Sixteen Candles?
November 5, 2011 7:33 PM   Subscribe

I am very upset with my husband for not taking the initiative with my birthday and need help coming to terms with both what he did and my response to it. Lots of special details inside.

Today is my birthday. I'm 31 and married 5 years. Here's what happened:

It started when I woke up this morning. I am one of those people that wakes up starving and eats breakfast right away. I could never skip the meal. So anyway, I woke up and found that my husband has not gotten any provisions for breakfast and so he needed to run to the grocery store to buy something while I sat here for an hour starving and waiting to eat. I should mention now that we only have one car (but live in the suburbs) and he had the car every single day of this week - which means I don't really have access to things until late at night when he gets home.

So I wake up and wait to eat. I am feeling really tired and shitty because I woke up with an excruciating migraine in the middle of the night that had me awake for hours.

After finally getting to eat - nothing special, just the standard thing we eat every day - I have to run off to German class and I take the car. After German I come home to find a gift bag on our kitchen counter. I open it to find some cheap crappy jewelry inside from Ten Thousand Villages (note: they sell some really nice stuff, and also some cheap crappy stuff - I got the cheap crappy stuff).

I find out, after taking a look at my husband all sweaty and exhausted, that he ended up having to walk 5 miles to the store to buy this shitty jewelry and he ended up texting my best friend to get a ride home. In summation: despite having the car all week and having plenty of time to plan a gift I might like, he left it until today and ended up having to walk to the store.

I came home from German starving, looking forward to a nice birthday lunch with him. Of course, there is still no food in the house nor any plans to obtain food. So we go to the store and buy a frozen pizza and eat that. At this point I am getting pretty upset about the situation.

I was chatting with one of my friends on gchat lamenting that husband made no attempt whatsoever to try to get something thoughtful or even to make sure there was some food in our house, and I ended up going on to the Ten Thousand Villages website to link her to a photo of the jewelry in question. This is when I found out that my husband spent a whopping $32 on my birthday and I got really quite upset.

For his birthday this past April, I got him a $100 gift cert to NewEgg, a geeky iPod accessory, a dress shirt and his favorite type of cake. I further organized an outing with friends that night and we went out for a nice meal beforehand.

So at this point I am lying around alone in my bedroom crying. I confronted him about the last minute-ness of the gift, the cheapness, the lack of any kind of thoughtfulness, etc. Instead of being apologetic, he decides to be the martyr: I WALKED 5 MILES ON YOUR BIRTHDAY SO YOU COULD HAVE A PRESENT type shit. Well congratulations, but you wouldn't have had to walk 5 miles to get me a present if you had just bought one yesterday when you had the car. Or get me a gift card to somewhere and have it delivered to my inbox. Or whatever.

I am really exhausted from all the crying and self-pity (Yes, and I don't care) and being awake all night with a migraine, etc. So I decide to take a 3 hour nap in the afternoon. He proceeds to watch TV during this time instead of trying to right the situation or work on the house or anything like that. The one thing he did do during the time was go out and buy stuff to make dinner, even though I really wanted to go out for dinner and he damn well knew it.

I woke up from my nap to find basically no remedy to the situation, and him still being an unapologetic jerk. I did find out that he made a last ditch effort to try to redeem himself by calling a bunch of my friends and asking them to come over for cake. Note that I have been sobbing in bed all day, am still in sweats, haven't showered at that point and really the last thing I want to do is have a bunch of people in my house last minute to celebrate a birthday that has so far sucked. So I told him to cancel this.

We were supposed to go out to a play tonight, but I was really not feeling it. I have spent the entire day and night basically feeling sorry for myself and crying in my bed, alone. He has spent the entire day and night basically watching TV and not fixing the situation, and arguing with and yelling at me when I complain.

Am I right to be angry? How do I get over it? Tell me anything to cheer me up? :\
posted by corn_bread to Grab Bag (80 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
You need to get some sleep.
posted by Long Way To Go at 7:35 PM on November 5, 2011 [36 favorites]

Migraines suck, I do agree. However, one thing that stuck out at me was:
until late at night when he gets home
when you were referring to the car. How many hours does he spend at work and commuting? I think you & your husband needed to talk long before this, reading the rest of the question/rant.
posted by kellyblah at 7:37 PM on November 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Kelly, we are both working on our PhDs in the sciences. We spend a lot of hours at work.
posted by corn_bread at 7:39 PM on November 5, 2011

You have a right to feel hurt. Angry - maybe not. You have been married five years. What is his track record.
Option A: he was a perfect birthday-remembering husband and he just messed up this year. Forgive him, wash your face and appreciate the friends that are coming over.
Option B: He does this every year. Congratulations - you married a lousy birthday organizer. (Join the crowd, there are lots of them out there!!) He's probably not very good at Valentine's Day or Christmas either. You need to realize that the days just do not have the same meaning to him that they do to you. Assume that you are otherwise in good relationship, the best strategy is a combination of being extremely clear about what you want and repeating to yourself over and over "He is a good man and I love him dearly. I need to cut him some slack if you don't want to ruin our marriage."
posted by metahawk at 7:42 PM on November 5, 2011 [6 favorites]

what have you and your husband done for birthdays in the past? is this so disappointing to you because you've come to expect something else from him on your birthday?
posted by hollisimo at 7:43 PM on November 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

And I am sorry that you are having a terrible, no good day, especially on your birthday where you want to feel pampered and happy and didn't get either. Sleep does sound like a good idea.
posted by metahawk at 7:44 PM on November 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

So it's pretty crappy that he didn't make enough of a big deal for your birthday or get you as an expensive present as you did, but on the other hand you are both in your 30s and maybe birthdays just aren't quite as big a deal as they used to be for him?

I'm also trying to look at it a bit from his perspective -- he got you some jewelry that he thought you might like (but was wrong), he was going to cook you a nice birthday dinner (but you didn't want that), he was going to take you out to a play for your birthday (but you cancelled it), and so then he decided to get your friends over to celebrate (but you told them not to come).

At this point, he's probably wondering what on earth he can do to make it right...

Maybe you guys just need to sit down and talk it out clearly -- why birthdays are a big deal to you, what he needs to do to make you happy, etc.
posted by modernnomad at 7:45 PM on November 5, 2011 [65 favorites]

It sounds to me like he forgot your birthday. Kinda shitty, but it happens; when it does happen, the best thing we can do is to try not to make a big deal about it so that everyone feels shitty about it for a long time.

When he has the car every day of the week until really late at night, does that mean he's working every day until really late at night? Do you work from home? Or not work? Is it possible that he's really stressed out right now from working until really late every night of the week? Is it also possible that money is tight right now prompting a cheaper gift? (Most people I know who live in the suburbs have more than one car unless money is tight. I'm just saying.)

You could have driven yourself to the store this morning for breakfast. You could have taken the initiative to say, "hey, let's go out to lunch after my German class." You could have not spent the day wallowing in sorrow and instead say, "hey, this day is sucking balls, can we reschedule my birthday festivities to next week?"

But instead, you were grumpy at breakfast, which probably made your husband think, "oh holy shit I forgot her birthday what do I do omg omg panic," and prompted the five mile walk to get you a present--any present--so that you wouldn't be even grumpier when you came home from lunch.

And yeah, if someone decides that they're going to be sad and mopey and sleep all day and I'm tired and stressed out, damn straight I'm going to plant myself in front of the TV and chill.

I'm not saying your husband is 100% in the right here, not at all. But you sound like a petulant child. Honestly, I don't know any adult that still expects special birthday treatment, so this all sounds extremely bizarre and whiny to me.

Here's what you do: tell him you're sad and pissed about your birthday, ask him honestly if he forgot and the reasons, and then (whatever he says) say, "it's OK--let's go out and do [a thing] next weekend to celebrate instead." Make firm plans. Take action. Stop expecting everyone else to cater to your whims.

(And if he craps out on the re-birthday next week, then you have every right to be pissy.)
posted by phunniemee at 7:46 PM on November 5, 2011 [57 favorites]

Best answer: Yeah, this sounds kind of shitty, and the migraine doesn't help much. All I can ask you is 'what's the end game here?' He's your husband; your're going to have to forgive him sooner or later, so you might as well make it sooner. Let him know that you were thoroughly disappointed by the lack of attention (on a Saturday, no less), and that you would have appreciated a bigger deal made out of your birthday. After that, leave it alone, and don't bring it up any more. If he's in any way a decent sort of guy (and I suspect he is), he'll make a better effort in the future. That's really your only good play.
posted by Gilbert at 7:47 PM on November 5, 2011 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Oh dear. I would certainly be pissed about such a lack of effort. It does sound like there are underlying issues here. You'll need to talk to find out why he was too tired or preoccupied this week (school stress?) to come up with a better gift and plan. I don't know if this will help, but I'll share that I am also 31, married 5 years and having a rough go at it right now. I'm wondering if the five-year mark isn't a particularly challenging one.
posted by kitcat at 7:49 PM on November 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I'm the one that organized the play, got the tickets for it, etc.

