I think this sums it up…
“What we have here is a failure to communicate.”
Sometimes my husband is amazingly astute about what I like and would want as a gift or surprise. And other times, he is equally amazingly obtuse. Face it: you HAVE to TELL your spouse what you like and what you want. This does not mean necessarily “writing a letter to Santa Claus” complete with size, color, and catalog page number (or maybe it might, you know your guys better than I do!) But it does mean sitting down with DH and saying, “Look, I know it must be stressful to have to try to read my mind every time my birthday, Christmas or our anniversary rolls around. I feel the same way (okay, maybe you don’t, but just say it anyway!) so why don’t we talk about the things we like and don’t like and help each other out?”
Then TALK about it… honestly. Most men think a heart-shaped box of Russell Stover chocolates, a bouquet of red roses, and a $5 Hallmark card followed by dinner at an expensive restaurant is what women want for Valentine’s Day. That’s what the stores are pushing, that’s what everyone’s buying, so that must be what women want! Imagine his surprise if you say you’d rather have a bag of almond M&Ms, a single white carnation, a bunch of "I love you"s written on Post-It notes everywhere from the coffee pot to the shower faucet, and carry-out pizza or Chinese take-out at a local park to watch the sunset. (Hey! That whole thing is cheaper than just the roses!)
And don’t get offended if he has to get a notebook to write things down. My husband once made up a list of things I absolutely DETEST just so he would be able to stay out of the doghouse and I actually appreciated the fact that he cared enough to at least avoid something I hated. Sometimes “romance” starts with a little consideration (example: I cannot STAND to be called “baby doll”. He made note of this early in our relationship. You know what it means that in twenty years of various endearments, he has not ONCE called me “baby doll”? Priceless!)
But it’s not romantic if you have to tell him? I used to think that, too, until I realized it’s even LESS romantic to have to pretend to like cliched, overly expensive gifts every year. My husband and I have been married twenty years and he knows I’m a bookworm. He will not attempt to buy me books (my tastes are so eclectic and it would take a librarian to keep track of what I’ve already read), but he WILL get me a gift card to Barnes and Noble and treat me to an afternoon there (alone, or he’ll join me sometimes) and then a treat at Starbucks before heading home.
What’s romantic is that you are learning more and more about each other. That’s always a good thing and the best gift there is.
P.S–about the money thing… I hear you. Money’s always a concern. But as long as he isn’t breaking the bank every single week on frivolities, let him spoil you once in a while. My DH did this on our 20th anniversary. The plan was a two-night stay at a nice hotel and a nice dinner out–no other gifts. He surprised me with a heart-shaped “journey of love” pendant as well. Do I want to know how much over the budget he went? Not really. Somehow we’ll pay the bills. Not everyone reaches their 20th anniversary (or their 2nd, for that matter). My BIL resisted his wife’s attempts to plan a big trip back East where he grew up for his birthday, on the grounds that they couldn’t afford it, they didn’t have time, etc. Well he was right: time ran out. She died a year later. He might have still been paying the bills for that trip, but at least he would have had those memories.