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Hax: Birthdays offer window into state of a relationship

Carolyn Hax
| Sunday, November 2, 2014 9:00 p.m

Adapted from a recent online discussion:

Dear Carolyn:

My boyfriend puts a lot of emphasis on his birthday and he likes to celebrate it for the entire weekend. On his last birthday, I booked a weekend away and planned a couple of outings, which he enjoyed and posted on Facebook to show all his friends what a wonderful time he was having.

My birthday is in less than two weeks. Yesterday, I asked him if he was planning anything, and he said, “No, not really.” When I reminded him about what I nice birthday weekend I had given him, he said, “Well, what do you want to do?”

I’m a little irritated that he’s putting so little effort into my birthday — he didn’t used to be this way. I’m telling myself to just tell him what I want, and move on, but I have to confess I have hurt feelings about this. Advice?

— Birthday

“He didn’t used to be this way.”

OK. What else is going on? The context here is everything, because it could just be that he got the memo a few months before you did that the courtship mode has given way to old-sneaker mode, and fussing less over his next birthday would set the cosmos back into balance.

Or, it could be that your birthday is just the messenger, alerting you to the fact that your boyfriend has essentially checked out of the relationship. Or, it could be that your boyfriend is a taker who temporarily stepped out of that mode to reel you in, and, having succeeded, is showing his true self: “I expect you to produce a parade and confetti for my birthday, and for your birthday, you’ll get nothing and like it.”

Or, he could be surprising you. Or, it could be something else.

Birthdays are superficial, but what they say about a person rarely is. Please be patient for and open to what this situation is telling you, because only the whole will make sense.

Dear Carolyn:

Husband bought an extravagant gift for me. It is lovely. He made sure I saw the receipt. He knows how I feel about spending that kind of money (a lot, a mortgage payment).

He’s really proud of himself that he found something I would like. And I do. But all I see is that money we could use for so many other things. How on earth do we work through this? How do I get mad at him for a birthday gift?

— Too Expensive

You can get mad easily, if the gift was an act of defiance. The receipt-showing says that’s possible.

You can get mad peevishly, if the gift was a seizing of the day. “We’re OK,” he might be saying. “Let go.” His excitement says that’s possible.

You can also be mad that he means well but you can’t afford it and you’re tired of always having to be the adult.

So, working through this can mean anything from letting go enough to love the gift (and the man) to finding a good marriage-and-money seminar — or marriage counselor — stat. The state of your marriage is the state of this gift.

Email Carolyn Hax at tellme@washpost.com.

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