Ask Erin: My Partner Won't Celebrate My Birthday

Artwork: Tess Emily Rodriguez

Artwork: Tess Emily Rodriguez

She’s made all the mistakes, so you don’t have to… Ask Erin is a weekly advice column, in which Erin answers your burning questions about anything at all.


Q.

I am a 38-year-old cis woman, in a relationship with a 43-year-old man. He was in a very long term relationship with an abusive partner before we started dating. 

It’s been three years now, and I am mostly happy. He’s helpful and supportive and fun, and I’ve never been so secure and into a relationship. He and I both have our “baggage,” and he’s had a tough few years, emotionally and financially. He was diagnosed with ADD later in life, so he has trouble getting his act together. So do I, for my own reasons.

The thing is, I really want to start having traditions with him. 

I like when a partner puts some thought and effort (and yes, a tiny bit of money, nothing to break the bank) into special occasions.

I’m the kind of person to squirrel a tiny bit of cash aside to show my partner a nice time when Christmas or birthdays are coming. It just feels good to give and receive and be celebrated. We both grew up in messed up homes, so for me, it’s a little slice of normalcy and comfort to partake in traditions and celebrations. It feels good, and I no longer care if it’s a capitalist ploy or whatever. I am tired of feeling The FOMO.

I’ve explained to him over and over and over that it would mean so much to me just to see a little effort to accommodate my yearning for some festive times with him. He never really comes through, and it really hurts me. But maybe it shouldn’t?

Again, he’s great in so many other ways. 

Am I selling myself short by staying with him, despite our misaligned values there? Or am I just being a brat? 

I would love to see him throw some cheap-but-thoughtful present in a dollar store gift bag some year. To me, it’s just part of being in a romantic relationship.


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A.

In any relationship, there will be ways in which our partner may disappoint us. What’s important is that you delineate what you can compromise on and what may be a dealbreaker. 

I don’t think you are being a brat or asking for unreasonable things. You wanting or needing to celebrate in these ways is valid. 

It can be frustrating when a partner doesn’t mirror the way we express love. 

He may not be a person capable of fulfilling this need. He’s 43, and you’ve been together for over three years. The likelihood of him changing his position or behavior on this issue is slim. If you are going to make this work, you will need to accept these aspects of his personality. 

What I suggest is that you try out couple’s counseling with a therapist, at least for the short term. It would be helpful to have the guidance in expressing what you need, how it makes you feel when those needs are not met, and having him communicate more clearly what his resistance is to celebrating with you in these ways. 

You may be able to come up with a compromise that works for both of you. 

This is worth exploring as you mentioned at the top of your email: “He’s helpful and supportive and fun, and I’ve never been so secure and into a relationship.” Perhaps you can figure out other ways to express romantic love that works for both of you. If he has a resistance to birthdays and Christmas gift-giving because of some past issues (you mentioned the abusive relationship), maybe he can work on surprising you with thoughtful gifts or gestures unrelated to those specific celebrations that carry the weight of expectation. I also suggest that the two of you come up with your own alternative traditions and celebrations. That could be a made-up holiday, a special night once a month that you incorporate a food and/or activity tradition, or anything else that you can share that you both enjoy and gives you that sense of appreciation and thoughtfulness that you’ve been missing out on with the absence of birthday and Christmas gifts. 

All of this said, I do believe you will need to clarify for yourself (preferably with the guidance of a therapist) if you can live without these gifts, if you are fulfilled enough in  the relationship to let that go. 


The information within Ask Erin should in no way be interpreted as medical advice because I’m not a medical professional. But I am here to help — to share with you the wisdom I’ve gained after years of making mistakes. If you have a question for me about relationships, addiction, dating, friendships, depression, parenting, sex, consent, what I’m watching, what I’m reading, Anyolite, or anything at all, use the contact form below or email me at  askerin@ravishly.com. As always, your anonymity is golden. Lastly, I’m so excited to share with you my Ask Erin Self-Care Guide, free when you sign up for my weekly newsletter. xoxo

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