Maybe I do sound like a petulant child, but I also know plenty of adults that expect their spouses to take some initiative for their birthdays. I certainly do for him and most of my friends do so for each other.
posted by corn_bread at 7:51 PM on November 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Your feelings are what they are. If you felt bad, you felt bad. I don't think you have to apologize for those. However, I do think, as well, that this doesn't mean that your husband was necessarily the bad guy. People do have different standards for birthdays, and if he grew up in an environment that underplayed birthdays, it's hard to change that pattern without some serious effort and missteps. I suspect that one thing that makes your husband reluctant is the idea that things are owed for birthdays, or receiving particular types of gifts. A gift that is demanded is not a gift, really, and that kind of pressure does suck the energy for whatever initiative he might have felt to make it right. It doesn't surprise too much that he chose to drag his feet than make it right. He may have felt that it would have received very little appreciation in the end, which, again, makes gift giving no fun.

I think at the end of the day, you probably both need to talk about what you need in your relationship. How do you feel loved? How does he feel loved? You may be a "gifts" person when it comes to feeling affection (see The Five Longe Languages by Chapman). Perhaps he's an acts of service guy, which ruffled his feathers when you critiqued his effort. In any case, I think talking is good. Using a third party too, like a counselor, can be immensely helpful.

It's never fun to have a crappy birthday. But it does sound to me, under all of the mess, that your husband does love you. I can't tell from my perspective, but he might be trying to do it in a way that doesn't click with you, and you just need to talk it out. One question to ask is this: how does your husband like to be loved? Is it time, acts of service, physical affection (like hugs or touch), or words of affirmation? It could be that he's reaching out to you in ways that aren't connecting with you, but are genuine expressions of love for him, and could be modeled his efforts after what he feels that he likes. As an example, I like to hear words of affirmation from my wife, my wife likes spending time together more than anything. But I'm a hermit by nature, too. So, if I'm not careful, I'll try to affirm my wife more than spend quality time connecting, because that's what comes naturally for me. So, it's about two things: 1) learning what the other person needs, and 2) intentionality. Because I guarnatee, if your husband had some really clear guidelines regarding what is meaningful to you (and how you being happy reciprocates to him), he'd try to do those things. If you can identify these things, you'll find a much better rhythm for working out these potential areas disappointment. It's really worth talking these things out, in as much detail as possible.
posted by SpacemanStix at 7:51 PM on November 5, 2011 [7 favorites]

So you're hurt that he didn't think about your upcoming birthday enough to have planned any way to celebrate. You're hurt that he doesn't 'get it'. It's never quid pro quo on celebrations or gifts but nevertheless you had expectations. He blew it, he knows it and like many others, his best defense is the offense, right?
Here's some advice: have a little fun tonight with your friends. And tomorrow or whenever the heat is off, talk to your husband about how it made you feel. He might have acted like a jerk but underneath it all, he's probably not a jerk. Then, help him with some solid ideas about how you'd like your next birthday to be celebrated.
Happy Birthday.
posted by lois1950 at 7:51 PM on November 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I am that husband. I mean, not your specific husband - but what you described is basically what I did to my wife for her birthday last week. Mainly because birthdays (and Easter, and Christmas, and whatever...) aren't that important to me, and I'm still trying to get it through my thick skull how I should behave.

On the one hand - we've got a 5 year old son. Every birthday he gets gifts from annoying relatives that he doesn't like, and he tells us he hates his present - and we keep telling him "It's the thought that counts."

On the other hand, clearly your husband hasn't actually shown much thought...

And if he's anything like me (as he seems to be), his frustration and feelings of failure would only have been growing throughout the day as you refused to go to the play etc. etc. He's having trouble apologising and doing things right, because every new thing he tries falls down flat.

My only suggestions are (a) this doesn't mean he doesn't love you. It means his views of the importance of birthdays as an opportunity for showing love for him is less than it is for you. That's not your fault, he's got to pick up the ball and do better, but (b) you can help him along by helping him - tell him, before your birthday next year, what you expect. That you'd like a nice breakfast. Tell him the sorts of presents you want - getting a present that wasn't a surprise is better than getting a present that sucked.

And hopefully your husband and myself can do better next year.
posted by Jimbob at 7:52 PM on November 5, 2011 [8 favorites]

you have a right to be hurt, especially since you expected your husband to make your day wonderful for you since it's your special day. the problem is that people aren't mind readers regardless of how long we have known them for. it seems like you had different expectations and your husband tried to make your day special but didn't fulfill those expectations that you had. it seems like birthdays matter much more to you and not as much to him.

the best way to get over it is to talk to your husband about this. tell him how you felt, see how he feels, and take tomorrow off from any responsibilities and do anything that you want to do including a play, expensive dinner, buy yourself a gift that you have wanted for a while, etc... honestly, there's nothing wrong with treating yourself out to things that you want.
posted by sincerely-s at 7:52 PM on November 5, 2011

Best answer: I don't know any adult that still expects special birthday treatment

Well, I'll admit that I sure do. From one person: my husband.
posted by kitcat at 7:53 PM on November 5, 2011 [20 favorites]

I come home to find a gift bag on our kitchen counter / I got the cheap crappy stuff

He walked 5 miles to the store / despite having the car all week... he left it until today

I decide to take a 3 hour nap / He proceeds to watch TV during this time instead of trying to right the situation / The one thing he did do during the time was go out and buy stuff to make dinner

I woke up from my nap to find basically no remedy / I did find out that he call[ed] a bunch of my friends and asking them to come over for cake.

We were supposed to go out to a play tonight / I was really not feeling it. I have spent the entire day and night basically feeling sorry for myself.

I'm not saying this sounds like the most mind-blowing birthday ever. I will say that it seems like you've found ways to negate every single thing he actually did do for your birthday.
posted by the jam at 7:54 PM on November 5, 2011 [91 favorites]

He did some things on your birthday, but they weren't good enough for you. He tried to compensate for that, and you got mad at him for that, too.

Do all your birthdays go like this? Because if they do, it's not a big surprise that he's stopped trying. In the face of that kind of pressure and disapproval, I'd stop trying, too.

Or was it just this birthday where everything sucked because you were sick and tired for reasons that had nothing to do with your birthday? In that case, get some sleep and decide if you're still pissed off tomorrow.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:54 PM on November 5, 2011 [19 favorites]

Best answer: So, I think I can give you my opinion on why he's being an unapologetic jerk. You are feeling lousy, you woke up feeling bad and the day just went downhill from there. He has been scrambling since the morning, because he's doing everything he can think of to fix it. And it's not working, so he's getting frustrated and upset, because everything he is doing is just making things worse. He doesn't realize you are working through the upset. Sometimes you just have to wallow in it a little to get through it.

Unlike other posters, I think you have the right to be upset. It appears he forgot about your birthday (although hopefully that's the last time it happenes). It's not so much "oh my birthday is such a special day, I'm so special I deserve puppies and kittens and rainbows", it's that you put thought and effort into remembering and celebrating his birthday. And I don't think it's the fact it's crappy jewelery, it's that it was last minute and so obviously a panicky reaction.

What do you do? Give yourself a little more time to be upset (you even have an extra hour for it tonight) and then blow your nose, get some sleep, take a shower, and get over it.

When you have calmed down, sit down with him and have a talk about expectations. If holidays and birthdays are this important to you, you have to explain that to him. Also, it sounds like the household chores are not really laid out very clearly. Who is in charge of stocking groceries? Are there meal plans? Is there a back up system when schedules get out of whack?

You both need to figure out a more organized way to live, especially if both work loads are heavy.
posted by lootie777 at 7:57 PM on November 5, 2011 [12 favorites]

I'm the one that organized the play, got the tickets for it, etc.

that you chose to spotlight how awesome you are while still backhanding your spouse makes me wonder if this is about something else. Are things ok in the marriage?

Otherwise, you're coming off as wanting to vent and throw the hubby under the bus. That doesn't sound good for the relationship.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:59 PM on November 5, 2011 [18 favorites]

I want to let you know that this indeed has been a sucky birthday for you and I'm sorry for that.

