The best present my husband has ever given me was a three-ring binder from the office supply store. We were in law school (and thus, broke) and dating, and our date nights often consisted of cooking together in my apartment. I loved searching the Internet for new recipes for us to try, and I printed off dozens on the school library printer. I always kept my recipe print-offs for future use, and the refrigerator in my tiny kitchen quickly became a mess of magnets and pages I’d printed from foodnetwork.com.
One night, my then-boyfriend showed up for date night with a binder filled with plastic sleeves. “For our date-night recipes, a way to keep them organized,” he offered. There was no occasion, no reason. It was a simple act, and one that probably cost less than $10. And it was the moment that I knew I wanted him to be my husband.
Gifts aren’t my love language. At least not gifts that are expected to arrive on a particular occasion. It’s not that they aren’t appreciated or welcome. But the magic that came from the three-ring binder was the total surprise that evening. The unexpected and warm reminder that my partner also appreciated something I cherished. That he had seen a need of mine, however trivial, and thought of a way to tend to it. In terms of opening my heart, it meant more than any birthday gift or present on Christmas Day.
In our early marriage, my husband and I always exchanged gifts for the usual events–birthdays, anniversaries, and, of course, Christmas. But as we’ve grown in our marriage and added the role of “parents” to our dynamic, these gift-giving occasions matter less and less.
What matters more are the unexpected acts of kindness toward one another.
Life, even when things are going smoothly, can be busy and stressful and overwhelming. Parenting, while full of wonder and joy, is demanding and exhausting. It’s easy to see your own needs before your partner’s and to allow sleep deprivation to give way to irritability. That’s why my husband and I find it so important to focus on showing kindness randomly, and not just when it’s expected. A thoughtful reminder that we’re on the same team.
One year, we decided not to buy each other anniversary gifts. We spent the money instead on something we needed for our home. Neither of us minded not opening a present. It didn’t make a difference in how we felt about each other and our commitment to our marriage. The tradition (or lack of) has stuck.
This Christmas season, among the bustle of the season, I’m focusing on what random acts of kindness I can show to and plan for my spouse. Because, honestly, a Christmas gift just isn’t my love language. But an unexpected three-ring binder? That captures my heart every time.