About eleven years ago, the woman who would one day be my wife walked into a bar in northern Seoul with her friend. My initial interest was with the friend, as she was way more drunk. But alas, she eventually flew too close to the sun, and we wound up having to chuck her unconscious ass into the back of a cab and send her home. The other girl and I went back into the bar and resumed drinking.
Her English was as bad as my Korean, but through a combination of booze and pictures drawn on the backs of napkins, the seeds of love were planted. A year later, we were married.
Over the course of our relationship, I've had a pretty bad track record of gift giving. While we were still dating, on one of our however-many-months dating anniversaries, I bought her an electronic English/Korean dictionary.
Not the most romantic gesture, sure. But it was more convenient than always carrying around one of those giant paper dictionaries. Shortly after that, every cellphone in South Korea started including Korean/English dictionaries as standard issue. Awesome.
Over the first few years of marriage, I've made some pretty sad attempts at gift-giving, but there was this one year when I thought I'd nailed it. My wife had expressed an interest in digital painting. So I ordered her one of those cool Wacom tablets to hook up to the computer. You know, the ones where you draw on the tablet with the stylus, and the image appears on the monitor.
That was fun for a couple of days, but it takes some getting used to. Then, wouldn't you know, I was once again shown up by a goddamn cellphone. These newfangled smartphones and their fancy touch screens were a lot easier for her to draw on.
After entering some of the pictures she drew on her phone in art contests, she eventually won herself a nice new shiny iPad, which she enjoys drawing on even more.
Since then I've mostly gone with the tried and true method of letting her pick out her own present. But for the Big Ten, I thought I should probably make a little effort.
So I hit up Google for some ideas, and I discovered on Wikipedia that there are actually traditional gifts for each anniversary. I had no idea that this was a thing, but it looked like my shopping was about to get a hell of a lot easier... that is, until I saw the gifts on the list.
1st Anniversary: Paper
Listen guys. I know that first year can be rough. When you start actually living together, you might find that this person you've decided to share your life with isn't exactly the same person who blew you in the back of a taxi on the way home from the club.
Maybe you've spent eleven months at each others' throats, and are thinking about bailing out before kids come into the picture. It might seem to make sense, then, to avoid investing a ton of cash on something that he or she is just going to hock for a deposit on their new apartment.
But paper? If you're not even going to try, just sign the divorce papers now. It's cute when a four-year-old makes a homemade card for grandma's birthday, but that shit just doesn't hold up anymore.
2nd Anniversary: Cotton
You've tolerated one another's presence for two years now. Congratulations.
By now certain realities are starting to set in, and you're sacrificing luxury for practicality. The only things holding your marriage together is that fact that you're both too exhausted to fight after working your thankless jobs all day, and maybe you've squirted out a kid by this point.
Those matching tiger-striped undies you wore the night you conceived that shrieking little poopsack don't even fit anymore. But is tonight the night you really want to commemorate the death of your romance by exchanging Fruit of the Looms?
3rd Anniversary: Leather
Considering the first two suggested gifts, you might be surprised that this year's gift isn't something like asbestos, or just a good solid kick in the junk.
Leather's not so bad, right? Lots of good stuff is made out of leather. There are bags and belts and jackets and boots. Or maybe, if you're trying to rekindle some of that old spark in your marriage, you might buy some BSDM outfits and whips, or whatever the young people are using these days.
But considering the hunter-gatherer nature of the rest of this list, I suspect the implication is that you're meant to impress your spouse by wrestling an elk with your bare hands and presenting him or her with its skin.
4th Anniversary: Linen
Last year's tangle with that elk has probably left you wanting for clean towels and sheets. Who knew those fuckers had so much blood, right? All the store-brand detergent in the world isn't going to get that shit out.
While it will be nice to finally be able to cry yourselves to sleep again on a pillowcase that isn't permanently stained the color of rust, presenting this to your spouse on your anniversary will only serve as a stark reminder of how pointless your lives have become, and that his or her parents were right about you from the beginning.
5th Anniversary: Wood
Life has been kind of hard since the neighbors have all been shunning you, and that ostracism is taking its toll on your marriage. It's been two years since what everyone is referring to "the incident", and though the police have corroborated your claim that the blood smeared up your driveway wasn't that of a human being, you've not managed to convince anyone to come down and have a look at what's been curing in your cellar.
Well the joke's on them. This year's gifts aren't so much for each other, but for reestablishing your place in the community. Nothing brings folks together like a big ol' bonfire and some roasted elk.
6th Anniversary: Iron
You've endured not only six years of marriage at this point, but also one year of homelessness. Having accidentally burned down your house last year, your relationship has been touch and go. But you're not worried. You've still got your health and your kids, and you've chased off enough hobos to establish yourselves as the resident squatters of the abandoned warehouse on the other side of the train tracks. Most of all, you've still got each other. Combing through the charred wreckage of your former home one day, you find the one possession of yours which was not destroyed by fire. That cast iron skillet.
You've managed to keep it hidden from your spouse up til now at the bottom of a crate of broken glass bottles, only ever bringing it out to defend your family from the occasional intruder or coyote who comes sniffing around.
You haven't collected enough recyclables to buy your spouse a real sixth anniversary present, so you're hoping that the sentimental value of this symbol of your former life will be enough.
7th Anniversary: Copper
According to tradition, you also have the option to give wool this year. Your attempt at procuring some got you thrown out of the zoo and nearly arrested. Fortunately, you discovered that the second floor of your new home hadn't been completely stripped of its wires and pipes.
You happily tell your spouse that he or she can use this gift to score enough meth to get his or her self through an entire month without having to blow anyone in the alley.
8th Anniversary: Bronze
In order to let absence make the heart grow fonder, you've been spending a lot of your nights in the park, each night sawing a little bit deeper into the wrist of Robert E. Lee. Cops don't come into this part of town at night, and the junkies think you're hilarious.
Finally, you manage to wrest the hand free from the arm, and have enough bronze to melt down and pour into the circular mold you've made.
After attaching it to a length of bungee cord you scored in a dumpster, you proudly present the bronze medal to your spouse, making sure to explain that it's not meant to imply that he or she came in third place in a two person marriage.
He or she smiles back at you with sad eyes and a mouth full of brown and yellow teeth and says, "That doesn't matter, honey. I'm just going to sell it for meth anyway."
9th Anniversary: Pottery
You won't have to be climbing statues or breaking into the zoo this year. Clay is just wet dirt, right?
Your spouse is passed out with a needle in his/her arm when you arrive home with a sackful of dirt. Perfect. You instruct the kids to take their pet rat for a walk while you work.
You mix your dirt with toilet water until you have just the right consistency, and get to work expressing your love in clay form. Your finished sculpture is either an ashtray or a flower pot, and almost certainly won't be able to be sold for meth.
Your inexperience with kiln building leads you to set the warehouse on fire, where you and your spouse perish in flames.
10th Anniversary: Aluminium or Tin
Here's where I am now.
Fortunately, I've been unaware of these "traditional" anniversary gifts for the past nine years. I don't know if the events I've described above are typical of your average married couple. That was all speculation on my part. What I do know, however, is that if I try to give my wife a 10 year anniversary present made out of foil and empty beer cans, she will murder me in my sleep.
Back to square one.