Valentine’s Day: Spoken vs Unspoken Expectations

Valentines day is around the corner and for those of us that celebrate the holiday we start wondering what to get our significant others. It would be so much easier if we knew what our significant other wanted or expected as a gift.

Many of us either already have a plan for our significant other or you’re just reading this and realizing that is the end of January and you don’t have a clue what to do. Don’t panic, according to the National Retail Federation, Americans procrastinate their Valentine’s Day shopping more than any other holiday, with 60% of sales coming in a 3 day span (Feb 12-14).

So if you know what you are going to do, you have some time to shop. If not, you may still be in a panic over what to do for your significant other. For those of you that are just dating or newly in a relationship, figuring out what to get each other doesn’t always get easier with time.

More than half of the U.S. population celebrates Valentine’s Day, which happens to be one of the largest holidays for spending in the U.S. at around $15.7 billion. In 2011, it is estimated that the average person spent $116.21 on gifts, meals, and entertainment for Valentine’s Day. Of that, Men tend to spend double what women spend on Valentine’s day: $158.71 compared to $75.79 (1). Adults 25-34 will spend an average of $189.97, about three times the $60.22 adults 65 and older will spend.

What do they spend that money on, you ask?

  • 52.1% buy cards, the most popular Valentine’s Day gift (1) and it is estimated that 141 million Valentine’s Day cards are exchanged worldwide (2).
  • People will spend $1.7 billion on flowers this Valentine’s Day — 73% are bought by men, 27% by women (1). Oddly, 15% of U.S. women send themselves flowers on Valentine’s Day (3,4).
  • Even odder is the statistic that more than nine million pet owners are expected to buy gifts for their pets on Valentine’s Day with the average person spending $5.04 on them.

During research on this subject, I also found this scary fact for men to be aware of: 53% of women in America would dump their boyfriends if they did not get them anything for Valentine’s Day (3). Even if your significant other tells you “You don’t need to get me anything,” don’t think you are safe. Gentlemen, listen up…you need to get them something. So this brings us back to the issue of what to do in the way of gifts for Valentine’s Day and I was reminded of this JC Penny ad from 2009.

Wouldn’t it be great if we knew what that perfect gift was for our significant other so that we didn’t end up in the doghouse? For as long as humans existed, it is probably safe to predict that men have always wondered what women want and women…well they probably are right when they say they know what men want.

In relationships, discussing expectations between you and your spouse/significant other is important and will cover many aspects of your relationship from the early days of dating, to wedding plans, child raising, retirement, life goals and beyond. This isn’t a one time conversation that you can have, but will take place many times throughout your relationship.

So what does your significant other expect in the way of gifts? Do you know? If not, have you asked? That would be the best place to start. Responses range from a straight answer to, “nothing”, to (my personal favorite) “you should already know.” If they are asking, they don’t know. Help them out. Give them a “bone.” A national jewelry chain has an email form that you can send to your sweetheart giving them a gift suggestion.

My wife and I discussed Valentine’s Day gifts and agreed that we would not get flowers for each other. For us, a bouquet of flowers are not a gift that lasts and especially when a dozen roses, that normally cost $40 anytime of the year, doubles around Valentine’s Day. At the minimum we get at least a card, if not something else.

When it comes to gift giving, think outside of the box (or shopping bag). Give gifts that match the person. Do not waste money on stuffed animals and flowers if they will not be enjoyed. Valentine’s Day, is not a time for one-size-fits-all gifts. Knowing a partner’s real desires will express the meaning of the day, and could eliminate irrelevant and expensive purchases.

One suggestion would be to go the homemade route. Write a poem, create your own card, a homemade gift, or prepare a home cooked meal. Whatever it is you have the benefit of the gift being completely personalized to suit their taste.

If our current trend of a warm winter continues, head outside. Use the magic of the night to fuel some energy for ice skating, or build a bonfire and eat s’mores. Or create a winter picnic with blankets and hot cocoa. Then head inside, defrost and snuggle up
with a blanket for a movie night.

