Happy early Valentine’s Day to you all! This is a day for us to express love for others, especially our significant other, if we have one. Many of us have read The 5 Love Languages, in which Gary Chapman demonstrates that most of us feel loved in 5 ways: words of affirmation, gifts, touch, act of service, and quality of time.
I learned that gifts ranked high for me. My father traveled a lot when I was a child. Every time he came back, he’d always bring a small gift. So I tend to associate gifts with reuniting with someone important.
What took me much longer to figure out is that how I feel loved is VERY different from how my loved ones feel loved. Oftentimes, I expressed my love for my boyfriend the way I wanted to feel loved, not the way he prefers.
I grew and learned a lot over the years, and wrote a short speech on “Expect Less.” I hope you find it funny, enjoyable, and insightful. May it be a friendly reminder that our loved ones’ presence is the most important thing during this special holiday, not the gifts, not the instagram posts, not the story that you are trying to tell.
Here’s my speech:
I used to demand my birthdays to be perfect. One year, I booked a table in Vegas and spent thousands to party with my friends. Another year, I booked a fancy Michelin star restaurant, just so I could stuff my face. Yet another year, I asked for a surprised party just to be surprised by my friends.
Well, let me take that back, I didn’t do any of that. I “nicely” asked my ex-boyfriend(s) to do it. Yes, they all lived up to the challenge and my ridiculous demands for my birthdays, just so I could feel like a princess on my birthdays.
Fellow Toastmasters and guests, how many gifts or activities does it take, on your birthday, to make you happy?
Growing up, it was instilled in my head that if you love someone, you give them something. For me, that translated into materialistic goods.
However, my birthday falls on the worst time of the year – during Christmas! I always get one gift fewer than others. Stingy people – I’M LOOKING AT YOU – two-in-one doesn’t work here!
Last year, I turned thirty. Thirty is a big deal! It was supposed to be a year where my birthday is fully elaborated. But… my boyfriend doesn’t live up to my elaborate birthday standards. He hates planning (frankly, he’s terrible at it!). He hates surprises. He hates gifts. He is nothing like me when it comes to festivities. I love him and I don’t want to change him, so I took it all on myself.
Here goes my planning:
- Book a 3 day vacation in Sonoma, because I like wine – check
- Book a 4 hour massage, because a girl’s gotta relax – check
- Need a 4 star restaurant, because people gotta eat – check
- Alright, then … people. These three don’t like to hang out with these two, separate them! One group for brunch and another group for night out. – check
- Then I send two links with expensive gifts included to my boyfriend, so all he needs to do is to swipe right and Amazon would ship them to me. How thoughtful of me. 😉
After hours of meticulous planning, I felt proud of what I have accomplished.
Then… of course, things never happen according to plans…
2nd lock down in the bay area.
After that announcement, notifications started to come in.
- “Sorry we need to cancel your appointment.”
- “ Sorry we can no longer do outdoor sitting.”
- “ Sorry we can no longer offer a massage unless for medical reasons.”
- Sorry. Sorry. Sorry…
Can people STOP saying “sorry…”
… because they started to make me feel sorry for myself.
Fast forward to now 2 hours before my birthday. I’m looking at the clock, realizing how everything just turned to despair – a birthday with no gifts, no friends to celebrate with, no partying… Nothing is going according to my plans.
I walk into the bathroom and watch my fully made-up attire in the mirror. Instead of seeing a beautiful young lady, all I see is a failed clown. Tears burst out and stream down my face. A gate breaks open and won’t stop. The complexity of emotions hit me all at once that even I’m not clear why I’m crying.
Am I upset that all of my planning went to waste? Am I upset that my standards for special occasions weren’t met? Am I upset that my boyfriend didn’t try to make me feel special the way I like it? Am I scared that I’m 30 now and there’s still so much uncertainty in life?
My boyfriend walks in and is surprised at my reaction, “What happened? You were so happy just a few minutes ago. Your birthday is about to start!”
“No, nothing is working out. You didn’t buy me gifts. You didn’t plan anything for me. No places are open to have food. No massages this year. No wine. Nothing…”
My heart is racing. My words are slurring. My expectation is suffocating me.
“Shh…”. He tried to comfort me. “That’s why I hate holidays. So much expectation.”
He paused and comforted me, “Let’s think about this. Why do you set up so many failure points that depend on others to give you the happiness you need? And why do birthdays or holidays need to be more extra glamorous than others. Societal norms ask all of us to conform in a way that’s unnecessary. You don’t need a lot to be happy. Expect less. Happiness comes from within.”
He’s right. Throughout the whole year, I was happy. I have a well-paid job. Doordash delivers. Amazon ships. Netflix works. And I have a boyfriend who loves me, cares about me, buys my roses randomly to show me his appreciation.
I didn’t want to admit why I wanted to or needed to do all of those glamorous things. It’s all for that one Instagram post, that one jealous comment, that one story where I get to tell my grandkids that, “hey your grandma was once cool.” How shallow of me…
He is right… “Expect less. Happiness comes from within.”
This fiasco really brought out the deepest hypocrisy in me: Even though I didn’t want to change him, I was still expecting him to be someone he isn’t. Just maybe. Just maybe. He will do something for me, the way I wanted, even though he is terrible at it, because he loves me. How selfish of me…
Looking back, my 30th birthday still turned out to be the best birthday ever. The best present I received was my refined value system on gifts and holidays – Expect less. Happiness comes from within.
Let’s see how I do with this upcoming Valentine’s Day 😉
For you love birds out there, may you cherish the value you hold deep, and love passionately and honestly. Happy Valentines’ Day.
See you all at our next toastmasters meeting on Feb 17th 7-8:15pm PST.
Written by Renee Yao, Women L.E.A.D. Toastmasters President