I’m going to tell you a story about flowers. But flowers are a euphemism for any small gift that shows your partner that you were thinking of them when they weren’t around. While I’m going to give a heteronormative example (a boyfriend gifting flowers to his girlfriend), this type of token gift-giving is not reserved only for them. It can be applied to all types of romantic relationships. The type of gift may vary, but the principle is the same: doing something to make your partner feel special is a good idea. Here we go…
A Story About Flowers
Once upon a time, I suggested to a friend (let’s call him Kyle) that he buy flowers for his girlfriend (let’s call her Ruba) for Valentine’s Day. He squawked about it (as men typically do) and said it was a waste of money, that the flowers would just die in a few days, that she wasn’t the type of girl who liked flowers – she wasn’t a “girly girl” – she was much more practical. He also rejected the commercial nature of Valentine’s Day with its societal pressures to buy overpriced flowers. Why should an arbitrary holiday saddle him with a flower-buying obligation? Besides, he had something else planned for her. I didn’t argue. Fine, I told him, suit yourself.
A few days later, shortly after Valentine’s Day, my husband and I were at Kyle and Ruba’s place for our weekly dinners. The subject of Valentine’s Day came up. Convinced he was right, Kyle asked his girlfriend to tell me she didn’t want flowers. She obliged, and proceeded to feed me the same lines I’d heard from him days earlier. Fine, Ruba, I told her, I stand corrected. Or so I thought…
Months later during another one of our dinners (and after a few bottles of wine), the subject of flowers came up. We were talking about a mutual friend who had just received flowers from her boyfriend for her birthday. We were happy for her. She’d never received flowers from a boyfriend before (a fact she was keenly aware of) so this was a big deal for her. While my husband and Kyle were engrossed in their own conversation, Ruba leaned across the table towards me and said “You know who’s never bought me flowers?”, then in answer to her own question, she gestured towards Kyle, indicating that her beloved was the guilty party. Poor, sweet, unsuspecting, Kyle. “Actually” she added, “no one has ever bought me flowers before,” Poor, sweet, Ruba!
I was surprised, but not by the fact that Kyle had never bought flowers for Ruba, but that Ruba was upset about it. Hadn’t she insisted, months earlier, that she didn’t want flowers? That she’d prefer to have something else?
LESSON 1: People (even the most brilliant ones) don’t always know what they want, so never ask if she wants flowers. Assume she does.
It can be tempting to think Ruba was being unfair. But the truth is, people don’t always know what they want. But it was clear now that she wanted flowers (but didn’t know it). She certainly didn’t want to have to TELL her boyfriends to buy her flowers. She wanted him to WANT to buy them.
Kyle should never have asked her the question. And knowing him, the question wasn’t posed like this:
“Ruba, I was in the store today and saw some beautiful bouquets in the floral section – I almost bought them for you but worried you wouldn’t like them…”
Instead, he probably said:
“Nelly says I need to buy you flowers for Valentine’s Day – I told her she was wrong, that you’d rather I spend money on something else, like a trip or a nice dinner. Am I wrong?! Can you believe she insists that her husband buy roses for her on Valentine’s Day each year?!”
LESSON 2: Flowers are never an “EITHER / OR” proposition. They’re an “AND” proposition. Flowers AND a trip. Flowers AND a nice dinner. Stop being stubborn AND buy her flowers.
What’s Ruba supposed to respond to him with, other than, “Yeah, that’s crazy, I’d way rather go on a trip with you than receive flowers. I’m cool and low maintenance. I’m not crying inside.”
Who’s the dummy in this scenario? THEY BOTH ARE. Men are idiots for so fervently resisting an infrequent twenty dollar purchase, and women are bozos for playing the part of the “cool and low maintenance” girlfriend who nods along that flowers are a waste of money, while secretly keeping track of the fact that they’ve never received any!
Advice for Women
Ladies: It’s ok to want flowers. It doesn’t make you any less bad-ass! We all know you can afford to buy your own flowers, but there’s nothing wrong with wanting to feel feminine and cared-for. Stop sending mixed messages to your man. He gets confused so easily – don’t make it hard for him.
LESSON 3: Understand the economic utility of flowers
Flowers are Good Value
Utility is a term in economics used to describe the total satisfaction (or joy) received from a good or service (in our case, from fresh cut flowers) which influences the prices we pay for those items.
A bouquet of flowers costs approximately twenty bucks at a grocery store, but those flowers, when gifted to your girlfriend or wife, will bring much more than twenty dollars worth of joy and satisfaction. That, my friend, is what we call a DEAL. It’s not a waste of twenty bucks – you’d be hard-pressed to find another twenty dollar gift that will give her at least twenty dollars worth of joy. Frankly, twenty dollars isn’t getting you a trip or a nice dinner – you’d be lucky to get a sandwich and a soda in the airport.
Flowers Pay Dividends
Yes, you’ll get the immediate return on your investment when she first receives the flowers, but the bouquet will also pay dividends on the back end. She’ll get a boost every time she sees them on display in her home, several times a day, over multiple days. Others will see and ask about them. Those flowers are beautiful, where did you get them? She’ll happily reply, My boyfriend bought them for me. You’ll reap the benefits long after you’ve delivered the flowers, even when you’re not there. The flowers are doing the work for you.