Give helpfully. Brainstorm a list of things a partner normally handles, but dislikes such as the laundry, dishes, walking the dog or shoveling snow. Make coupons that he/she can redeem to enlist help with the activity. Don’t forget to add some romantic and relaxing activity vouchers as well. HOWEVER, a word of warning…make sure you will honor the coupons!

Whatever gift path you take: give it some thought, make it personal, make it financially realistic, and keep in mind that all that truly matters is it came from the heart. Communicate your expectations with your significant other, whether it be about gifts or other matter, and be prepared to actively listen to their expectations as well. That way you can avoid going to (or returning to) the doghouse.

(1) 2011 U.S. National Retail Federation survey
(2) Hallmark
(3) CT News
(4) Wisebread

Copying with Grief After a Loss

Grief is a reaction to a major loss. It can be triggered by the death of a loved one, but people can also experience grief if they have lost a job, experienced an end to a significant relationship, loss of personal property, an illness for which there is no cure, a chronic condition that affects their quality of life. It is most often an unhappy and painful emotion, but it is a normal process that each person must move through. It is not something you get over or can bypass.

Everyone feels grief in their own way. However, there are common stages to the process of grieving. It starts with recognizing a loss and continues until a person eventually accepts that loss.

Shock, denial, disbelief, numbness. When you learn that you have lost, or may lose, someone you love, you may find the news hard to accept. Common thoughts include, “This can’t be happening” or “There must be some mistake.” The feeling of disbelief gives yourself some emotional breathing room and protects you from the full effect of the news when you are not ready to accept it.

Anger, blaming others. After you have begun to accept a loss, you may feel very angry. You may blame others or the person who died for the situation even if you know, realistically, that they are not responsible for it. Or, you may let out your frustration by becoming irritated easily or unintentionally doing things that hurt others. All of these feelings are normal. Anger can be a way of hiding your pain when you can’t or don’t know how to express your real feelings.

Bargaining and guilt. Even if you know there is little or no hope for a recovery, you may tell yourself you can do something to solve the problem. You may try to make a deal with the doctors, God, or yourself, promising to make changes if the situation will go away. You may have thoughts like, “I’ll never become angry with my partner or child again if only the cancer goes away.” It’s normal to go over past actions and think, “If only I had done this . . .” Many people also feel a sense of guilt or responsibility that fosters the belief that they can still or should have somehow changed things.

Depressed mood, sadness, and crying. At some point, you will feel the full impact of the loss, and begin to understand what it will mean to go through life without someone you love or whatever you may have lost. At this stage, you may feel very sad and perhaps allow yourself to cry for the first time. Feelings like these usually mean that you are closer to the end of the grief process.

Acceptance, coming to terms. At the final stage of grief, you accept your loss even though you still don’t like this fact. You forgive yourself and others and, perhaps for the first time, may feel a sense of peace about the loss. You may still feel sad, but you have stopped trying to fight reality. You may be able to clean out the room of the person who died or participate again in some of the activities you enjoyed together. At this stage, people often think about trying to find an enduring way to pay tribute to the life of someone who has died.

People’s responses to grief will be different, depending on the circumstances of the event that is causing the grief symptoms. Not everyone goes through all of the stages of grief, or experiences them in the same order and you may also go through a stage more than once. At some point you may think you have moved beyond depression, but you may feel sad again on a holiday or an anniversary. Or, you may get angry when you have to handle alone the everyday difficulties that you used share. Experiences like these are normal.

The grief process can’t be rushed and shouldn’t be. It’s important to let yourself feel the pain and most people find that over time the intensity of the pain will decrease. Even if one denies their pain of a loss, the grief still exists. If it does not affect them at this moment, it will eventually erupt in some way, maybe at an inappropriate moment or during another traumatic event. Most professionals suggest that it is always better to admit our strong feelings about a situation, to feel them, and to move through the grieving process in order to move beyond the event.

It is important to know that grieving is an important, normal, and healthy response to loss. If you feel overwhelmed or very sad for much longer than other people in similar situations, or if you continue to have trouble eating, sleeping, or enjoying life, you may want to talk with a therapist or clergy member.