He blew it on my birthday

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Today's letter writer got less for her birthday than this woman.

Dear Meredith,

I would really appreciate some insight. This past Wednesday was my birthday. My boyfriend, whom I have been dating for a little over seven months, is very much the forgetful kind. As such, on Monday I began hinting that this week might be something special. When he was clearly not getting the hints, I went ahead and told him that my birthday was on Wednesday and that I was slightly disappointed that he had no idea, being that we have been dating for over half a year. He got very upset and after a few "I don't deserve you" comments I told him it was fine, at least now he knows, and we put it to rest. Or so I thought.

Fast forward to Wednesday and he doesn’t even say Happy Birthday to me. Not a card, call, or text. A bit angry, I stopped by his house to confront him about completely ignoring my birthday. He was very upset by my confrontation and told me that he had been thinking about what to do the entire day before, but felt like anything he did could never be enough to make up for initially forgetting so, for fear of insulting me by doing too little, he did nothing at all. I told him I was disappointed, but the important part is that he thought about it and I appreciate how much he cares.

I was feeling very mature and completely fine with this decision until my female friends start asking what my loving boyfriend did for my special day. After a few days of defending his "I did nothing" approach, I’m beginning to wonder if I shouldn’t be defending him at all.

So, I guess I’m wondering, is this a deal breaker? He’s a very nice guy, sweet, says all the right things, has a good sense of humor, etc. But I have to wonder, am I selling myself seriously short by sticking around?

– A Card Would Have Been Nice, Somerville

1. Hints are stupid. If you want to celebrate your birthday, you have to say, "My birthday's next week. I'd love to do something." And this isn't a gender thing. The "don't hint" rule applies to all. Hinting is like assuming someone can read tone in an e-mail. It's just not something you can count on.
2. Some people suffer from what my brilliant friend Jenn calls vacation/holiday impotence. When given a challenge (as in, "It’s my birthday -- surprise me!," or "Plan a romantic vacation for us!,") these people think so hard about what they're supposed to do that they wind up doing nothing. They just can't deal. It sounds like your guy has that problem.

3. Everything that happens during the first year of a relationship sets a precedent. If you've been dating for less than a year, there's no tradition for him to follow. I think he lashed out when you stopped by because he felt set up to fail. He didn't know what to do with those hints. There was no tradition, and he's someone who needs guidance.

You're right -- he was lame. And he's forgetful. And he has holiday impotence. But a birthday is one day. If he's been pretty great every other day, that's what counts. If he hasn't, well, that's something to think about

Next time, don't play mind games. Don't be passive-aggressive. You have a boyfriend who needs you to spell it out for him. There are worse things. Be clear. Tell him you're sorry you freaked him out -- and tell him if he'd like, you'll help him with a do-over.

Readers? Am I blaming the victim here? Was she wrong to hint? Was he wrong to get angry about his failure? Discuss.

– Meredith