Susan P. BlevinsI wish Iíd known at the age of twenty-six what I know now at the age of seventy. Perhaps then I would have been able to predict the course of my marriage from just the first two gifts my future husband gave me. Looking back, I can see now that they fully expressed his concept of marriage.
Let me just mention here that my husband was thirty years older than me, so he had very different generational ideas of how a marriage should be conducted. I was born in England, and had been living an independent life for eight years when I met him, working as a secretary at the UN in Rome, and definitely not into marriage. He, on the other hand, had been married twice. His first wife died of cancer, and on the rebound he married a young French woman, known to all of us at the UN for matching Jackie O-type outfits for her dog and herself. I thought of her, not fondly, as ďThe French BitchĒ. She was an ambitious, materialistic woman, who thought she was marrying money. Big mistake on her part, and my husband divorced her after just a few months by taking up residence in Las Vegas. It was after his return from that crazy city that I came into the picture. Too soon, too soon, I can hear everyone screaming. But I didnít know at that point that my husband was one of those men who really needed to be married. He didnít know how not to be married. Besides which, his first marriage had been happy, his second was an aberration, and he believed that marriage = happiness, in the spirit of cogito, ergo sum.
We met at the UN, where he was a good friend of my boss, a Romanian cavalryman from another era, lacking only the requisite monocle, and quite soon we started going out for coffee, each telling the other that we were not the slightest bit interested in marriage. Over the next few months, however, things grew serious between us, and thatís when he started giving me gifts.
His first gift to me was a set of twelve cookbooks, which incidentally I still have, and they remain my overall favorite cookbooks. I saw nothing strange in such a gift back then, but today I view it for what is was, albeit unconsciously on my husbandís part: a clear statement of what he expected from a wife. He expected good food served regularly to him by his biddable wife. Dinner parties on demand. A good domestic arrangement. For him.
His second gift was a very pretty Gucci evening purse, which I also still have. Again, back then I could not interpret the message here: glamorous gift, trophy wife, arm candy.
So, first the domestic goddess, because he loved to eat, and it may be true that the way to a manís heart is through his stomach, and then the reward for the little woman of glamor, prestige and status.
If Iíd understood the psychology of all this at the time, it probably wouldnít have prevented me from marrying him, because I did love him, but it may have made it easier in those early years to adjust to married life.
As a wedding gift he offered to buy me a mink coat, which in the southern Kentucky society from which he hailed, was a traditional marriage gift. As an ardent animal lover I declined, vehemently, and have never owned or desired a fur coat in my life.
After our marriage he still didnít develop the knack of what to give me. One year, he bought me a beautiful carving knife for Christmas. I hastened to give him a dime for it, since according to superstition, such a gift is tantamount to severing any relationship, including marriage. On another occasion he returned home from a business trip to India, and brought me a set of towels. Yes, towels. Coals to Newcastle, or in this case, towels to the land of Cannon and Fieldcrest.
In the end, I firmly told him what I would like from him for my birthdays and Christmases. An old friend of mine reminded me recently that when we were living in New Mexico, and I was remodeling our old adobe house and building a garden from scratch, I asked him for a cement-mixer for my birthday. Needless to say, I did not receive one. Not ladylike enough. How could I have imagined for a moment that he could envision such a gift for his wife.
Eventually I understood that I was not, nor did I want to be, a trophy wife, nor even a traditional wife. After a few years I broke out of the mold he was so carefully trying to squeeze me into, and I became my own person. It wasnít easy, and it cost me lots of tears, and later, psychotherapy, but I can honestly say that I regret nothing. He kept trying to shape me to the image of how he thought he wanted his wife to be, until he gave up. His ultimate surrender to my individual identity, and his support of my writing a column for an international newspaper and various other creative endeavors, is without a doubt what enabled our marriage to last for thirty-seven years. It certainly was not because of the gifts he so carefully bestowed on me.
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