He messed up on my birthday

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Dear Meredith,

I have been dating the same guy for almost three years. I just moved in with him in July. He is 30 and I am 27. He is very funny and kind but can be immature and careless. He can be quite dramatic about things as well. The most recent event that has me questioning our relationship was a few weeks ago, on my birthday. My birthday was a Sunday and he had a boys weekend planned that same weekend, which he neglected to tell me about until two weeks before. I was mad he didn’t communicate that he was going away. He decided that instead of staying the whole weekend he would just stay Saturday and come home Sunday for my birthday. I thought that was kind of him to do.

Fast forward to my actual birthday. He comes to pick me and two friends up for a nice birthday lunch. When the bill comes, he does not offer to pay for my lunch, which I thought was a bit strange. The whole thing was awkward for my friends, especially because he had just been bragging about the things he paid for on boys trip the day before. I was very disappointed and let him know. He was very upset with himself, but I feel that this is not the first time. He constantly does immature and thoughtless things. Another example is how excited he is to be with his friends and I find sometimes he doesn’t feel that excitement with me. All I wanted was to feel special in the ways I make him feel special on his birthday. For his birthdays I have taken him to a concert, a Celtics game … . and I always get him a nice gift. He has never done anything like planned a day or given me a gift just for myself. His gifts are always something for us to do, but it's always for both me and him. Am I being too sensitive or overthinking? Or is our relationship one-sided?

– Disappointed

You'll notice we have a whole category for letter writers who are disappointed on their birthdays. That's because many people have trouble understanding their partner's expectations. Gift-giving holidays can be very daunting.

That's why we wind up talking about love languages. Say what you want about that book/concept, but I can buy into the idea that love is shown in different ways. I do believe that some people are spectacular at being attentive, while others are better at finding an incredible gift.

As it turns out, one skill your boyfriend doesn't have is mind reading.

That's why my advice is to tell him exactly what you want for your birthday. Not just an item to purchase, but how you want to celebrate and what you expect of him. Yes, that takes the spontaneity out of the act, but in order for him to meet your needs, he has to know them. You were great when it came to telling him that you needed him to be home from his trip. Now tell him more.

It's also a good time for you to ask him about his preferred method of celebration. Maybe he doesn't need a gift and prefers to do an activity with you.

I can't speak to what happened at lunch. I'm a little confused about who organized the outing and what the expectations were for who was treating (you'd think he'd split lunch with the two friends so everyone could give you a birthday treat).

All I'll say is that if you’re consistently disappointed by his behavior – beyond celebrations and gifts – you're better off looking for the person you really want, someone who shares your instincts. But if it's just a gift thing, it's worth more discussion.

– Meredith

Readers? How to you communicate with partners about celebrations and gifts?