How can giving someone a rose go wrong? When I was first out of college, I worked in Washington DC. I was pretty lonely and the majority of the people I worked with were easily twice my age. Another twenty something man worked in the cubicle next to me. And we struck up a friendship of sorts. One day he asked me if I wanted to see a Tom Clancy movie. My reply was a decided “no.” I explained that I didn’t watch those sort of movies. I clarified that I only watched indie films and foreign films.
The following week, he asked me if I wanted to go to a film festival near Georgetown. I was impressed, but a little concerned. I had no romantic interests in him, and he was a devout Catholic. It was my impression that devout Catholics did not really date but “courted.” I agreed to go to the film festival on the condition that we understood that it was not a date.
The evening started out okay, but it did not go well. The film festival was full of films with adult situations. Very adult situations. My devout Catholic friend became very agitated. His least disruptive behavior was to look away and hum to drown out the noise, which disturbed all those around us. I felt bad for him, but I was also pretty frustrated, so I motioned for us to leave, much to his relief and those around us.
As we were making our way back to the metro station, there was a rose vendor signaling to him. He called out, “Rose for the lady? Rose for the lady?” My poor friend seemed in a quandary as to what to do and started to take his money out of his pocket. He was dropping cash on the sidewalk and trying to pick it up in the dark. I helped him retrieve his cash explaining that I did not want a rose.
The next day, a pale pink rose arrived at my apartment with a note that said, “You deserved one of these yesterday.” Sadly his gesture, meant to be sweet and possibly romantic, missed the mark. Even at my young age, I was aware that men particularly think they have the authority to decide what a woman deserves. Moreover, he had not listened to me. I did not want a rose from him or anything it could possibly mean.
Fundamentally, this “deserving of a gift issue” is the problem I have had with “iconic” and/or obligatory gift giving that is synonymous with holidays like Valentine’s Day. Over 224 million roses are raised for Valentine’s Day, and according “the Google” over 60 percent are purchased by men. The holiday triggers anxiety and a sense of unworthiness in many people, but particularly women.
The first Valentine's Day I was single after my divorce a friend brought me a little gift. It was a photo of me and my daughter with the words “Mommy and Me.” Such a lovely and thoughtful gift, with a completely different tone and message. As for the pale pink rose, that also ended up being a gift with unintended consequences. It transformed my thinking of gift giving so much so that I am very careful to listen to people’s wishes. As for myself, I was also the one who decided what luxuries I "deserved." Sometimes I would even wrap a much longed for item and save it for a special occasion. As I would open it, friends or family would inquire, “Wow! Who gave you that?” Sometimes I might tell them “A secret admirer.”
I don’t know if I would feel the same way about receiving a gift if I were a man, but I find the act of choosing a very special gift for myself very empowering. The act seems to remove the subtle hint dropping or grasping for recognition or merit. And when I receive a gift, like the picture frame from my friend, the freedom from any expectation or conditions of merit are absent and all that remains is the sweet aroma of the breath that comes with openness and joy.