fill in the gaps left by less-than-perfect upbringings. On the other side, remember that your spouse didn’t grow up seeing the world exactly the same as you did. Temper your “requirements” for expressions of affection. Learn to see and hear what the other person meant to say, rather than relying only on the perceptions with which you entered the relationship. There is a joyful middle-ground, as in almost everything in marriage.

You guys come from a competitive family. Your father and I are always trying to “one-up” each other in the I-Love-You Department. Sometimes I’ll get him flowers for no reason, because he likes them. He brings home a nice Cabernet. He gets me 85% chocolate, and I get him sweet chocolate, because over the years we’ve learned to give what the other wants. It wouldn’t occur to us to try to find out how to get out of giving. And even if we did decide to keep track, there’s no contest.

Life is challenging, right? We can’t fix everything. Making other people’s lives sweeter may be the only real power we have to better the world. As the character Billy Kwan famously said, in one of my favorite movies, when faced with the all-consuming horror that is life in this world, “What then must we do? We must give with love to whoever God has placed in our path.”

P.S. Ema and Abba will be celebrating their 30th wedding anniversary in a couple of months. We don’t need the moon. But a dinner date with all of you wouldn’t be rejected. 😉