Eight years together. You and I, weathering the storm of life, hand in hand. There is no way I could fully repay everything you have done for me, no way I could properly capture all the moments we’ve shared. But I have a small token of my appreciation. Close your eyes, put your hands out. Here it is. That’s right, just as tradition dictates, it’s salt.
Salt not doing it for you? That’s okay, this is one of the years that comes with options. There’s also a precious metal on the options list. Now we’re talking. Here you go, it’s bronze, to symbolise how you were my third choice.
Have you ever looked at the traditional anniversary gift guide? Each year is uniquely terrible. From the bland (happy first anniversary, here’s some paper!) to the not quite bland enough (happy third anniversary… uh, is it too soon for leather? Feels too soon for leather.)
Leather is the traditional gift, I swear!
Do you have to obey the traditional anniversary gifts register? Of course not. But we’ve already bought into one weird, outdated tradition. This is part of it. Marriage isn’t just marriage, it’s an all-inclusive institution that comes with a series of sub-traditions. Many couples try to subvert the traditional selections. Paper becomes “tickets to something”. God knows what you do in your sixth year together, when tradition dictates “iron or sugar”. My gift to you is a balanced diet, which should contain both. In return, I receive shackles and a cupcake.
Anniversary gifts already come with a lot of pressure. They need to be personal enough to reflect your specific love, different from everyone else’s love, while also being universally impressive enough for your partner to share it in their group chat and brag about it on an Instagram story. You cannot really get an anniversary present right. You can only get it wrong. That isn’t a passing mistake, either. It is one that will be remembered every coming anniversary, too, unless you get it so wrong that there won’t be any more anniversaries.
My own anniversary falls slightly after Christmas because we wanted to make our wedding as annoying to attend as possible. This adds another wrinkle to the problem of gift-buying. You’re already either choosing to hold back a good gift from the Christmas pile or letting the anniversary gift be clearly second-tier. Our still relatively new marriage is closely approaching what could well be considered the first milestone, a fifth year. As such, I am already planning our romantic trip to Bunnings to pick out the traditional gift of wood.
Milestone gifts seem particularly lacking on the traditional gift list. You can celebrate a decade together with some aluminium. So, head to the kitchen, open the third drawer down, and celebrate 10 years of love. By year 15 we’ve hit crystal. Now it feels like the gifts have some heft. Except, four years later, bronze is back again. Once you finally upgrade to silver on year 25 (!) you are expected to coast for a few years. There are no more gifts until year 30 and only five-year increments from then on.
Others just feel a little from a different time. Fourteen years together is difficult. Also difficult, getting ivory for your partner without facing uncomfortable questions such as “Where did you get this ivory?” , “Is that a rifle?” and “Why are we banned from the zoo?”
Now, being married is not about gifts. But again, this is just something we say when the gifts are bad. There have been attempts to modernise the anniversary system. If you search for anniversary gift guides online, you will often find a “modern gift” column next to the traditional offering. Now in the modern system, after your first year together you will receive a clock. That way, you can easily watch the minutes of your life tick away. If you make it to year 15, you’ll receive a watch, so you can take that clock with you.
By this modern system, my wife and I will have just passed our appliance anniversary. I hope you liked the toaster, my love. It made me think of you, the way you, uh, sometimes make me feel like I’m having a heart attack. In just three years, I’ll be getting you a pen. Then, if you stick around until year 21, you will be the proud recipient of fire. I’m not making that up. Year 21 is fire, like I’m the Prometheus of love. Happy anniversary, baby, I’ve burned down the house.
According to this list, year 24 is musical instruments, which seems to be an attempt to make sure there is no year 25 of marriage.
Perhaps the point we’re getting to here is that in the same way that marriage cannot be done by rote, your gifts also cannot. That does not mean they have to be exciting, however. The rule we try to ascribe to is one gift for fun, one incredibly boring thing that we need but have been putting off purchasing. Sure, a mattress that actually fits the bed frame might not be the most glamorous gift on earth, but marriage isn’t about glamour. It’s about comfort. Or love. Or whatever it is a mattress symbolises. Something where the end goal is resting in peace together. There, that feels right.
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