Plus, the positive emotional response from your partner will survive long after the flowers are dead. She’ll think back fondly on the happy memories from the time you bought her flowers.
Minimum Investment, Maximum Return
Buying flowers once or twice a year is enough: once on Valentine’s Day and one other day just because you love her. If you want to buy flowers more frequently, go for it, but it’s not necessary. At twenty bucks per bouquet (ok, maybe forty dollars on Valentine’s Day), that’s a sixty dollar investment for an entire year. That’s not a lot of money relative to the positive impact it will have.
The Odds are in Favour of Flowers
Yes, I understand there are exceptions to the rule that women love flowers. There are women who are allergic to them, or just genuinely hate them. These women are the EXCEPTION, not the RULE. Chances are you’re dating (or are married to) the RULE. The odds are in favour of buying flowers.
It would be a less costly mistake to spend twenty bucks on a pretty bouquet from the grocery store this weekend (yes, do it now!), than it would be to refuse to make floral purchases altogether. If she hates them or is allergic, you’ll find out fast. Even still, you’ll reap the benefits of having shown her you were thinking of her if she wasn’t around. And if I’m right, and she loves them, then you’ve just learned a valuable lesson that will serve you for the rest of your days together.
LESSON 4: EVERYONE WANTS TO FEEL SPECIAL
How would you feel if your girlfriend or wife came home with a 6-pack of your favourite craft beer, as a surprise for you? You’d feel pretty special, wouldn’t you?
Holidays (like Valentine’s Day) are a great reminder to make our partners feel special (commercial or not). Relationship expert Esther Perel explains this well:
“Holidays force us to mark time and acknowledge something. We can be cynical and talk about commercialization, but every holiday is commercialized. We don’t stop doing Christmas. It’s a good idea, on occasion, to celebrate your relationship and who you love.”
It doesn’t have to be flowers or beer. It could be something else: a bottle of wine, a magazine, a sweet treat from a bakery you love. I’m focusing on flowers because it’s an easy, low-effort gift that is a universal symbol of romance. Just don’t over-complicate it to the point of not doing anything at all.
DOs and DON’Ts
At this point, I expect you’ve grown tired of being beaten over the head with this topic and are willing to buy flowers as an experiment. Excellent choice. To help you out, here are some important DOs and DON’Ts.
- DO buy flowers as a surprise, for no reason at all
- DO buy flowers for special occasions (Valentine’s Day*, birthdays, mother’s day, congratulations, anniversaries). *Buy flowers on Valentine’s Day – not the day before, not the day after. I don’t care that the price has doubled for the same bouquet.
- DO buy flowers from the grocery store while you’re picking up groceries
- You DON’T need to buy a vase. That’s her problem to solve, not yours. And if you’re skeptical about whether or not she actually likes flowers, if she has a vase (which she will), you’ll know she likes them.
- If you’re buying discounted flowers, DO make sure they’re still pretty (not wilted), DO destroy the receipt, and DO pull off the price sticker before giving them to her. You DON’T want to appear cheap which might negate your nice deed.
- DON’T buy a plant for her garden (even if she likes gardening). DON’T give her a chore. Give her a gift.
- DON’T buy flowers as a way to earn her forgiveness (I call these I F*cked Up Flowers). You’ll only be training her to think you’ve done something wrong whenever she sees a bouquet. Avoid creating this kind of Pavlovian response.
- DO be aware that red roses symbolize love and passion, while other colours (like pink, white, and yellow) have other meanings. If you’re reaching for non-red roses (because they’re prettier or smell better than the red ones), let your partner know that you initially planned to buy the red ones, but they didn’t pass your quality control standards. Without this subtle disclaimer, your girlfriend might think you’re not as committed to her as she is to you, causing feelings of insecurity. This may sound silly and irrational (and you’re right, it is) but remember that this is an emotional response, so your rational arguments are useless here. And DON’T buy carnations.
- DO buy flowers for your mother on Mother’s Day. If you have sisters, they’ve probably taken care of this, but if your poor mother got stuck with only sons (God help her), then get off your ass and buy that poor woman some flowers! She’s a lady too, after all, so flowers will make her just as happy as they will make your girlfriend.
What’s the moral of this story?
Go buy flowers (or some equivalent) and give them to your partner. Make them feel special.
If you feel awkward about it, just tell her you saw them and thought they were pretty (like she is) and that you thought she’d like them.
So, did Ruba ever get flowers?!
Oh yes, Kyle did eventually buy flowers for Ruba. His reason for finally doing it was a mix of societal pressure and realizing it would make her happy, irrespective of his feelings on the subject. She loved them. He says he’ll buy her flowers again soon, once enough time has passed that it will feel like a surprise again. We have a convert, ladies and gentlemen!
Some Final Thoughts.
If you’ve read this far and you haven’t already reached for your keys, transit pass, wallet, and face mask so that you can go to the store and buy some flowers, I only have one question for you: Is there a heart in there, Tin man?!
If, however, you’ve found this post useful, please share it with a friend or family member whose relationship might benefit!
Tell me your flower stories (whether you received or gifted them) – I’d love to hear from you in the comments below or on Twitter (@nellymosstag).
Until next time, much love to you and yours,