“About Valentine’s Day ...” you say. Your wife will stop and give you her undivided attention. “What about it?” she’ll ask. “Should I set the evening aside? The day aside? Do you need to know my ring size? Dress size? Color preference?”
“Your gift is going to be ... a little ....” Drag it out, man. Make a face, like you’ve found forgotten cheese. Let her scroll a thousand scary adjectives before you say: “... unusual.”
She’ll pepper you with questions then. But you’ll have none of it: “All I’m saying ... is give it a chance. That’s all I’m saying.”
And that’s all you say.
Valentine’s Day is only eight days away, but it’s not too late to start lowering expectations. It sounds cruel, but it is simple self-preservation. The powerful and merciless jewelry lobby has been pounding the popular-culture drum pretty hard, moving in on store displays before plastic baby Jesus was out of his little manger. TV runs ring commercials where jaunty male models toss the greeting card in favor of a 12-karat stone the size of a toddler’s head. It’s worse on drive-time radio, where one major jewelry dealer has set himself up as an advice guru for clueless guys. I wonder what he advises?
CLUELESS GUY: Don, Valentine’s Day is coming up, and —
JEWELRY DEALER: Diamonds. (Pause.) Sorry, was there more?
CLUELESS GUY: Well, we just had our first baby. We’re on a budget. But she’s feeling overwhelmed, and —
JEWELRY GUY: Diamonds.
CLUELESS GUY: Really?
JEWELRY GUY: Yeah, about a pound.
Several ads dwell on your loved one’s radiant expression as she opens that little square box. But none of them cover her expression six months later, when you two are the most romantic hobos in the boxcar. This is where lowered expectations come in. A Whitman’s Sampler is disappointing if she’s expecting a diamond solitaire.
But it’s gold if she’s expecting something terrible.
“You have no plaid pants.” Say this a couple of days out, while the two of you are watching television. Tell her you think plaid is the look for her. “A big plaid, you know? Something you can spot from across a mall.” She’ll beg you to tell her what you’ve done. Doofus guy stereotypes actually help us here. Nod vacantly while she swears you off plaid pants. Then say, “Monkeys are sure cute, aren’t they? And, after a month, you don’t notice the smell.”
That radiant expression the jewelry ads talk about? You can still get it on Valentine’s Day, when she opens your Whitman’s Sampler and discovers she no longer has to live in fear. The holiday is saved, you’re still financially solvent — and she’ll thank you for it!
Well, no. She won’t. But two out of three ain’t bad.