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COMMITMENTS : Great Expectations : There Are Just Some Dates We Can’t Get Out Of

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SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

OK, why is it that a guy can remember who batted cleanup for the ’63 Red Sox but he can’t remember his own anniversary?

And why do women think that forgetting an anniversary or a birthday should be a Class A felony?

“The reasons are mysterious,” says Mill Valley psychologist John Gray, author of the best-selling “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus.” “But the reality is clear: Remembering details about a relationship just isn’t instinctive to men.”

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Most women, on the other hand, pride themselves on remembering these dates, and they’d hardly consider birthdays and anniversaries to be mere “details.”

“My birthday is the one day of the year that is totally mine,” says marriage and family counselor Ann Christie, who hosts a KMPC radio call-in show with her husband, psychologist Leslie Pam. “It represents who I am.”

Gray says a woman’s self-esteem is primarily nurtured through her relationships. “For a man, it’s about appreciating what he does, what he fixed.”

Woodland Hills chiropractor Bill Updyke is baffled by the premium that women put on birthdays.

“I totally don’t get it,” says Updyke, 36. “Women have these networks of girlfriends and they all buy each other gifts, and it makes them all happy. For a guy, you would be the ultimate geek if you called up your friend and wished him, ‘Happy birthday.’ ”

Walking that fine line between geek and Neanderthal, Updyke came up with a compromise last year intended to appease everyone in his office. He chose a day at random and declared it everybody’s birthday.

“I said, ‘Happy birthday, everybody.’ Now I don’t have to think about it anymore.”

Updyke makes one exception--for his wife, Diane.

“My life is much easier if she has a great birthday,” he says. This year he is planning to take her shopping for an entire day.

“The great thing about a day like that is that she gets to relive it with all her girlfriends,” he says. “It’s a gift that keeps on giving.”

Radio host Leslie Pam says it’s important for men to make an effort with a gift or card.

“Men just have to give into it,” he says. He learned his lesson even before he and Ann Christie were married.

“He forgot my birthday, and I didn’t speak to him for a whole year,” Christie says.

Now he always does the birthday thing, but that doesn’t mean he’s any more thrilled about the concept. “I see it as an imposition in my life,” he admits.

Pam remembers key dates by writing them down in his calendar, but Marg Petersen didn’t trust her then-fiance, Bent, to take such extraordinary steps. So Petersen, who lives in Oregon, took preventive measures. His birthday is June 21, and hers is July 21, so she scheduled their wedding for Aug. 21.

“I thought if I just made the numbers the same, all he’d have to remember was that in the summer, all of these things happen on the 21st,” says Petersen, 50.

In nearly 30 years of marriage, Bent has never forgotten their anniversary. In fact, the trick has worked so well that Petersen begged her two children to schedule their weddings on the 21st.

“I told them it didn’t matter which month,” she says. But her kids wouldn’t listen.

John Gray says women shouldn’t feel hurt or insulted if their husbands fail to acknowledge a birthday or anniversary.

“Women have to know that it’s not just their husband--lots of men forget these things.”

For years even Gray had trouble with his wife’s birthday. Finally, he decided to brand it in his memory.

“I stood at the mirror and said, ‘My wife’s birthday is Jan. 20, 1950. My wife’s birthday is Jan. 20, 1950.’ ”

Despite good intentions, Pam could stand to spend some time in front of the mirror, too. Asked to name his wife’s birthday, he said, “I know it’s in October. I think it’s the 20th.”

“It’s the 17th,” Christie said.


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