There are a few things I noticed:

1. Regarding breakfast . . . I almost suspect that you knew it would be a bust. I wonder if the night before you noticed that there was no food in the house. If you were so starving, why the heck didn't you either go out to eat or fix yourself some toast or something? Why are you waiting around for him to make your birthday fabulous? Y'know, you can be nice to yourself and make your birthday fantastic.

2. What is his track record for previous birthdays/holidays?

3. He did try to make it better by having a get-together. Even though it was a bad idea at that point, he did make an effort, he did try to fix it.

4. You wanted to go out to eat, but clearly you didn't want to do much of anything at that point (canceled the get-together, didn't want to go to the play) and he instead made you dinner at home. If he hadn't and instead went ahead with going out to eat would you have griped about that, saying that you'd been in bed all day, didn't feel well and going out was a bad idea (similar to the play)?

5. As adults, we will have birthdays that are practically non-existent, poorly planned (if planned at all) or altogether ignored due to adult-type things, like crazy work schedules, children, other life stresses. Welcome! You just had one of these. It may not be the last. But you can minimize it happening again by doing this simple thing: REMIND HIM. Remind him like the week before. I know it sucks to have to do it, but it's the best thing. Remind him that "hey! my birthday is in a week. don't forget to get me lots of presents! I really want a fruit salad for my birthday breakfast and let's go out to eat that night. Need any ideas for gifts?" Don't give him the chance to fail.
posted by Sassyfras at 7:59 PM on November 5, 2011 [25 favorites]

Best answer: You know, I used to be married to that guy. And it never failed to amaze me (and hurt my feelings). Because it's not like having a birthday every year was a SURPRISE. And it's not like he didn't know it was important to me - he knew that from when we were dating. And yet he managed to ruin every single birthday while we were married save one. Last minute or nonexistent presents, blowing off traditions, you name it.

And all I can tell you is that you can do everything you're supposed to, accept that it's not important to him, appreciate what he does do, remind him and be clear and not resentful for having to tell him exactly what you'd like... but expecting someone else to change is a losing battle. I ended up basically giving up caring about my birthday. Win for him, sure, he didn't have to do shit anymore. But you know, it's a loss for me, because it could have been a source of joy and fun, and that's gone. And I quit making a special effort for his birthday too, because it made me too resentful, and that was sad too, for the same reasons.
posted by lemniskate at 8:03 PM on November 5, 2011 [12 favorites]

I would suggest that in future years, if your birthday is important to you, make a huge deal out of it for the two weeks or so prior, saying things like, "Guess what!! my birthday is in two weeks!!!!" etc. This does a pretty good job of ramping up general household excitement about birthdays. In my experience.
posted by something something at 8:03 PM on November 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: i just thought i'd share this story:
my dad and mom have been married for thirty years and ever since i can remember, my dad has given my mom flowers and a card with money for holidays. he doesn't make reservations to a fancy restaurant because he doesn't know how to do it, so my siblings make the reservations for my parents. if it wasn't for my siblings, then my parents would probably just grab pizza and drink wine, but each year my siblings make the reservations because they want my parents to have a great night. and, each year my dad gives my mom that exact same gift.

my point is: some people don't know what kind of gifts to give but it doesn't mean that they don't try to express their love and appreciation for you in other ways. if your husband is the type that shows love and appreciation on other days, then that's great. but, if you need that love and appreciation as expressed through better gifts, better meals, and different quality time then tell him that you want your birthday to be different; let him know what upset you and why it upset you. as for the rest of tonight, there isn't too much that you can do except read our anecdotes and advice and sleep for the rest of the night. but, you have to make tomorrow a true celebration for yourself by spending the day alone, with your husband, or with a few friends. make it a corn_bread birthday extravaganza by having a delicious breakfast at a breakfast place in town, go shopping or to the spa, go home for a bit, go to a high end restaurant and then go see a movie or play. you can't change how things played out today, but you can make tomorrow much, much better!
posted by sincerely-s at 8:09 PM on November 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Over time I've realized that if I want to have a good birthday, I need to warn my boyfriend in advance. I have set up a calendar entry on his google calendar that reminds him two weeks ahead, one week ahead and one day ahead.

I started doing this when a friend got extremely upset that her boyfriend didn't do Valentine's Day right - she had specific expectations and he didn't meet them. I asked her if she'd told him about these expectations or at least hinted at them and she hadn't. At that point, I sort of resolved to just give boyfriends a list of the kind of things expected and ask them what they expected for birthdays and holidays. It is sort of one of those conversations that you only need to have once and then just employ the google calendar technique.

Yes, your guy screwed up. But at this point, just give it up for a pointless crappy birthday and figure out how to not have it happen again. Maybe give him a rain check and ask him to redo it next weekend.

You know how sometimes you have one of those days in lab where nothing is going right and you should just give the hell up and go home and read papers so you don't explode anything or drop something expensive on the ground? This is that birthday. Get in bed, watch self indulgent tv/read a book, go to sleep.

(Happy Birthday, and here's hoping that the rest of the year is way more awesome than today)
posted by sciencegeek at 8:12 PM on November 5, 2011 [12 favorites]

corn-bread, can you tell us what he's done for your birthday in the past? Has he always had a lackadaisical approach?
posted by TryTheTilapia at 8:12 PM on November 5, 2011

corn_bread, I think you're still physically and emotionally vulnerable, which is why I think people are suggesting getting a bit of sleep and thinking about this with a clearer head. I definitely think you have a right to be upset, but I do think it's important to know if he is ALWAYS like this on your birthday. Is he?

I think it's reasonable to wait a few days and then have a discussion with him about what your expectations are for your birthday. I don't think you're asking for a lot, but I don't want you obsessing about this and losing more sleep.
posted by sweetkid at 8:14 PM on November 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

(oh, and no, you shouldn't HAVE to remind him how to do it, but sometimes it just makes it easier)
posted by sciencegeek at 8:14 PM on November 5, 2011

I think you need to celebrate your birthday next Saturday, and I think you should help your husband in planning what would be the most fun and meaningful for you.
posted by Specklet at 8:14 PM on November 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

I guess I'm just confused why it was specifically his job to keep food in the kitchen- you eat there, too, didn't you see the day before you were out of food? Unless that's always his chore?
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:15 PM on November 5, 2011 [6 favorites]

Response by poster: No, he has usually been really great in the past like going way out of his way to make birthdays amazing. My two favorite things he's done was one year when he made me a hand bound book listing all of the things he loved about me, and another year when I came home to find he made me this awesome self-watering rack system for my orchids. I think this is why I feel so perplexed.
posted by corn_bread at 8:15 PM on November 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Everyone else has covered pretty much anything I might have said about resolving the birthday issue, so I'd just like to make a general comment about something that stood out for me — the lack of food in the house, and the grocery shopping trips that seem to involve buying for one meal at a time. If this is a regular thing and not a one-off situation, perhaps you and your husband need to work on instituting regular shopping trips during which food is bought for whatever number of meals there'll be until the next one. It can't be doing your marriage or your temper or your general level of comfort and convenience (and fuel bills) any favours if every meal involves a hungry wait and blame and resentment and special trips to the grocery store.
posted by orange swan at 8:18 PM on November 5, 2011 [17 favorites]

Best answer: I read the part where she had a really bad migraine, did other people miss it? Operating kitchen equipment, much less driving a car was probably out of the question.

And frankly, your husband is an adult. You shouldn't have to give reminders constantly leading up to an important event. A talk about what you do expect and asking him how he thinks things could improve should be sufficient. I would also set up reminders in his calendar, because that's a great way to think about it once, but not have to constantly talk about it.
posted by lootie777 at 8:19 PM on November 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: My two favorite things he's done was one year when he made me a hand bound book listing all of the things he loved about me, and another year when I came home to find he made me this awesome self-watering rack system for my orchids. I think this is why I feel so perplexed.

See for me it's a systemic thing. I mostly always screw things up. I need serious husband training.

But the fact that you've said that he has done these things in the past means that, this year, something was just going on for him that distracted him. Less perplexing, more deserving of forgiveness, if you ask me.
posted by Jimbob at 8:19 PM on November 5, 2011 [3 favorites]

Ok, look, I don't usually wade into threads with my elbows out like this, but holy shit.

I think this is mostly you having woken up on the wrong side of the bed this morning. It sounds like he's bent over backwards for you all day, and you're not even willing to acknowledge that he's made the effort.

Let me put it in perspective for you. My birthday falls on Christmas Day. No-one, except my immediate family, has ever remembered my birthday, much less gotten me a present. I have never HAD A FUCKING BIRTHDAY PARTY because my birthday falls when it does.

That my husband even remembers to say "happy birthday", much less get me a present, is a miracle.

