A Suburban Dad's Guest Blog: The Unwritten Rules of Valentine's Day

By Rick Kaempfer

I loved Kim's piece about Valentine's day. My wife and I have a similar agreement about ignoring the holiday, but when I was working in an office early in our marriage, I found that people were really disturbed by that concept.

There were a few women in my office that really got mad at me.

I was told that everybody in America knows the unwritten ground rules of Valentine's Day. The responsibility for a gift is strictly a one-way proposition. The man is expected to get the woman a gift, and the woman is expected to receive that gift. Whenever I disputed that concept, I was chastised.

The conversation went a little something like this...

"What did you get your wife for Valentine's Day?" one asked.

"She said she didn't want a gift," I said.

"Trust me," another replied, "She's only saying that because she doesn't want to sound greedy."


"Listen to me," the third one said, "If you don't bring home a Valentine's gift, you're a dead man."

Even though I was pretty sure I understood my wife better than these women in the office did, I started doubting myself. After all, I'm just a
man.  Who understands a woman better than another woman? They might be

So, I stopped at the store and picked something up for my wife.

"I thought we agreed not to buy each other anything?" she said when I gave it to her.

"Did you really mean that?" I asked.

"Of course I did. I said it, didn't I?"

I felt like such a fool. Why didn't I trust my instincts? The next day
when I told the women at work about my wife's reaction, they
explained that my wife was obligated to be mad at me to save face.

"That makes no sense," I said..

"Did she give you the traditional gift?" one woman asked coyly.

"She didn't give me anything."

"Not even the (wink) traditional gift?"

"There's a traditional gift for a man?" I asked.

She winked again.

Oooooh. I get it. I'm slow, but I'm not that slow.

"Those are the ground rules?" I asked.

They nodded. "Everybody knows that."

I never told my wife about this, because I never knew
what to believe. But after a few more scoldings about presents in subsequent years, I decided to ignore the swirling subtext (imaginary or not), and just go with the actual meaning my wife's words.

Someone took a long time coming up with the English language so that we could use it to communicate what we mean. They literally have a word for everything. It would be disrespectful to our forefathers not to use those words.

So, if my wife said "No presents," that meant: "No presents."

And you know what? She never complained when I didn't give her one.

I should also note, that now I'm the one at home, and she's not bringing me presents for Valentine's Day either. You know why? Because I said: "No presents."

Although let's be honest here. If those women at my old office were right, and the punishment for "no present" is "no 'traditional' present" in return from me, my wife really isn't in any danger of not receiving that.

But that's just me.

I'm a giver.

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