A marriage role reversal story.

I overslept this morning and got up just before my husband left for work. When I came down to the kitchen, on the counter sat a big red envelope with my name in a heart pierced with an arrow.

I had intended to be up before Michael so I could put my Valentine’s Day card on his placemat, proving that I already bought one. It’s something I don’t always do.

Our role reversal is that my husband buys thoughtful, sentimental gifts and I don’t. In fact, I suck at gift-giving.

My husband buys thoughtful, sentimental gifts, and I don’t.

Maybe that’s why I’m the one who insists that we don’t exchange presents for Valentine’s Day.

Really, what do I need that I can’t buy for myself? I’m hard to fit in clothes unless I try them on first, I’m particular about jewelry (meaning that I like it cheap mostly, not worthy of Valentine’s gift-giving), I can’t eat chocolate these days, and it’s too cold for garden plants.

But I do insist on a card. Even so, often the day creeps up on me and I’m caught NOT red-handed.

I KNOW it’s coming. I KNOW Valentine’s Day is February 14. I look at the calendar and see it marked. But then I have doctor’s appointments and errands to run and a nor’easter will roll in and I’ll have to shovel and will forget about VD until I look at FaceBook and see all the ads. But then I’ll be busy writing and if I stop, I’ll lose my great idea.

So I end up in the CVS greeting card aisle at 8 p.m. the evening of February 13, elbowing my way through a wall of sheepish men lined up three-deep, waiting to pick among the dregs of the red and pink cards. 

Talk about sheepish–I’m usually redder than all the glossy hearts. 

This year, I’m free during the day, and worried that VD morning, I’d have to tell Michael , “Let’s open cards tonight, dear, is that okay with you?” And then run out to CVS only to find a card.

He would know what was going on, though. I can’t fool him anymore. 

But this year, I got my act together and bought a card early. Too early. I hid it somewhere, and until I had some coffee in me, I couldn’t remember where. 

When Michael walked into the kitchen, the first thing he said was, “Since I’m leaving now, you’ll have time to go to CVS today to buy your card.” He was on to our role reversal.

“I have one!” I told him. “I bought it yesterday, really.”

And we both had a good chuckle.

After 35 years of marriage, we can joke about our foibles and accept each other’s faults. It takes self-acceptance and spouse-acceptance. That gift is better than any card.

We accept our role-reversal along with our faults.

Gift or no gift, card or no card, here’s what I do that tells my husband how much I love him all year round:

I thank him often. For washing his bowl that sat in the sink for two days, and mailing my letter, and putting up with me, and killing the Black Widow spider in the bathroom. (Okay, it was only one of the little yellow spiders, but I’m sure it was about to attack me.) And I tell him that he’s a genius for figuring out how to fix our basement stairs without costing us a fortune. And I tell him how glad I am that I married him thirty-four years ago.

And for some reason, even though I suck at gifts, he thanks me when I wash his bowl that sat in the sink for two days and hugs me when I’m sad and saves me from four-legged and eight-legged and winged critters, and tells me how glad he is to have married me thirty-four years ago.

When you have words and deeds that are so precious, who needs gifts?

But I’d still like to exchange cards for Valentine’s Day, and I’ll still try to get myself to the store early enough to get my hands on a red-hot one before they’re all gone.


  • Karen DeBonis

    Karen DeBonis writes about motherhood, people-pleasing, and personal growth, the entangled mix told in her memoir "Growth: A Mother, Her Son, and the Brain Tumor They Survived" forthcoming in spring 2023. Subscribe today to receive Chapter 1: A Reckoning.

    View all posts

No Comments

  1. Gail Boenning on February 14, 2018 at 1:37 PM

    Happy Valentine’s Day Karen!

  2. PHONEGAL52 on February 14, 2018 at 2:18 PM

    I loved this article It made me laugh I was in CVS last night at 7 pm not buying a card but FYI the card aisle was very busy  Happy Valentine’s Day.   I tried to log in to comment and I got a message saying my email didn’t match LOL 

    Sent from Yahoo Mail on Android

    • Karen DeBonis on February 14, 2018 at 4:17 PM

      I went to CVS early afternoon, and was so glad there wasn’t a crowd! BTW – your comment showed up fine here, and thank you for it. Sorry it’s so tricky!!

  3. Sheba Olenik on February 14, 2018 at 2:56 PM

    So cute!

  4. Jack Herlocker on February 15, 2018 at 3:59 PM

    Deb loved this, btw! She also thinks, “my husband gives awesome, sentimental, thoughtful gifts, and I suck,” which is untrue in her case, and I suspect in yours as well. Michael reads these, right? I trust he tells you when you’re full of it and you’re wonderful, and you tell him you might occasionally need to exaggerate for effect. ;-)

  5. Karen DeBonis on February 15, 2018 at 4:42 PM

    Oh, Jack, how I wish I could say I exaggerated for effect, but that is sadly not the case. I do suck at gift-giving, and yes, some years, I’ve been in CVS the night before with all the men, buying a card. And Michael still tells me I’m wonderful and that he loves me. So now we’ve established why I married him, what still remains a mystery is why he married ME!

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.