Although I've always been talkative, when it comes to my romantic relationships, I'd rather show than tell. By this I mean: I'd prefer to give someone an inexpensive, yet, Leslie Knope-thoughtful gift than explicitly tell them that I have feelings for them. What can I say? I'm an "extra" gift-giver. And while over the years, I've bestowed many small trinkets onto the people I've dated, the thoughtful gift I gave my crush last spring really took the birthday cake.
Like any good love modern story, this one starts on Tinder. After a week of flirty texting, we decided to meet for cheap beers and happy hour snacks at a dive bar in their neighborhood. Thanks to some internet digging, I went into our first meeting already knowing that my date was super into soccer. Still, as we swiveled around on our barstools, I was excited to hear more about their love for the game, as well as their takes on my favorite first date topics: astrology, family trauma, and tattoos.
They told me they're a Taurus (sigh), they love their mom, and they have a giant cannon tattoo on their leg — the symbol of their favorite soccer team, Arsenal Football Club. Their grandfather, who was their hero and best friend (again, sigh), had been a huge Arsenal fan, and watching Arsenal games with their Papa had been a fundamental part of my crush's childhood.
As I listened to their stories about waking up in the middle of the night to catch international matches, meeting soccer fan clubs around Philly, and even starting their own soccer podcast, I could tell this sport meant more to them than Cardi B means to me (and that's saying a lot).
Although I went on to give them an assortment of little presents over the months we saw other — a pack of fake tattoos from H-Mart, a Picasso flip-book from a queer-owned bookstore, a Shrinky Dink keychain, endless cases of seltzer — when I found out their birthday was coming up, I knew I needed to do something extra. Rather than try to tell them how much they meant to me, I wanted to show them by giving them a thoughtful yet unconventional gift.
So, I started "brainstorming" (read: anxiously-Googling while drinking warm Topo Chico at midnight). Sure, they loved soccer — but not just because they were athletic. They loved the culture of the game. They were constantly interviewing players and other fans for their podcast and connecting with soccer lovers all across the world.
They were sentimental and creative, thrilled to show me their grandfather's old film photographs and their collection of ratty band T-shirts they had bought in high school. Like me, they put more emphasis on something's emotional value than its price tag. And much like mine, their bedroom was full of old concert tickets that they didn't want to throw away and trinkets they had collected from their friends and travels.
I set out to gift them something that would combine their love of old media, tradition, and of course, Arsenal. Something so thoughtful, so niche, and so extra that they would remember this birthday forever. It needed to be athletic and historic, sporty but sentimental. It needed to be something tailored just for them.
After nights of "research" (stress), I finally stumbled onto a British Etsy shop full of old sports paraphernalia. Suddenly, my jaw dropped. There it was, in red and yellow: an old Arsenal program from a game played on the literal day they were born. It was a little piece of history, inexplicably connected to them.
It was the most #onbrand purchase I have ever made. And for a reasonable price of $4, it was my brand. I bought it without a second thought and waited gleefully for it to arrive from London, picturing my crush's face.
When the old program came in the mail, I flipped through it 100 times just to make sure it was real. But it totally was: Its glossy pages were full of headshots of all the players from the '90s, hilarious old beer ads, and interviews with the coaches. It was, for lack of a better word, birthday present #goals.
Because of conflicting work schedules (earth-sign life), I didn't get to see them on their actual birthday. However, I still wanted them to open their present. Wrapped in brown paper with a short note and a dried flower, I left the program in my crush's mailbox and excitedly waited for them to find it.
Later that night, as I was brushing my teeth, my phone blew up with texts. "Where did you get this?! This is the coolest present I have ever received," my crush exclaimed. They were clearly thrilled about my present, and I was stoked that my extra-ness had paid off.
The next night, when we finally went out to dinner to celebrate their birthday IRL, they shared how much it had meant to them. My crush understood the extra effort I had put into finding such a specific and thoughtful present, and felt lucky to be with me. Although our relationship didn't last much longer, the gift was a testament to how well we knew each other. I like to think they've kept it somewhere, nestled between old photographs and empty cans of La Croix, as a little reminder of how well we got along.
Although trying to buy someone's love or overwhelming someone with unsolicited presents isn't healthy, IMHNBO (in my humble non-binary opinion), giving someone a thoughtful trinket can be a sweet way to show them that you care. Sure, my present was extra, but it didn't break the bank. My gift showed my crush, "I don't just see who you really are, I like you better for it" — better than I could ever tell them.