I really think you're overreacting.
posted by LN at 8:20 PM on November 5, 2011 [29 favorites]

I agree with others who say you need to take a more active approach in detailing what you want from your husband on your birthday, or any other special day. You're not "wrong" to want to be treated well (as some commenters seem to be implying) but you can't expect him to read your mind.

For example, when you woke up and found there was no food in the house and your husband had to go out to buy provisions, you sat around for an hour, stewing with anger and waiting for him to get home and then felt disappointed because he got the usual meal. That is a pretty passive thing to do.

Here are some more active things you could have done:

-Suggest the two of you drive together to Brunch Restaurant for a decadent meal that you wouldn't normally have.

-Specifically ask husband to pick up the ingredients for Special Breakfast (different than the usual one)

-Go with your husband to the grocery store and help him buy food for the day.

I get the feeling that you're thinking, "But I shouldn't have to do XYZ on my birthday!" and it's true, you don't HAVE to...

...but really, it's just quality time with your husband and it would ensure that you had a better time. Also, it shows him what he needs to do to make a fun day for you.
posted by cranberrymonger at 8:21 PM on November 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

that expect their spouses to take some initiative for their birthdays.

Just a note, I think that this is a way of looking at relationships encourages a paradigm where people tend to avoid rather than engage. Case in point: I enjoy buying flowers for my wife because I think it will make her eyes light up, not because I have some duty to "take some initiative." If that was the context within which our relationship worked, it would dry up fast, and I'd have no joy in doing the things for my wife because it would be another job, not something that is life-giving in our relationship to both partners. I do think that you need a way of talking about this that re frames birthdays and gift-giving away from "expectations for initiative," because I'd bet a lot of money that if this is how you see it, and he knows it, it's a cause for much feet-dragging over the whole thing. Honestly, just typing that made my stomach clench up a bit, thinking about my wife feeling that way. You can't control other people's affections. Obviously, you need what you need in your relationship, but you need to come to a place that your husband freely gives it to you out of love, not obligation. If he can do that for you, I think that you'd find it a more valuable thing, anyway.
posted by SpacemanStix at 8:23 PM on November 5, 2011 [10 favorites]

I am having a hard time relating to your anger as I do not make a big deal about my birthday. A card and a chance to sleep late or not clean the dishes would be present enough for me. Reading your reaction that you wrote here, I can only conclude one of two things. Either there is a much bigger underlying issue that was exasperated by your lack of sleep and migraine or you are some sort of princess who needs the world to revolve around you. I doubt it is the princess thing.

The dude has performed to expectations consistently in the past. He screwed up this time, but in is inept way, he walked 5 miles to try to fix it. If you are the type to measure gifts based on cost, then this is an epic fail compared to what you gave him. If you base it on effort and thought, consider that he felt badly and walked 5 miles to try to square it away.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:23 PM on November 5, 2011 [3 favorites]

Sorry, I forgot about the migraine part... so obviously my suggestions wouldn't actually be feasible if you're feeling shitty, but I still think you should consider them as an illustration of passive vs. active behaviour.
posted by cranberrymonger at 8:24 PM on November 5, 2011

Mod note: few comments removed - name calling not okay. Do better. Thank you.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:27 PM on November 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

And frankly, your husband is an adult. You shouldn't have to give reminders constantly leading up to an important event. A talk about what you do expect and asking him how he thinks things could improve should be sufficient. I would also set up reminders in his calendar, because that's a great way to think about it once, but not have to constantly talk about it.

Just want to second this, I HATE the attitude that guys are just silly lunkheads who can't remember important things and the ever patient women in their lives must cluck and remind them. It's just a societal thing that some people ( men and women) have absorbed as psychological gender differences.

Have a talk with him once you're feeling better. Point out that all's gone well in the past on your bday and you appreciate that. And yes, make better plans for food in your house. Do you have grocery delivery you can plan?
posted by sweetkid at 8:30 PM on November 5, 2011 [6 favorites]

Best answer: I went through a similar situation this year. My husband - previously amazing with birthdays - dropped the ball on mine completely. I was really, really hurt and I pouted all day long. I wish I hadn't.

What was really going with me is that I was depressed, completely burned out from a grueling work schedule and had put an exaggerated amount of weight on my birthday because I needed something, anything, to make me happy and pull me out of the dark exhaustion I was feeling 24/7.

When the birthday didn't come through, I cracked. It wasn't his fault. He didn't know how much I desperately needed him to do something great for my birthday because I hadn't told him. He knew I was stressed, but he didn't know how terrible I felt because I hadn't realized how terrible I felt until I exploded about my birthday.

In fact, I'll be honest - I didn't even realize how much I'd overreacted about my own birthday until I read your post right now. I could've written it, and it made me sad because I totally get you, and I feel for you, how you wanted your birthday to be amazing, how you NEEDED something special, and how horrible and draining it felt to seemingly be forgotten. But, with some distance, I can also see my husband's side. My husband had no idea. He just didn't. And when I flipped out, he did everything he could to fix it, but it just wasn't good enough for me, and I hurt for him, too, how desperate he must've felt when he realized the blunder and couldn't do anything in the world to fix it.

We've had some external family issues that have made me really see the big picture lately, and I feel it's just so important to be careful with each other. The picture is big and the marriage and life (you hope) is long. It sounds like you both need a really good talk about your needs and expectations about things. And I hope you manage to get a good birthday this year, even if it's not on the day of.
posted by Laura Macbeth at 8:30 PM on November 5, 2011 [63 favorites]

Response by poster: Laura, thank you so much for your answer.
posted by corn_bread at 8:32 PM on November 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Based on what you've written and slowly revealed, he's a great guy who didn't do so great this year and now you want to crucify him.

His underwelling performance and your reaction along with the lack of food in the house (what the hell) may mean y'all are under a lot a stress. Get some sleep and talk about it in the morning.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:34 PM on November 5, 2011 [8 favorites]

Ever since I got my first PDA, I went from Family's Worst Birthday Rememberer to Family's Best. Some of us need a thing beeping a week before a birthday to remember it. I think you qualify for a Birthday-in-lieu because of the migraine.
posted by scruss at 8:36 PM on November 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Okay, good. That's really helpful to know about your husband. That, to me, says that under normal circumstances, he's a peach who really does show you the appreciation you deserve. It also says there's something external at work on both of you right now. I'm going to guess its the PhD program. He's forgetting shit he used to be really on top of; you're getting migraines and feeling really vulnerable. You're both under too much pressure. It sounds to me, too, like you were counting on the birthday treats to make you feel less pressured and better about things, and that didn't happen.

For the time being, it's best if you take some aspirin, have a cup of tea, put on your Ipod and just calm down. Today is done, it was a wash, it's over and neither or you can do anything about it now.

Tomorrow, when you wake up, make up your mind about whether or not you want to talk more about this. You're going to be upset and so is he, but really, you have got to decide whether or not you want to talk through the events of the birthday, or what it is in your lives right now that's making you take each other for granted. Honestly, I think you should roll over and hug your husband first thing, ask him to meet you in the kitchen for breakfast, and then the two of you should have a do-over of the whole day. Get food in your stomach and coffee in your system and then try to make a plan for a better birthday in a couple of days. Go for a walk. Go to a movie. Go out to dinner.

He fucked up. He knows it. But there's nothing to be gained now by assuming something that's not true - that he doesn't love you or care about your birthday; we know that's not true because of the incredibly sweet thing he did for your birthday last year and other years. Tomorrow, when your migraine is gone and he's had a little distance from all this, both of you will be able to rationally talk about why this happened and how to make each other and your relationship a top priority even in the midst of high-stress times.

Good luck and Happy Birthday. Now go to bed.
posted by TryTheTilapia at 8:36 PM on November 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

So . . . I used to make my husband elaborate gifts like handbound books with one poem for every year he'd been alive. But I was in college then and had a lot less stuff on my mind. He's never really been the type to do that sort of thing. These days, we're pretty explicit about what we expect for birthdays, etc. Or, well, I am, because the emotional stakes are higher for me and he really doesn't care about birthdays. So I say things like, "I'd really like you to get me a nice present for my birthday," or whatever, and he does.

I could act all upset about it not being a surprise, but what's the point? He's my bestie and I'd rather keep things happy and functional via open communication than to hold him to cryptic standards.

It sounds like your husband is trying over and over again to make things right: he got you breakfast, he made you dinner, he walked to get you gifts, he tried to invite friends over to cheer you up. You're moving the goalposts further and further away from any sort of resolution.

