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Even just a little something

To survive Valentine's Day as a new husband, get out your checkbook.

Just don't do what I did.

It was two weeks before our second Valentine's Day as a married couple — our fourth since we'd met — and I was about as motivated to buy a gift as I was to replace my car's grubby air filter. The smell of Valentine's season — flowers, perfumes, candy — didn't seem as sweet since the rings had been on both fingers for more than a year.

What's more, finances were tight.

So I strategically brought up the budget with my wife. Sighing and squeezing my forehead while looking at the checkbook ledger, I expressed hope there were no major expenses on the horizon.

It worked. We agreed to not buy gifts.

I was feeling pretty good about myself when the subject of gifts came up on the day before Valentine's. I smugly told some friends of our arrangement — like I'd figured out how to tee off 300 yards without ever visiting the driving range.

Thankfully, I was saved by some wise advice. "She's still going to want something," I was told. "You can't not get her anything."

I was skeptical, but the words tumbled around inside me, getting heavier by the hour. By the time I was on my way home later that night, I wasn't willing to chance it. I stopped by a grocery store and bought a single rose and some candy.

After I woke up, my wife presented me with a small token of Valentine's affection — a modest but warmly decorated box of chocolates.

"I wanted you to have something," she said. "Sorry I broke the rules."

Stereotypes suggest that women expect men to know what they are thinking, to hear the unsaid.

But I don't believe my wife expected anything. Tiffany isn't demanding. She doesn't play mind games, and sentiment doesn't flow freely. Had I not stopped, I'm sure she — ostensibly and internally — would have been fine.

But I already felt horrible.

And without at least something, I would have felt even worse.

So now I have a new rule: No matter how strongly we agree not to buy anything, there still has to be something.