Recently, my husband and I celebrated our 28th wedding anniversary. I’m customarily geeky and sentimental enough to try to find gifts that match pre-determined themes for the year (i.e. 25th—silver anniversary, 50th—gold, etc.). Apparently the orchid is the traditional gift for a 28th anniversary. I was trying to figure out how to incorporate that theme into something my husband wouldn’t think was completely lame, and all I could come up with was a type of orchid room fragrance I used to “set the mood.” I think my husband was underwhelmed by the orchid theme, but hey, next year’s theme is furniture, so that’s a win for me.
After I handed my husband his thematic gift, I asked him if he was ready to admit that I was right about my first anniversary gift. He was not. Because I didn’t want to end up in a meaningless quarrel, I dropped the issue.
Allow me to explain. The summer my husband and I were engaged, we were both living in California. He was completing an internship at a company in Huntington Beach, California, and living with my brother, and I was working full-time and living at home. We sometimes went on double dates with my brother and his wife. At one point, we decided to attend a Chicago concert at the LA Forum. The venue was packed, and we were actually seated behind the performers. To this day, I can tell you what the lead singer was wearing—some whitish pajama-looking thingie, like he stopped to sing on the way home from karate.
As our first anniversary approached, I was thinking of all the items I could give my husband to celebrate our big “paper anniversary.” When I heard that Chicago was going to be performing in Park City, Utah, not far from our residence, I decided to present him with paper tickets to the concert, assuming that he would recall how much fun we had at the concert a year earlier.
It wasn’t until several years later that I said something about the time we went to see Chicago perform at the LA Forum, and my husband gave me a blank stare and replied, “I have no idea what you are talking about.” I insisted, “Yes you do….remember I gave you tickets to see them in Park City for our first anniversary, and it was because we had seen them together at the Forum.” It was downhill from there. Here’s how the conversation proceeded.
Him: You got me tickets because they are made of paper and you know I like Chicago.
Me (Disbelieving): I got you tickets because they are made of paper. I got you CHICAGO tickets because we attended the concert at the LA Forum.
Him: I didn’t see them in LA.
Me: Steven…(The formal first name as a clue that I am getting upset)…Yes you did. I can tell you where we were sitting and what the performers were wearing. I even remember walking across the parking lot.
Him: That must have been one of your other boyfriends. It wasn’t me.
Me (instantly mad): None of my other boyfriends would have wanted to go see Chicago! I can tell you every concert I have ever attended and with whom, and you are the only person I dated who would have wanted to go see Chicago.
Him: Well I don’t know what to tell you, then. It wasn’t me.
Me (Desperate, thinking that he’ll remember if I can find the right memory cue): Don’t you remember that we had to sit behind the performers because we got our tickets last minute and it was sold out?
(This exchange continued with various fun facts for a few more sentences while I’m becoming increasingly upset and powerless to make him see what is so clear to me)
Me: Am I in the Twilight Zone? Where are the cameras? Am I being punk’d? You cannot be serious.
Him (laughing): Honey….I have no recollection of seeing Chicago anywhere but Park City.
Me (even madder, because now he thinks it’s a joke): The only reason I even suggested going to see Chicago is because you liked them so much. They aren’t even in my top 20.
Him: You got tickets because your older brother was going, and he likes Chicago.
Me (rabid now): HONEY! Remember how you’re always saying that I have a really good memory? Admit it—I am a more reliable source for our history than you are.
Him: Well…you USUALLY have a good memory….with the exception of this time.
Me: Just stop talking. Please don’t say anything else. I have to calm down enough to decide what to do about your early onset dementia.
Him: Honey, I’m sorry, but it had to have been someone else at that con…..
Me (foaming at the mouth): IT COULDN’T HAVE BEEN SOMEONE ELSE. DO YOU THINK I’M CRAZY? Don’t answer that. DO YOU THINK I JUST MANUFACTURED THAT MEMORY OUT OF THE BLUE? ARE YOU FOR REAL?
Him: Do you think I wouldn’t remember if I went to see Chicago in LA?
Me: YES!!!!! IT’S HAPPENING RIGHT NOW!!!!!
Him: Honey it doesn’t matter. You remember one thing, and I remember another.
Me: It DOES matter, because you didn’t even realize that I got you those tickets special because we had gone to that concert. I went out of my way for you. What else don’t you remember? (Because that’s how irrational I am at this point)
Him: Honey, this is silly. I love you, and we are just going to have to agree to disagree. I don’t remember and you do. Who cares?
Me: Who are you and what have you done with my husband? Are you a robot? A clone?
You get the picture. We finally called my brother and I asked if he remembered, and all he would commit to was, “It sounds familiar, but that was a long time ago. I can’t be certain.” I think he was protecting my husband. Man code. I even looked up the years Chicago was in concert at the LA Forum to prove to him that it was the summer of our engagement. He still denies that it ever happened.
This is a perfect example of how the content of the argument isn’t what it’s really about. This argument wasn’t about Chicago—my emotion escalated because it was about whether or not we were on the same page and united—and if he couldn’t remember a concert, what else was he going to forget? Was he going to be safe and reliable?
The topic has come up a time or two over the years, and the disagreement always ends with us having to agree to disagree before I spontaneously combust. I still don’t know if he really doesn’t remember, or if he’s amused by my reaction, or if at this point he’s just being stubborn. I finally just had to tell myself that he was so smitten with me that it addled his brain and he wasn’t accessing his memory corridors like a normal person.
Do you have a Chicago concert conversation in your marriage? Sometimes, or maybe more often, couples need to be able to step back and evaluate what is really vital to the marriage in the future. While I wish my husband would remember, I realize that the foundation of our marriage doesn’t rest on this event. At this point, he has me wondering if maybe I did take someone else to that concert.
A few years after the first Chicago concert “discussion,” we were out to lunch with my brother’s family to celebrate the birthdays of two cousins, born one day apart in different years. I was ready to pop and exhausted, pregnant with our third child, and we were wrestling a toddler and a preschooler who didn’t want to stay seated to eat their food. Suddenly, my sister-in-law said, “Hey, isn’t this your 7th anniversary?” My husband and I both looked at each other and answered, “Oops. Oh yeah…it must be the 7–year itch.” In the chaos of celebrating children’s birthdays, coming home from vacation, hosting guests, and preparing for a new baby, we had both entirely forgotten, which means that I didn’t get him that copper whatchamacallit I was planning to buy. We had a perfunctory dinner date and called it good, and we’ve had plenty of anniversaries since then to make up for it, and I try to leave Chicago out of our anniversary conversations.
In short, if you have to agree to disagree, it’s really ok…Evaluate your unique strengths and choose to work on what you can fix, and try not to sweat the rest…unless it’s that your husband forgot that you took him to a Chicago concert during your engagement.
Even writing this generates feelings of unresolve. One of these days, I’m hoping that he’ll remember and feel prompted to apologize. On the other hand, I suppose it’s possible that I remembered incorrectly and did go with someone else. Memory is rarely completely accurate.
In either case, my husband is indeed a “Hard Habit to Break,” and if a future apology is necessary, Chicago has provided us with the perfect way to begin with, “It’s Hard for me to say I’m Sorry.”
Because it is……except y’all know I’m right, right?