I wonder if whatever is going on here is really a result of simmering resentment about transportation issues (the car) and household issues (whether you have sufficient groceries and whose job it is to go get them). Maybe you guys need to talk about these things when you calm down, because it sounds like this was sort of a perfect storm of shitty planning--not just on his part, but on yours, too (keeping the household well-stocked with groceries . . . I'm still not sure why that's entirely his responsibility. And I hate driving. And my husband does most of the shopping. But if we run out of breakfast food, I don't hate him forever for it.)

Note that I have been sobbing in bed all day, am still in sweats, haven't showered at that point and really the last thing I want to do is have a bunch of people in my house last minute to celebrate a birthday that has so far sucked. So I told him to cancel this.

I honestly think the best thing to do right now would be to go take a nice bath, have a glass of wine if your headache will let you, and get some sleep. Whole new day tomorrow.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:38 PM on November 5, 2011 [7 favorites]

Best answer: I actually have a story very similar to Laura's, and I'm glad she chose to share hers.
Here's mine:

My birthday is in July, and this past summer I was in the dark middle of my thesis project, and I crammed my whole MA into a single year, against the university's guidelines [because I am impatient and often arrogant]. In the past, my main squeeze has made a real thing out of making me feel super special, all the time, not just on birthdays, but especially on birthdays, and this year I was so scatter shot and stressed and busy and depressed, and I wanted him to take me away from it for a few hours, for one day.

When the alarm went off I jumped out of bed and showered, and then he kept hitting snooze, over and over, and slept in for a few hours, and it was childish and borderline pathetic but I didn't wake him up, even though we'd already decided to go out for dim sum to start "my special day" because I wanted him to be excited to get up and go, I didn't want to nag him, etc. etc. etc. I wanted a break form being a responsible, load bearing adult, in no small part because I was so terribly overextended and generally exhausted and stressed the fuck out. He slept past the time our fave place stops serving dim sum, and I sat on the couch and cried and cried and cried.

In his defense, I usually am the one who gets him out of bed before 1pm on the weekends, and we'd had a weird late night, and he was going through a bigish work thing that week, but I was so upset that he couldn't give me what I needed right then, couldn't make me feel taken care of, and after a few days I realized I wasn't taking care of myself, or of him, either, and we made it up to each other.

We did this by planning a weekly non-negotiable date night. Which is not the same as a birthday, but has been really awesome for both of us. By having a standing time where we specifically celebrate each other with a nice(ish) bottle of wine, or a fancy dinner, or going to a movie followed by a walk, and a a couple hours of talking/cuddling, we are both forced to set a boundary against work and other things that can encroach on our ability to be good people to each other. It also means there's some time to talk about 'us' stuff without me feeling naggy, or him feeling nagged, because it's folded into other, more positive stuff. Like, for example, making out.

This might not be of value to you in terms of what can make you feel A-okay about today, but I hope it might help you move forward from what seems like a really shitty day.

Also, I find that sometimes letting good quality chocolate melt in my mouth helps with a migraine. Something about the positive endorphins, sugar, and minor amounts of caffeine? For some reason it only helps when I let a square melt, not when I chew normally.
posted by emilycardigan at 9:03 PM on November 5, 2011 [7 favorites]

It's like a baby or a toddler who cries and wants to be held, but doesn't get held, so keeps crying, and still doesn't get held. Finally the adult tries to hold the child, make soothing noises and tries to tickle it out of its misery. But the holding happens it's too late and the child arches its back, screams louder, hits out and cannot be consoled. I'm reading your question in those terms. I get it, I've been there on my birthday several times over the years. No one can tell you all the logical things that are true here, because it's not going to soothe you and make the screaming sadness stop. Your little child needs holding and gentle shushing/rocking, needs to hear that tomorrow is going to be a better day, that you are loved, and that this will pass. On a basic level, the tantrum is embarrassing - I get why you don't want to have to deal with friends now that the 'tantrum' has gone on this long. [No judgment from me, seriously, I get it. Have experience!]

Maybe ask your husband to make your bed up with clean, crisp sheets, get out your pajamas while you have a bath. When you get out of the bath, ask him to rub your feet or pat you gently to sleep. Or you could ask him to put on your favourite TV show [my husband puts on the 5th episode of Pride n Prejudice series for me when I'm in one of these moods] and wraps me in a big blanket with a hot wheat pack. He can bring you a tea and just hold you, the way he might soothe a sad child. There is no point arguing the toss over the day, arguing isn't going to make you come to different conclusions about your day at this stage. You need to feel petted, safe, cared for on a deeper level than trinkets and entertainment stunts could ever provide.

In the long journey of negotiating holidays/birthdays with my partner, I've learnt that what I most want is to feel safe, loved, warm and special in the simplest way - a long, intimate, holding. Ask for that and see if you can be made to feel a bit better?

[Happy Birthday xx]
posted by honey-barbara at 9:20 PM on November 5, 2011 [18 favorites]

Happy birthday, corn_bread!

I have to say I was rather judgey immediately after reading your post. Then I read through the comments. Everyone has a valid point of view, for starters, but so do you. Do I think you overreacted? Yes. But migraines and lack of sleep and expectations due to past experience do these things to everyone (not often, one hopes). Go to bed, then start over tomorrow!

I think it's fair to say that most folks will never have a spouse who makes such cool and thoughtful things as yours does, even if it isn't often. Hopefully tomorrow you can let go of your tightly-held disappointment, and you'll feel better, and you can remember and act upon all that good stuff that is still there.

Now I must go look at the 5th episode of Pride n Prejudice
posted by Glinn at 9:45 PM on November 5, 2011

Best answer: I'm also the sort of person who likes to have something special done for my birthday. I'm the same age as you and I definitely haven't outgrown it. I think life is too short not to make the most of special days whenever you get the chance. Back many years ago I noticed there was this friend of mine and our mutual friends would always make a big deal of her birthday. They would come up with some wild thing to really knock her socks off, and she loved it. I was jealous - my first thought was that they just liked her better than they liked me. But that wasn't it, no one else in the friend group got the same treatment. So I studied her behavior and I realized that she set the expectation prior to her birthday - she made sure everyone knew it was coming and that she wanted 'a big surprise', and our friends would rise to the occasion. Of course, we didn't have much else to do, we were in college at the time.

As a scientist like you, I tried a few experiments like this - asking for surprises. But I realized that some people are naturally just creative and like giving other people gifts and surprises, and other people, probably most people, struggle a lot with it (and it's definitely also a function of how much time and stress the other person has). The less specific you are about what you want, the more leeway there is that you could be disappointed with what you get. Ever since then, I've been planning my own birthday party. Every year I think of something awesome I want to do and invite all my favorite people. I never get disappointed this way. Yes, it would be great if someone took the initiative to always make my birthday awesome for me, but I think if you're the kind of person who gets really crushed over poor gift-giving and special-day-making (and I totally am like this too, this issue has sparked a few of my biggest arguments with my husband) it's not worth taking the risk of just hoping something amazing will happen on its own.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 9:46 PM on November 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think you're overreacting and you shouldn't base the value of your relationship on things and holidays. Love lives in the small things in between. I guess if birthdays are still really important to you then, to echo much of the above, you need to have a more lengthy conversation with your husband about your expectations. If I were in my 30's, married and working toward my PhD, I would probably not expect a blow-out day and a $100+ gift from my spouse. People get busy, tired, and eventually it's just sort of a day and maybe you want a little something special, but it also sounds like he's genuinely trying. So I tend to be sympathetic with your husband here, but like others have said, this is really dependent on expectations and communication. Do I think you have a right to be angry? No, not really. Disappointed maybe, but again that's something you need to have a rational conversation about with your husband and not "omg you suck for not buying me x and doing y."

I really highly advise against doing the keeping score game, in this case "he spent $32 on me and I spent $100+ on him..." That's a dangerous game, a terrible way to put a value on your worth to one another, and will lead to nothing but really petty fights and an unhappy relationship.
posted by Lutoslawski at 9:47 PM on November 5, 2011 [10 favorites]

Did I read this right? Did you two have to go to the store three times today to get food to eat? Once for each meal? No wonder you're stressed out, you have no food in the house. Go grocery shopping.
posted by crankylex at 10:59 PM on November 5, 2011 [27 favorites]

Best answer: Kelly, we are both working on our PhDs in the sciences. We spend a lot of hours at work.

I've been on reduced birthday duty for the last five years while I did my biochem PhD. In the final year my husband's birthday basically didn't exist, and even mine was a fleeting few minutes with cake, because I was so busy writing. Trying to arrange extra stuff at home when you're so flat out being super-organised and hard working til all hours of the day and night at work is just too hard. Going out and seeing friends was totally off the table in the last two years, I did not have any extra anything left over after work. I can't even imagine how it would have been if we were both studying!

