New York is not a city known for sentimentality. Before moving here, I saved everything. There’s a Valentine sitting in a drawer in San Francisco that I received from my first crush. In 3rd grade- two decades ago! If I lived anywhere else but in this city known for shoe-box-sized apartments, I would no doubt have a box filled with tokens from former lovers. A souvenir Cute Theater Boy brought me back from a vacation, earrings given to me by the grandmother of Trader Joe’s Guy, dried roses from one of the bi-annual boys. But this is New York City! I don’t have room for that shit! It’s all sitting in a landfill somewhere- not my problem.
Of course, there is an exception. I saved one thing from my last relationship. I keep it in a box, to look at if I ever need a reminder. It serves as a warning: never settle for less than you deserve. Don’t put up with disappointment after disappointment! The one thing and one thing only I have saved from my last relationship is the birthday card he gave me last July 12th.
I remember vividly receiving this card exactly a year ago, on the night of my birthday. 24 hours previously, he confessed he had been unable to buy a present in time for my birthday. I was disappointed, tried not to let that show, and told him not to worry about it. I’d be fine not getting a present, as long as he got me a card. He replied that he wasn’t any good at writing cards. “Just make an effort. It doesn’t have to be fancy. It’s totally fine if you make it. Just put something thoughtful on paper and I’m sure I’ll love it.” I said something along those lines. (Maybe I should mention that all quotes in this post are built from my 12 month old memory.)
I wanted something in writing. I wrote about my affection for him all the time. Two beautiful blog posts in particular were essentially two (very public) love letters (Read them: One and Two). My feelings were clear, available for the world to see clear. All I had in writing from him were several hundred texts messages. Texts don’t count! I wanted something in return. Something I could hold in my hands and read over and over.
I hoped to wake up to his card the morning of my birthday, that my day would start with the blissful feeling that I was loved. Didn’t happen. All day I received nothing. By evening I was starting to feel anxious. Then it was bed time, my birthday over in mere minutes, and still no card. He knew this was important to me, I had made that clear. How could he fail? I expected a present- but I let that go. But no card? It was unexcusable.
I got into bed and couldn’t even feel the blankets. I was shrouded, cacooned by disappointment. Tension hung in the air. He turned off the light, I turned my back to him and tried not to cry.
“I can feel your anger,” he said.
I don’t remember if I replied. Damn right I was angry! Well, really “crushed” is probably a better description, but anger was definitely the thing keeping me from crying!
“I did make you a card,” he said, “I’m just totally embarrassed to give it to you.”
Relief flooded through me. “Yay! You didn’t fail! Turn on the light and give me my card!”
He handed me the piece of folded paper. I smirked at the outside. He’d drawn a geometric cube. Easily the least romantic thing in the history of ever.
“I can’t draw! I’m sorry!” He looked nervous.
“That’s okay, I don’t really care what it looks like. It’s what it says that counts.”
“Gah, don’t read it in front on me!”
“Too bad, you waited until the last minute -LITERALLY it’s basically midnight- to give it too me! I have to read it while it’s still my birthday!”
I unfolded the card and read his words. He began by apologizing for his inability to draw. Then he continued saying how writing a card is hard. Following that, there was one line where he expressed some feeling for me, “I am glad for the day you were born. I love you.”
That was it.*
Now I see it as so-bad-it’s-funny. At time, the only emotion I felt was acute disappointment. I didn’t, and still don’t, understand what’s so hard about writing a card! Maybe that’s just because it’s easy for me. How easy? I’ll show you.
How to write a birthday card for your girlfriend
1. Start with: “Dear [your girlfriend’s name]”
2. Wish her a Happy Birthday! “Wishing you a very happy birthday”, “Happy Birthday! Hope it’s awesome.” 3. Pick a couple ways to describe her. Let’s go generic: smart, pretty, good sense of humor. Turn this into a sentence, “You’re witty, easy on the eyes, and you always make me smile.”
4. Your glad she’s in your life, right? Tell her! “I’m lucky to have you in my life.”
5. Are you celebrating her birthday? Are you looking forward to it? That’s easy to include. “Can’t wait to celebrate!”
6. If you’ve said “I love you”, end it with “Love, [your name]”. If you haven’t said those words yet, just sign your name. DON’T say “Best” or some shit like that.
Dear [girl friend’s name],
Happy Birthday! Hope you have an awesome day.
You’re such a witty person, easy on the eyes, and you always make me smile. I know I am lucky to have you in my life.
Can’t wait to celebrate!
Love, [your name]
See? That wasn’t hard and now you have a totally acceptable card! If you want to go a step further, include a favorite memory with her. That adds a specific personal touch that she’ll know you didn’t copy off my blog!
That was the card I was hoping for and when what I received was nothing close to that, I felt so let down. It was awful. And I hid it from him not wanting to make him feel bad! “It’s okay,” I rationalized, “He isn’t good at writing cards! He said that! That’s all. He’s just not good at expressing himself. This isn’t a reflection on his feelings for you. ”
HA. YES IT WAS!
The card I got should have been the deal breaker. It was really a clear message sent to me from the source. What did his card really say? In hindsight, it couldn’t be more clear: “I will leave you in a month for my assistant. I say ‘I love you’ but I won’t ever really show that I do. I’m a disappointment to you and that will never change.”
Tomorrow is my birthday. I am working all weekend, said yes to a gig that will pay my rent with only two days of work. Seems perfectly cliché for a late 20’s birthday. But there will be a birthday dinner with friends, there will be cake, there will be good times. And after the disappointment of my last birthday that I just shared with you, I know beyond any doubt that this one will be far better! Hooray!
*In the original published version of this post I included pictures of the card and word-for-word quote of what it said. As you can see, this has been edited out. How ever hilariously bad I may see this card, it was a personal gift I received. In my eyes it was so insanely impersonal that I didn’t see an issue with sharing it. I just thought it was the climax of a funny and captivating birthday story.I’ve since realized can pictures make such a story incriminating, a touch TMI. Perhaps they create a feeling of discomfort in the viewer or even seem vindictive. I never want my stories to be any of these things. I’m here to entertain.