By Suzanne Wiggins
Many years ago, a close friend told me her husband had formed a habit of regularly bringing home flowers. She complained that it had started out as roses, followed by mixed bouquets, then on a whim while paying for gas, he grabbed a bouquet of carnations. Not surprisingly, her husband observed that the carnations stayed fresh a very long time and were very “economical”. From that point on, the flowers he brought home were always carnations. This was a serious problem for my friend because she preferred roses and in her mind they meant something deeper.
Like most men, I am certain my friend’s husband had no knowledge of women’s general feelings and beliefs about carnations…until that fateful holiday party. The group was playing one of those games where each person in turn gets a word and has to provide clues to help their team guess it within the allotted time. My niece was up and once the timer was started she excitedly shouted, ‘What do men buy when they are too cheap for roses?” In unison every woman in the room screamed, “carnations!!” Having secret knowledge of my friend’s story, I quickly looked over at her husband only to see what I interpreted as confusion followed by realization cross his face.
The carnation story has always stuck with me simply because I could never figure out why receiving the flowers irritated my friend more than they made her happy. But according to Pema Chodron, “Nothing ever goes away until it teaches us what we need to know.” It’s important for me to point out that I have never been married, however, I do realize that relationships are extremely complicated. With that disclaimer noted, from my perspective I was impressed with how great it was that my friend’s husband even thought to bring her flowers. To me, it seemed like a simple gesture of love. I’m thinking now, however, that my friend’s response is not so uncommon. We often overlook meaningful gestures because the offering isn’t what we want (roses), or we deem it too convenient or easy so we devalue the effort (purchased at gas station), or we interconnect it with a million other issues so it gets lost in the frustration of the daily grind of life (kids, work, finances). Alas, my friend’s flower dilemma was resolved as her husband eventually stopped bringing them home.
Like a children’s Easter Egg hunt, I have found that valuable life lessons and nuggets of wisdom are hidden all around, just out of sight, waiting for us to come searching. Although finding love was not an original goal of my life-changing journey, it has become part of the plan. If you’ve read my past posts, you know that I was an overachieving, self-reliant, workaholic, who never made time for romantic endeavors. When I finally acknowledged that I would like to experience deep and extraordinary love, I realized that I hadn’t a clue about men or relationships. So I started reading books and blogs on the subject, but more importantly I began interviewing my many male friends, and on occasion some willing strangers. What I discovered, and believe at my core to be true, is that men are at their best when they feel respected and appreciated. So I continued the process of honestly and objectively assessing my behaviors, beliefs and habits, now as they applied to men.
It didn’t take long to understand that I had some serious work to do. I remembered back to when my nephew got married, and as it is with every single family occasion, my “plus one” was my mother. Like usual, I booked a hotel room for us, picked her up and drove her to the venue. At the hotel registration desk during check in, I was cheerfully informed that the reservation for our two-night stay had been taken care of by my brother-in-law. I am certain the clerk was not expecting my response. I was pissed. My mother, who is hard of hearing and was not paying attention, saw my face and asked what was wrong. In a venomous voice I told her the hotel bill had already been paid. Like a normal person, she thought nothing of it.
As we made our way to the room I was seething inside. I alternated between the thought that my brother-in-law either paid for the room because he worried that I couldn’t afford it (which insulted me) or it was guilt over the fact that yet again, I was the one taking responsibility for my mother (which irritated me even more.) So I plotted my revenge. I decided that I would take the money I would have spent on the room and I would give it to my niece and her fiance to pay for their stay, thus demonstrating that I could afford the hotel by using the money anyways. Yes, I agree, my reaction was even crazier than being upset over regularly receiving carnations over more expensive flowers.
During the wedding weekend, I eventually thanked my brother-in-law for paying for the hotel room, but I realize now that I did not truly appreciate the gesture. His intentions were nothing but generous and sincere, but I was wrapping them up in years of family history, my habit of unrelenting self-reliance, and my ignorance of men and why they do what they do.
Looking back, I feel so incredibly fortunate that I have accepted the challenge and adventure of re-making my life. The journey is far from over, but I acknowledge that I have aspired to do something that is extremely difficult and uncommon. I have chosen to re-think and re-evaluate every aspect of my life; my beliefs, my goals, my limitations, my behaviors and my self-concept. In just four short years, I’ve learned so much and I have definitely changed. Not so much for others to have noticed, but there is a deeper self-love growing inside. Lately, I have been working on being more grateful and appreciative, especially towards men. No matter how small the gesture, be it making me laugh, holding the door, thinking to ask questions, offering to help, remembering something I said, or any other gentlemanly gesture, I say thank you. If I ask for help (which is another struggle I’m working to overcome) I make an effort to let go and allow the person to fulfill the request in their own way and not the way “I would do it” or “want it done.” And most importantly, I have learned and accepted that when my brother-in-law pays for something, like most men he does it because he wants to. All I have to do is say thank you, which I do now from a genuine and sincere place in my heart.
Truly there is an art to appreciation. It requires having an open mind, attention to detail, noticing subtleties, and understanding that what is presented may not be what we expect. Sometimes we are not impressed by the works with the greatest value. Recently I saw something on Pinterest that said, “We attract what we are, not what we want. If you want great, be great.” I’m hoping to be a real masterpiece when I’m done.
P.S. Thank you for reading. I appreciate your time. 🙂