Friday, November 29, 2013

What Do You Get the Guy Who Doesn't Want Anything?

As consumers and retailers worldwide prepare for what is billed as the busiest shopping day of the year, the 24 hours that follow what was always my favorite holiday of the year (and one that I haven't celebrated in the United States since 2005), I know what I won't be doing tomorrow.

For me, it will be just another day in paradise (aka Cape Town). Frankly, I haven't experienced holiday spirit in decades, which probably makes it a good thing that I'm still not a dad (though parenthood might very well change my holiday outlook). It's not that I'm a scrooge begrudging anyone peace on earth, goodwill to men and lots of presents, but how many people actually bother themselves with abstract gifts like peace and goodwill when tis the season to flock to the mall to pad retailers' coffins while stuffing stockings?

My distaste for the holiday season isn't just that everything starts shutting down, or that it's nearly impossible to find a short-term rental in Cape Town because December is super-high season. It has more to do with what the holidays represent to me: extreme consumerism, materialism and, in an ironic Christmas Day twist, everything being closed for business on December 25. No consumerism for me, if I run out of eye drops or dental floss on Christmas Eve!

I used to embrace consumerism as enthusiastically as the next slave to stuff, even though I've always been a fan of non-traditional gifts. (My all-time favorite: the Billboard magazine I received for Christmas in 1983, the first issue of a one-year subscription.) But having to spend $500 to have the folks at 1-800-GOT-JUNK come to my storage space in Brooklyn in February of 2010 to haul off the belongings I'd spent nearly four years paying $130 dollars a month to hold on to didn't only clean out my proverbial closet. It cured me of my need to possess.

I now see physical gifts as just more kilos to add to my baggage allowance when I travel. (If you must spend money on me, put it toward a fabulous holiday, for which I can pack lightly.) My friend Nancy doesn't share my non-attachment to personal belongings, as she pointed out in an email this morning.

"You and I have very different views on stuff. I cannot live without stuff. This weekend, I lost a very expensive bracelet which I loved and wore several times a week. Losing it make me miserable and wishing the earth would open and swallow me up. I wish my happiness was less dependent on stuff."

I respect her desire to possess (though if it weren't for that, she wouldn't have had the expensive bracelet to lose), but at least she realizes that love need not cost a thing, to borrow from J. Lo's 2001 hit.

"Flowers and gifts are nice. They show that someone either cares about you, or is trying. Both of those are nice traits. But in truth, they don't mean anything. The only guy who ever gave me gifts and flowers regularly was the only one who ever cheated on me."

It's been years since a guy has given me anything, and I don't think any less highly of any of the guys I've dated since then than I would had they handed me the world on a silver platter. Love doesn't mean never having to say you're sorry, nor does it mean showing up on my front doorstep bearing gifts. If you want to show me love, do it with deeds, not stuff. Words work, too, but please, no cards. They're just clutter, which I hate. Oh, and don't call, just text.

Five love actions that won't cost a thing (other than the price of groceries and gas):

Cook for me. Taking me out to dinner is always appreciated, too, but if you prepare the meal, you're giving me something that I can't give myself: a delicious home-cooked meal. (BTW, Nancy hates it when guys cook for her: "People use so many herbs, and I hate having to pretend to like the food." That's my Nancy!)

Think about me. I've never been the needy boyfriend who has got to be joined at the hip with my significant other. Three or four (preferably three) dates a week works for me. A few nice text messages or emails a day to let me know I'm on your mind will pick up the slack and convince me that you care more than expensive flowers and chocolate, neither of which I particularly care for. I prefer personal, less generic food gifts anyway, like the $1.50 lemon poppy seed muffins that one early boyfriend in New York City used to bring over every night because he knew how much I loved them. That wasn't just a romantic gesture. It was a personalized -- and seriously yummy -- token of affection.

Pick me up at the airport. From the moment I saw Paolo waiting for me outside of the baggage-claim area when I went to visit him in Milan in 2000, I knew that it was one of the sexiest things a guy could do. He cooked for me every day I was there, too, but unfortunately, he wasn't so good with the emails when I returned to New York City.

Read my stuff. If you're not interested in what I'm thinking, even when it has nothing to do with you, how can you say you're interested in me?

Love me for me. Without acceptance, there is no love. If you love me for who you want me to be, you aren't loving me at all. Changing my wicked ways (and yes, I have a few), like checking into rehab, has to be my choice, not a means to acquiring anyone's unconditional love. That wouldn't actually be unconditional at all. Nothing says you love me like loving me in spite of my flaws, which, as gifts go, would be the greatest one of all.

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