It sounds like you guys need to talk about how to keep a sane homelife amongst the hell that is a science PhD because your lack of sleep and the long hours you're both doing is probably the underlying problem here. I also had more migraines in the last year and the hangover ruins any day so I am totally sympathetic. You really deserve a hug right now. But there also seems to be a lack of thought and organisation overall, he should have been able to buy enough food for the whole weekend the first time he went to the store for example. But when you're so overwhelmed with work (and a PhD really takes over your entire life!) it's so hard to keep that other stuff working properly, and it sounds like your husband is starting to run out of steam.

Get some sleep now, try to spend some nice time just hanging out tomorrow (I agree with Gilbert that you're going to forgive him anyway so might as well do it now), relax a bit. Then have a calm, non-accusatory conversation about what strategies you guys can employ to keep things going while you get through these degrees. If you're both close to the end it may be that you just decide to let some things slide, e.g. my lack of birthday giving in my last year, or maybe you need to work a little less and be together a little more. Sometimes even just acknowledging that it's hard but you're both in it together makes a huge difference. Either way, I'm betting there is more going on here than just a bad birthday, or at least there's starting to be, and if you don't get on top of it you're both going to burn out.

FWIW this is my first year out of the PhD and this year I took him to London for the weekend for his birthday (we live in Ireland). It was totally worth the wait.
posted by shelleycat at 1:43 AM on November 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Strange to see this post – I just came back from a walk in the park where I chatted to the 75-year old lady who seems to spend most of her day-light hours there, talking to strangers (I’m one of her regulars). She says it’s doctor’s orders, but really, she is utterly lonely and gets most of her face-to-face interactions either in doctors’ practices or from strangers in the park – no family, and all of her friends are much less limber than her and live – by the standards of relatively disabled, fairly old people – pretty far away. Today she was quite cheery – it had been her birthday last week, and all her friends had visited with home-backed goodies and the odd self-knitted present. She went on and on about who said what and who did what (they actually spent some time eyeing up “young” men of up to 60 in the park), and reminiscing about past birthdays in their group. Including the one she had 2, or was it 3 or even 5 years ago, she couldn’t quite remember, when no-one came – they were all sick, what with late autumn bugs and all that. And as I was walking home I felt myself welling up on behalf of this lady’s lonely birthday, with no-one there to make her feel special. And I was happy for her that she had a good one this year – happy as though this made the world a marginally better place.

Being an adult can be so hard at times that I still find myself reeling from it, and I’ve had 20 years of practice. I do think that we are a furiously resilient species to be able to deal with the smaller and greater hardships we encounter on our way. So I don’t understand the special-birthday bashing. I think everybody deserves to feel like a princess or a prince once in a blue moon – that very infrequent and temporary feeling can charge your batteries for months if not years. This is not at all at odds with being an adult, or “mature” – adulthood does not mean you don’t need support, or that you have to become cynical about the world or about yourself and your value, nor does it mean that you have to forego playfulness and enjoyment and joy. Or feeling special and valuable every now and again. This is one of the mutual perks of having a lover/partner, isn’t it? You have a special someone who you are happy to go home to at the end of the day, someone you give special attention and support to when they are sick, when they have problems, when they have a down day, or even just so, etc. Saying this, on the whole, that special someone is also special in that we tend to cut them more slack than we do with other people.

People upthread have covered your husband’s point of view, so I’ll throw out a few things your post made me consider:

1. Migraines. When I was having them regularly, I wasn’t quite human for the duration (and it wasn’t just the pain). After two years of awfulness, my GP prescribed something called Migreleve (in the UK) or some such, which had two kinds of pills – ones to take when you felt it coming, the other ones when they were already under way. This helped immensely – I went from a migraine every week or two to three – four a year. Another thing – if you’re doing your PhD, you might be sitting in front of the computer a lot (mine were frequently computer-triggered). Do you take regular breaks? How is your posture? Do you have good computer-practices on the whole (screen-glare and the like)? Also – for many migraine sufferers, migraines are stress-related. PhDs are inherently stressful (see below), try to minimise stresses in other areas. As others have said above, streamline the grocery shopping. Make sure that you always have a fair amount of food-reserves in the house (lots of pasta, onions keep well, tins of stuff, rice, cereal, whatever) etc. – just take avoidable stressors out of the equation.

2. PhDs. These seem to be up there at the top of the list of things which can make adult life sucky. In the postgrad. college I attended for 5 years, more than 50% of the people had anxiety or depression related issues (my observation, later confirmed by student counselling services estimates – much lower numbers for actual “clients”). I’ve never seen anything like this in any other context outside of academia, not even in groups which on the face of it would have more “reason”. How are your individual stress levels? Is the PhD seeping into each nook and cranny of your lives? Do you have any time when you don’t mull over PhD – related stuff? Any time for fun, for relaxing etc.? Individually or as a couple? Unless you’re on your last leg, I’d strongly recommend it. Maybe even take advantage of your botched birthday to schedule in a weekend away or something like that. In my experience, it is the people who religiously observed their non-PhD time who went through the experience relatively unscathed. Also – looking at it from this angle – is it possible that your partner’s anxiety or stress levels have escalated lately?

3. One of the problems with your birthday traditions could well be that your partner has been TOO GOOD in the past. He is a really hard act to follow – even for himself. What if he has set himself a standard of most amazing husband ever, and then next year he has to be the even more amazing husband ever and the whole thing escalated to the point where he is paralysed cause everything he does now/can think of now is not going to live up the precedents he set and he dealt with it by (subconsciously)just blanking the issue? Or he is too stressed to get creative, and this sort of paralysed him into non-action?

4. Five years or more together lead to couples-traditions – so I can totally see why this is much more meaningful to you than to someone for whom birthday celebrations are not what it takes to make them feel special. Whenever “the way we normally do things” is interrupted, and this creates so much upset, chances are that this in itself is meaningful (hopefully nothing more serious than “Really stressed so I forgot” versus “I’m really stressed, so I really need this right now”). Therefore, I would suggest that anger is not the most fruitful way of dealing with this situation, but rather a good time for stock-taking. Is either or both of you having a much rougher time than you let on? Are you still on the same page relationship-wise? Is something going on that one of you/both of you are not acknowledging? Is he trying to communicate that he has exhausted the “very prepared and on the ball husband” routine and would like things to be kept lighter? Or more spontaneous? Or to change the kind of birthday you celebrate, where, say, common activities predominate to the detriment of awesome gifts? Did something happen that weighs so much on his mind that he has no space for anything else? Are your migraines a new things, and does he know what they are/how to deal with them?

5. I would not lay very much store by the actual presents he ended up getting you – my parents have been married 40 years and my dad still gets my mum crappy presents. Expensive, but crappy. She has an arsenal of cheap-smelling perfumes which he spent tons of money on – for the same money, he could have bought a Channel each time he came home with generic-detergent/insect repellent-scented perfume number n. I hate to generalise, but most men I know simply don’t have the same taste as women.

Oh, and Happy Birthday!
posted by miorita at 4:14 AM on November 6, 2011 [4 favorites]

I am the female version of your husband. I'm usually pretty good about birthday planning, but totally failed this year. I bought crappy gifts the day of (I also didn't have the car, but didn't walk 5 miles, instead I took taxis), and had to wrap them in newspaper, which can sometimes be cute and diy/eco-friendly but it doesn't have the same charm when it's done out of necessity! I cooked one of his favorite meals, something very ordinary but something he enjoys, and for some reason it turned out all wrong--we ate it anyway and watched a movie at home. That was it.

My husband was pretty forgiving, and that made me feel even worse. I know I didn't come through for him, and then recently we celebrated my birthday and he made it amazing. He even referred to the week as my "birthday week". Maybe you could do the same? As for my failure to make his a special day, I just tell myself, next year, next year...
posted by seriousmoonlight at 4:55 AM on November 6, 2011

Response by poster: Shelleycat, we are 4.5 years into the PhDs, with (I hope to god) 1 year left to go. It's funny how once you spend year upon year with no financial security and living with this high level of stress it just starts to be normal to you until something like this happens.

"FWIW this is my first year out of the PhD and this year I took him to London for the weekend for his birthday (we live in Ireland). It was totally worth the wait."

You give me hope! Lately it's hard to see how it is EVER going to get better.
posted by corn_bread at 4:56 AM on November 6, 2011

I think you have gotten a lot of good advice about the birthday thing. I hope you find a way to forgive him and both of you are able to do better in the future.

My comment is more big picture. I think that unless the two of you communicate and cooperate in making your household serve as a place of strength, comfort, and support all year (not just birthdays), you are going to keep having crappy days like this, and there are only so many crappy days that a relationship can sustain.

