Like all long-term relationships, Valentine’s Day and I have had our ups and downs. But, we’ve made our peace with each other and I’ve decided I’d rather have it around than not.
In the beginning, a brown paper sack full of pre-printed admiration and sweets was enough to make my heart beat quicken. I loved everyone and embraced the opportunity to show it with heart-shaped doilies emblazoned with my best crayon signature.
Eventually, love grew more complicated. I thoughtfully selected the sentiment that best communicated my love for that year’s crush from the four feline themed options in the box from the drugstore and signed it with care (though not so much care as to be impossible to dismiss as random if he thought the third “r” in “purrr-fect” and the heart dotted “i” in my signature was over the top). The factory valentines never had the right mix of messages to match the mix of children in my class, so I employed a complex triage system in which the most (and least) lovely children were identified and matched with the appropriate talking cats first, followed by the second most/least lovely, third, etc. The kids in the middle of the pack sometimes received a more generous or stingy compliment than I would have preferred based on the remaining stock.
In junior high, Valentine’s Day became an angst-filled competitive awards ceremony. Egalitarian recognition was no longer a priority. Existing no longer secured your status as a receiver of valentines. Receiving a valentine required attracting the attention and admiration of a member of the opposite sex. How boys could have missed me in my neon ensembles or failed to admire the gravity defying height of my bangs is an unsolved mystery. But, they did. Other girls paraded through the hallways with chocolates, balloons, and flowers while I carried only my textbooks. Other girls snogged against lockers long after the bell while I walked to class for another on-time arrival.
My high school boyfriend was admirable March through January but February highlighted his weaknesses. He was not prone to grand gestures, was seemingly immune to the traditional Valentine’s Day trappings, and preferred swapping spit in my basement to public displays of saliva. I pretended to be enlightened enough not to need roses to be sure of his affection but I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed that I finally had the missing ingredient but still wouldn’t be one of the girls arriving late to class with a combination lock shaped indent in my back.
My Valentine’s Day experiences have varied since then. I’ve bitterly shunned the holiday. I’ve embraced stag events with gusto. I’ve eaten fondue in an evening gown. I’ve been proposed to on a beach. I’ve gotten pregnant. I’ve enjoyed a homemade dinner by candlelight with a toddler. I’ve gone to a comedy show. I’ve spent the wee morning hours gluing together Pinterest-worthy valentines for preschoolers. I’ve watched a chick-flick alone while my husband took the kids to story time at the public library.
On balance, I’ve spent more years than not joining the chorus of cynical voices that dismiss Valentine’s Day as a Hallmark Holiday. The first Valentine’s Day with a shared bank account, I cringed at the cost of the flower/vase combo delivered to my office. But, I’ve come around to the idea of overpriced flowers in mid-February. Not ridiculously overpriced florist flowers, but slightly overpriced grocery store flowers.
My husband and I have been together more than a decade. I haven’t taken a formal survey, but anecdotal evidence suggests he is more thoughtful, kind and patient than the average husband. Fatherhood only magnified his charming qualities. I feel truly, deeply, and completely loved.
When I think about his loving gestures, I think a little about the mushy cards tucked in my sock drawer and about the flowers that arrive home at intervals just irregular enough to be delightfully unexpected.
But mostly I think about chocolate. And coffee. And sack lunches. And socks.
The love that sustains our relationship isn’t showy love. It’s a late night trip to the grocery store to satisfy the other person’s chocolate craving. It’s packing the kids’ lunches to make the other person’s morning just a little easier. It’s a pot of coffee brewed exclusively for the other person before leaving for work. It’s volunteering to be the one to go into the creepy basement to switch the laundry. It’s not pretending to be asleep when the children cry in the middle of the night. It’s allowing your belly to be used as a foot warmer. It’s crossing the finish line together even though one of you is significantly slower than the other. It’s cuddling on the couch and pretending you didn’t already watch this episode of Homeland. It’s bringing home a Jane Austen movie for that day in the 28-day cycle. It’s intertwined fingers on a walk to the park. It’s being the one to fill the car with gas when the tank gets low. It’s putting your socks in the hamper. It’s being the one who responds to “I need a wipe!” It’s not making the sound the other person hates when you turn the pages of the newspaper. It’s making breakfast while the other person sleeps. It’s returning the wanting kiss even though you’re tired. It’s not telling a single soul that the other person secretly loves The Bachelor.
Little love—small but frequent acts of kindness, consideration, and compassion—sustains us.
But, little love can’t carry all the weight. We still need big love. Over-the-top, frivolous, cheesy love. Junior high hallway love.
Today is a day for big love. Mushy cards. Fresh flowers. Dark chocolate. Passionate kisses.
If I had to choose, I’d choose a pot of coffee made just for me on a random Friday in May over a dozen red roses on a specific Friday in February.
But, I don’t have to choose.
I can snuggle on the couch tonight watching terrible television with my husband, surrounded by a sock-free floor, eating chocolate cake. And then, we can snog like teenagers in the flickering shadows cast by our unity candle and the mushy cards on our dresser.
Illustration by Christine Juneau