The Best Gift You Can Give Your Partner Is Yourself

Crystal and I were watching TV the other night, when a Valentine’s Day jewelry promo came on. Watch it here:

It’s kind of a funny commercial, isn’t it? This guy’s partner is totally ignoring him. She’s totally absorbed in texting with her friends or playing some game or checking Facebook or doing any of the billion other things you can do on a phone these days. She’s so wrapped up in it, she even ignores him when he speaks directly to her and asks for her attention.

He finally sends her a desperate “Look up please” text, and then hands her a box of jewelry, which is magical enough or special enough or expensive enough to make her put away her cellphone and look directly at him.

Just think about that for a second. Advertising sells lifestyles. It sells the idea that if you buy this product, you too can have the life depicted in the image. You can be the happy family laughing together and having fun at the beach if you buy these cans of Coke. You can be the relaxed businessman who succeeds at his work if you stay in this kind of hotel. You can be the cool guy so in control that he can hug a mountain curve at 83 miles per hour…but only if you buy our new 2014-model sportscar.

So what’s this ad selling? If you buy our jewelry, you can bribe this otherwise uninterested woman into loving you? Part of me thinks the ad executives didn’t think this one through very well, but you know what?

I know people who act like this.

You probably do too.

I know people who never bothered to do the hard work of investing themselves in each other. They may have been together for months or years, but they know almost nothing about each other. They’ve never asked hard questions. They’ve never disagreed on serious issues, discussed those disagreements, and compromised. Is it any wonder that they can sit across a table from each other and find the distractions on their phones more interesting?

I know people who have income (or more commonly, a line of credit), so they lavish expensive gifts on their partner, but otherwise fail to bring anything worthwhile to the table. They buy them jewelry, or expensive electronics, or take them on pricy trips. They offer these things in lieu of offering care or support or understanding.

That jewelry ad is speaking to these people. It’s saying “No, you don’t have to be a meaningful force in your partner’s life. You just have to pay them off now and then and everything will be okay. They will love you if you keep buying them things.”

The most expensive piece of jewelry in that collection costs $6700. That’s more than my wife and I owe on her undergrad student loan! Would you give a $6700 piece of jewelry to someone who couldn’t be bothered to put down their phone long enough to talk to you? (What about a $300 piece of jewelry? $129?)

Forget the gifts. Give yourself.

The greatest gift you can ever give your partner doesn’t cost a dime. It does cost effort. It costs work.

You give the gift of yourself when you take the time to learn everything there is to know about your partner.

I mean it. Everything.

What are they afraid of? What part of their body embarrasses them? What’s something they’re especially proud of themselves for accomplishing? What are the confusing tangled not-quite-positive-not-quite-negative emotions that they simply don’t know how to handle? What do they want to accomplish?

You give the gift of yourself when you take the time to make sure they know everything about you, too.

You do it by putting effort into making sure you articulate the confusing parts of yourself to them in a way that they can understand. You do it by telling them what you need from them. You do it by talking about the things you value…and the things you don’t value.

You show up. You engage.
You talk to each other, without reservation or distraction or deceit.
You look at each other.
You laugh together.

You put down the Internet and the phones and the shiny expensive toys. Forget what the commercials say. Diamonds don’t last lifetimes.

Relationships can, but only if you’re willing to put in the real hard work of nurturing them.

Posted in Relationships and Money