Grad school can be really brutal. I got migraines all the time in grad school; I probably haven't had even one a year since then. But it doesn't have to be brutalizing for the relationship. There are small, concrete, and relatively easy things you can do immediately to keep the relationship strong, despite the pressures of grad school. (And it's not like those pressures end when you finish your phds -- the life of a junior academic is not easy, nor is it all snuggles and rainbows if you take an industry or government job, plus you guys will be facing the two-body problem.)

This means keeping food in the house, as was suggested above. Maybe that's a shared chore, or maybe one of you just takes it on; that's your choice, and both options work fine. Without this, not only are you adding inefficiency and expense from having to shop all the time and eat out more often, but your home becomes a place you dread rather than feel nurtured in. (And equally, it's about the other small things that make a house or apartment nice to be in, like at least minimal cleaning, having a comfortable place to sit that isn't covered in papers and books, etc.)

It means having "date nights" -- protected, set-aside time for the two of you. Even in the late stages of grad school, that time can be carved out and protected. It can literally be date nights, where you go out for drinks and dinner, or it can be anything that the two of you enjoy doing together. Hiking, bird watching, playing games together, whatever. And look for overlaps in your schedules during the day -- can you set up comforting rituals like meeting for coffee on campus every day? Little things matter, and give you the buffer to sustain the big things.

In grad school was when we got in the habit of having regular relationship check-ins. A few minutes sitting on the couch and asking directly "how are you doing? Is this working for you? What can we do better?" is not so much about addressing the big issues in life as it is about finding and fixing the small problems that can really drag you down, and rewarding the other person for all the things they do right. It's not super useful if all you do is dump on and trash the other person, but if you can manage to keep it channeled into productive things that are capable of being addressed in real time, then it is incredibly helpful to the relationship.
posted by Forktine at 5:20 AM on November 6, 2011 [4 favorites]

Clearly you've gotten a lot of good answers here, but let me throw my two cents in anyway (and it's probably worth even less than that).

I love my husband. I really, truly, madly do.

But holidays, birthdays, etc were never the big deal in his family that they were in mine. And to top all of that off, I had a slew of just truly terrible birthdays for a few years as a late teenager-young adult that left a sour taste in my mouth about it.

For my husband's 30th birthday, I threw him a huge surprise party with a bunch of friends and an amazing cake from a specialty place. It was a lot of fun. I take a lot of satisfaction in having gotten him really good with the surprise.

For my 30th a year later, I got a telephone call at work about which length and size Hiyahiya interchangeable knitting needles I wanted. He had been riding his bike every day and one of the routes took him by the only knitting store in the area that carries these needles. And he knew I wanted him, but he had NO IDEA which ONES I wanted. So he called. Not much of a surprise gift, and the rest of the day was shitty for a lot of other reasons not at all having to do with my husband.

But in his own and often clueless (affectionately meant, darling, in case you read this) way, he did what he could. I am slowly learning that if I want something to happen for a holiday or a birthday, I have to spell it out for him. He's a sweet guy, but he's not a gift giver like I am.

I gave him a pretty awesome gift for our fifth anniversary, something I knew he would love and enjoy. He...well...didn't think to get anything. I was actually okay with this. I got him the gift because I wanted to, not because I was expecting something in return. And when he does get me something, it's all the sweeter. One of my most cherished possessions is a leather necklace with a small metal pendant --- not anything special --- that cost maybe $15. He saw it in a store the day or day after our son was born and thought I would like it. And I love it.

It sounds to me your husband may have been feeling some pressure to put what started off as a crappy day right, and at every turn he failed. But he did his best (and more than my husband would do (love you, babe --- not criticizing!)). I think at this point you should accept the thoughtfulness and see the rest as as one of those crap days that happen to all of us every so often.
posted by zizzle at 5:26 AM on November 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have a Ph.D. Getting one was hard on both of us, like our lives were on hold for years. I can't imagine both of you being in grad school. He walked five miles because he was very sorry or because he's terrified of your tantrums at this point. Although it is a cliche, it can be very hard to get specific presents for women, because many of them involve aesthetic choices. That is why we have the Amazon wish list and grownup conversations about gift ideas. Also, sometimes grad students in the sciences have distinct neurological profiles that lend themselves to this sort of oversight. Does your husband slosh about in the shallow end of the ADHD/Asperger's pool?

Also, read everything John Gottman has written on marriage, and don't post while drunk, on painkillers, extremely upset or after 3:00 a.m.

I can't help but wonder if your reaction is based on broader fears about your marriage.

Finally, this: cute, somewhat true glurge

I know I sound like a sexist a-hole, but I've been up all night with a crying kidney stone, and am violating my own posting guidelines, and perhaps identify with the husband too much.
posted by mecran01 at 5:27 AM on November 6, 2011

Oh, and the birthday you planned for your husband sounds really wonderful, and I am jealous.
posted by mecran01 at 5:28 AM on November 6, 2011

I don't see birthday planning as something that the birthday girl has nothing to do with. You two are in a stressful grad school program. The generous thing for you to do would have been to guide him in what you wanted and expected for a good birthday. Make it easy for him. He doesn't get home until late at night. Instead, you're checking the dollar value of what he got you? Jeez, that's pretty uncharitable of you. A better way to handle it would be to just say "hey why don't we go to this coffee shop for breakfast and then to this cool restaurant that I've been wanting to try for lunch. That will be a GREAT birthday, sweetie." Instead, you're giving him an accusatory glare and absolving yourself from any responsibility for your own happiness, and treating your birthday as a test of his husbandly virtue. I think you dealt with it pretty poorly and you could have salvaged the day pretty easily. Birthdays are not just a day for your spouse to be nice to you, but for you to be nice to each other.
posted by jayder at 5:42 AM on November 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

I understand you have a lot going on and the birthday "disappointments" made for an ultra-crappy day. That said, I think you are more to blame for how crappy it turned out than your husband. It was totally fine to feel some disappointment, but the sobbing and complete unwillingness to allow for a better celebration when your husband tried seems way over the top to me. I am guessing it had more to do with the migraine and other life stresses right now and that is fine...we are all entitled to not behave perfectly all of the time.

But just as your husband is responsible for the "crime" of not putting a lot of forethought into your birthday, you are responsible for the what IMO, is a vast overreaction to his perceived "crime". If it was me, I would apologize to him ASAP.
posted by murrey at 7:29 AM on November 6, 2011 [3 favorites]

Your husband is a bad birthday person- but is he a bad husband?? Or bad regular day person? Probably not. If you are a good and thoughtful pre-planning birthday person (which I think I am!) Then you have to do the planning yourself and just TELL your husband what is happening that day. 'We are eating omlettes at 8:30, the stuff is in the fridge, then we will go to Smiley Patty's for lunch, the art exhibit then you will take me to Expensive Restaurant in evening. Yeah! I can't wait! Smile!'

Let him be a bad birthday person as long as he is regularly a good person and good husband. For some people it's just not their thing.
posted by bquarters at 7:36 AM on November 6, 2011

So, this seems to have been resolved for you, in various ways. It seems to be about managing expectations, in all aspects. Good, covered. And please do sort out your food situation - that sound like a nightmare, and something a handful of crackers and cheese first thing might have helped.

But I am still going to pipe in with one thing: Gifting.

"A gift or a present is the transfer of something without the expectation of receiving something in return...the term gift can refer to anything that makes the other happier or less sad, especially as a favor, including forgiveness and kindness."

If you have an expectation for the quality of the item, or the quality of experience you desire, and he doesn't meet it, well, he's only fulfilling an expectation, not giving you a gift.

"I was chatting with one of my friends on gchat lamenting that husband made no attempt whatsoever to try to get something thoughtful or even to make sure there was some food in our house, and I ended up going on to the Ten Thousand Villages website to link her to a photo of the jewelry in question. This is when I found out that my husband spent a whopping $32 on my birthday and I got really quite upset.

For his birthday this past April, I got him a $100 gift cert to NewEgg, a geeky iPod accessory, a dress shirt and his favorite type of cake. I further organized an outing with friends that night and we went out for a nice meal beforehand."

Don't do this again, and please do apologize to him for this? It's petty, undermining and by linking to the gift, you went out of your way to make him look bad instead of keeping it about your disappointment. That's just mean. Why would you diminish someone you love by exposing him to people you both know this way? I think you are very lucky he's not incredibly angry and resentful about this. And, by comparing your gift to him with his to you, you've made it a standard, and a competition, even if in past years he's been giving great gifts from the heart - and it sounds like what you gave him is not even about him, but about what a good gift-giver you are.

For your next occasion together, why not try The Gift of Nothing?

