Jessie Raymond: Holiday shopping tests a marriage

Two weekends ago, my husband Mark and I celebrated our 22nd anniversary. We spent the night at a cozy inn in Stowe, and we would have had a lovely time — if only we hadn’t pushed our luck. But on Saturday, we decided to go Christmas shopping. As a couple.
We hadn’t made that mistake in years.
Mark — a slow-moving, avid browser and generous spender — and I —a hermit and a miser (but really quite a hoot once you get to know me) — do not shop well together.
He just loves giving gifts. And, he loves looking for gifts, based on no particular criteria at all. I, on the other hand, focus on whether the gift will be appreciated or used by the recipient. So, while Mark’s face lights up at every object he sees, I look on sternly, objecting to anything impractical or overpriced.
Way back in the ’90s — after the fourth consecutive year that our annual Christmas shopping trip to Burlington ended with me in tears, threatening to cut up the credit card, and Mark sulking, muttering something about a wet blanket — we decided our marriage would stand a better chance if we stopped trying to enjoy shopping as a couple. Since then, Mark has gladly done 95 percent of our Christmas shopping while I stay home.
I don’t know what we were thinking this year.
We approach Christmas shopping differently. I make a list, I determine where each gift can be acquired at the best price, and I plan a trip that involves the fewest stops on the shortest possible route. I consider it a successful shopping excursion if I can be back in the car before the engine cools.
Mark, however, looks at shopping as an end in itself. He likes to go to every store and dreamily walk each aisle, looking for gifts that might thrill or touch the heart of each recipient. It’s so inefficient.
He shops without limits on money or anything else, so I try to rein him in. I steer him away from, for example, items that are fads, that are too big to store, or that serve no purpose (a six-foot-tall Olaf snowman doll, for instance, fails on all three counts).
“You never want me to buy anything for anyone,” he says, kicking the floor.
And that’s how it goes for the whole day, until we feel that if we enter one more store together, the ride home could involve vehicular manslaughter — committed entirely inside the car.
So, this year I vowed, in honor of 22 years of (non-shopping-related) wedded bliss, to put up with Mark’s tortoise-like shopping pace, and to be accepting of his misguided and extravagant gift choices.
I didn’t last long.
Two hours (and three stores) into our Great Shopping Adventure, we ended up in a certain too-fragrant bath products shop, where Mark thought we could pick up some stocking stuffers, and I thought I could develop an instant headache.
We were both right.
He casually wandered around the displays, sniffing bottle after bottle of jasmine/toilet-cleaner-scented shower gel and gingerbread/new-car-smell hand lotion while I practiced holding my breath. After 40 minutes, I resorted to crawling, hoping to find air below the heaviest layers of industrial scents.
At that point the fumes overtook me. I don’t remember anything until I opened my eyes and looked up to see Mark, a bag of bath products clutched to his chest, staring down at me where I lay on the floor.
“This,” he said, in a harsh whisper, “is why I don’t like Christmas shopping with you.”
The feeling was mutual.
But, in fairness, my aversion to shopping isn’t all Mark’s fault. I only recently realized I don’t like crowds. It explains so much: why I get anxious in airports, why I’ve always believed that spending New Year’s Eve in Times Square should be used as punishment for violent criminals, why I’ve never understood the appeal of orgies.
This past Saturday morning, Mark announced that he was headed to Burlington to go Christmas shopping again — and that I was not invited because he wanted “to have fun this time.”
“Good,” I said. “I’d rather die than have to spend eight hours with you in a busy mall.”
We both had a wonderful day.
I just love that after all these years we still know how to make each other happy.

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