For the record, mrgood can be a fantastic gift-giver as often as he's tanked - but more importantly, every morning he brings me coffee in my favourite cup. Every night, I make sure his favourite thing, which is a great bed to tuck into, is the best it can be for him. These are the things that get us through the years. A birthday is still only a day.
posted by peagood at 8:36 AM on November 6, 2011 [6 favorites]

1. Why is your husband responsible for your happiness?

2. Take a deep breath, stop ruminating, and do something nice for someone else. This will not matter in six months, in one year, in five years, in ten, unless you decide it has to.
posted by trunk muffins at 8:53 AM on November 6, 2011

Mod note: folks, helpful answers please.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:57 AM on November 6, 2011

Crappy days happen sometimes. It is OK. Especially if you are dealing with a migraine and both of you are living with the crazy amount of stress that is a PhD program. What's impressive is that you are not going through this kind of meltdown every weekend, seriously (this is a big part of why I'm not going to grad school). Forgive your husband and forgive yourself. Apologize for being cranky and not appreciating his efforts, tell him you love him, and request a do-over. Maybe you can have a 31-years-plus-one-week birthday date night or something - tell him what you want specifically (nice dinner out, tickets to a movie, a clean house and well-stocked fridge and freezer, etc.) and work with him to make sure it happens.

Also, if you hate the jewelry, it is OK to exchange it for something that suits you better.
posted by beandip at 11:31 AM on November 6, 2011

Best answer: I just want to say that I totally get what you're saying; and just point out that while different perspectives are useful in some ways, it doesn't help to be told that your feelings are wrong. I find that the majority of people who tend to read ask metafilter / answer questions here seem like analytic scientist types (practical problem solvers, which is good) but for that same reason may not understand core emotional stuff the way others might. hope it isn't getting you down.
posted by wurly at 11:54 AM on November 6, 2011 [3 favorites]

Please don't act like this with him ever again. It totally demeans him and his love for you. My mother acted like this with my dad, and he tried so hard to please her towards the end. Then he unexpectedly passed away. She lives in regret for those times. Don't give yourself reason to regret.
posted by InterestedInKnowing at 12:17 PM on November 6, 2011

Since my previous answer was apparently not "helpful"

Am I right to be angry?

No, you are not. While your husband may have started the chain of events, your reaction made it much worse.

How do I get over it?

By apologizing for your behaviour, hoping (but not requiring) that he apologizes for his, and promising each other that next birthday you'll go somewhere nice and laugh about what happened.
posted by madajb at 12:18 PM on November 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

When I fist answered, I saw things more from your point of view. As the day wore on, I started to see a different perspective - not yours, nor his, but mine. And I realised that I'd be so touched and humbled by someone loving me so much that they jog 5 miles after doing an hour's food-run all in a desperate effort to show me how special I am, even if all they returned with was a tree branch or a pebble! True, he bungled initially, and then he managed to miss the right note throughout the day, but, in my eyes, you have enviable love and devotion just there - almost at medieval knight level.

So I would go to him and tell him that you are sorry about today (yesterday by now?) - sorry for yourself, with your migraine and less than excellent birthday, and sorry for him, cause he forgot and then stressed out and then got a hard time for it and then the whole thing just became kind of awful. Tell him (if this is the case, of course) that you are both having a hard time, and what about making some feel-good time for both of you in lieu of birthday celebration. And plan to do something calming and soothing and amazing together. Go to a spa together for a day, or spend a week-end in a cabin in the woods, o do something that is special for both of you.

It's a shame to let a relationship, or even just a day go sour, when there seems to be so much love there.
posted by miorita at 12:39 PM on November 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

I just want to say that I totally get what you're saying; and just point out that while different perspectives are useful in some ways, it doesn't help to be told that your feelings are wrong.

While I sort of agree with this, I do think that it's not helpful to suggest that feelings, when prompted by thoughts that aren't fair to others, should be treated as unassailable. Often, feelings are triggered by certain ways of thinking, and it's a-okay to ask whether or not the particular thoughts themselves were reasonable or represented an accurate assessment of information. In that sense, feelings themselves might not be wrong, but getting to those feelings might have been by means of a long line of thinking/acting that is in the power of an individual, and those things should always be evaluated as we grow as human beings. And sometimes the answer will be that our thinking and acting, which lead to those feelings, was not appropriate.
posted by SpacemanStix at 12:49 PM on November 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

I agree with miorita here, I'm sorry you had a bad birthday, but if this was a sitcom then we'd all be siding with your husband. It sounds like he tried so hard on the day.

Mine and my wife's birthdays are only 8 days apart, so it'd be really obvious if one birthday was "better" or more presents etc, because of this we have a really clear conversation about what we both want/expect and make budgets and plans, it sounds lame, but saves so much trouble.

This reminds me of so many arguments me and my wife have had over the years, it tends to be resolved by us both admitting that we're both wrong, agreeing with love each other, and starting again.
posted by chrispy108 at 2:05 PM on November 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

It isn't "wrong" to be really bummed and disappointed when your partner doesn't meet a big emotional need you have. To the OP, the way her husband treated her birthday made her feel like he didn't care.
posted by wurly at 5:44 PM on November 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

It sounds like this is not about this one thing on this one day, it's about a background of resentment over perceived slights from the past? I have a family member for whom each birthday and holiday was always a big, big, big deal and if I ever didn't get the perfect card and gift, no matter if I was stressed, or ill, or incredibly busy, she wasn't ever understanding about it and none of the times I'd gotten it right mattered at all. Eventually this meant that birthdays/holidays weren't a happy occasion any more, just some test I had to pass to prove something to a very insecure person. I guess I think making a big deal out of birthdays is for children. I would be incredibly touched if someone walked five miles just to buy me a little present.
posted by citron at 8:03 PM on November 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

It's funny how once you spend year upon year with no financial security...

I think that if you guys are broke, perhaps he feels like it's a bad idea to be spending a lot of money on presents. His previous gifts that you mentioned were handmade, so not expensive either? But you spent a few hundred dollars on his birthday gift this year? That might be another topic in the 'setting expectations' conversation that you two should be having.
posted by jacalata at 11:43 PM on November 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

This is when I found out that my husband spent a whopping $32 on my birthday and I got really quite upset.

An ex of mine gave me a big present one year, but it was all stuff that I didn't particularly need or that was really relevant to me - some of it was just so very not me at all. Your husband walked miles, to a store he knew you would like, to get you something. I think that's worth more than the dollar value of the present. Knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing is a very limiting way to go through your life. And $32 is a lot of money if both of you are broke.

My boyfriend's birthday is in December, right by Christmas, so he doesn't make a big deal out of it at all. In contrast, I have mine in the spring and like to celebrate it - usually with something we can do together with the birthday as an excuse. Is he a 'birthday person'? MrMippy doesn't like me getting him too much for birthday/Christmas, even if I feel that it's unfair to only get one set of presents a year. I've had a couple of really horrible birthdays (one with a nervous breakdown, the other finding out that the job I was starting the next day no longer existed) and it really sucks when you want your special day to be special, but I doubt it was deliberate. I think you should celebrate your half-birthday and make that special, rather than getting cross with each other over this one.

Also, I am a migraine sufferer myself, so I feel your pain, but you don't sound like the most fun person to be around right now which is probably why he's taking a step back and giving you some space.
posted by mippy at 5:02 AM on November 7, 2011

It has been an interesting thread; I'm sorry you had to have such an awful day on what should have been a day to celebrate your how lovable you are. What stood out for me though was that he didn't apologise or acknowledge that wanting to be treated like he loved you was a valid need. Clearly he messed up but by not apologising and offering to rectify the situation how you wanted it fixed he became a martyr, doing unhelpful things and fighting with you. I hope you find a way to talk about your mutual expectations and he makes a sincere effort to make it up to you while also honestly apologising. My own husband's "forgetting" our ten year anniversary (after I had been very specific about what I wanted to happen that day and reminded him one year, one month and one day before) has really damaged our relationship; him forgetting I can forgive but that he has not made any effort to apologise or have a "do over" in the past 16 months speaks volumes to what a priority I am in his life. And that is a very sad place to be in a marriage.
posted by saucysault at 10:40 AM on November 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

The fact that you are in a relationship where the car was required three separate times, to take trips to the store to acquire three separate meals, in a single day, tells me that neither of you thinks much further than about ten minutes into the future and perhaps that's something the two of you need to start working on as it's quite symptomatic of a much larger problem in your relationship.

(You sat around starving for an hour because there was nothing to eat? Literally nothing to eat anywhere in the entire house? Really?)
posted by tumid dahlia at 3:08 PM on November 7, 2011 [7 favorites]

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