Valentine’s Day was a blast when I was little: school parties, cupcakes, chocolate, candy, feeling warm despite the cold of February in Buffalo, N.Y.
When I moved to Virginia, it was in the midst of the ubiquitous “Virginia is for Lovers” campaign designed to boost tourism.
Being from New York state, I took offense to that because I felt 1) that Virginia was stealing the super-popular “I ❤ N.Y.” campaign, and 2) that Virginia was for traitors to the Union.
It was those Virginia Februarys in which I learned about the “ice line” and how disappointing winters here can be: cold as fuck (certainly not Montana cold), but no snow. Just dry, gray, bitter bone cold.
After I moved to Virginia, I didn’t like Valentine’s Day much.
For my first Valentine’s Day in Virginia, I was 14 (oy vey, I do NOT miss that time) wondering what love is all about and witnessing a fair amount of discord in my parents’ marriage due to various disappointments in my mother and my dad trying to find his social niche after the move.
So I went looking. Not in a hopeless way, but as a true wonderer in doubt of the point of it all and thinking that it really didn’t exist in an obvious way; that the movies and TV shows were wildly exaggerating. That didn’t stop me from wondering if a small percentage of it were possible, somehere, in a distant land or maybe in the house next door: this perfect love, a love which was as Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians waxed, “it does not boast, and is patient” (I’m loosely paraphrasing) and that “it endures all things.”
I would add that to me, love also meant that it showed up when it said it would, that it would follow through on a promise or even a threat, that it would inspire silence when criticism would be waiting at the ready, finger on the trigger; and that it would simply wait until I softened.
I had to wait a long time before that kind of love stepped into my life, and when it did, I still was suspicious of it.
Before all that, and even in the midst of it, I lost enthusiasm for Valentine’s Day, especially as a mother. But I will admit that I am turning around. What I object to is the capitalization of the day, and the necessity for jewelers and Best Buy to get in the act. It’s the IN YOUR FACE, mandatory YOU MUST SHOW YOUR LOVE bullshit that turns me off, and has for at least 10 years.
The kids don’t bring home their handmade valentines anymore; my youngest is 11. Dan and I held each other this morning when Jackson Browne sang “Sky Blue and Black” on Pandora. The boys ask us about Valentine’s Day, expecting us to go on a hot date with chocolates and flowers, but that’s not how we roll. Especially with the kids now. Love isn’t dampened, it’s just more reserved. Maybe that’s a bummer. Diamonds don’t tell me how much my husband loves me, his being here day in and day out, helping me with everything and me helping him is what tells me he loves me.
I was chatting with some online friends and we agreed that Valentine’s Day is about family right now. I followed one of my friends’ leads and I’ll break out the china, crystal and sterling tonight for dinner. We will use the dining room.
My sons are good to me though. Thing 3 made me coffee this morning, just how I like it. Thing 2 kissed me on the forehead, he’s almost taller than I am now, and told me he loved me. I could feel his razor stubble from his upper lip. My heart leapt and sank because he’s so big. Thing 1, a master of satire, said “this Valentine’s Day, my 16th, I am still single. I will spend the evening in the basement crying, as I have all the years before.” Yesterday was Murphy’s seventh birthday; his face is whitening and he’s a little slower on the uptake yet he brims with love every time he torpedos my crotch. Charlie is Charlie, chewing on something, pulling on Murphy’s mane.
. . . . . . . . . . . . .
I went with my husband to see “American Sniper” two weeks ago. The first show we tried to see was sold out. So we went to an early dinner instead. Over our coincidental orders of warm goat cheese and spiced pecan salads we started talking about my parents’ relationship and his parents’ relationship and how hard it must be to be our remaining parents, because he lost his father just last summer and I lost my mother nine months before that.
We also started talking about us, naturally, and I had to ask him, “Why? Why did you marry me?” I wasn’t seeking bullshit and “because you’re the best…” answers. I really wanted to know, because in my estimation, I am a giant pain in the ass. And when we met, I was a total hardass: I was funny, but rigid in my standards and I was jaded.
He simply said, “Because you are strong and you made me laugh, like no one else I know. I loved you very much and I knew, that as we got older and I might need you more than ever, that you would take care of me, you would have my back.”
Oh boy… is he in for a surprise.
But sort of not, because who knows? Who knows how I will be when that time comes. Maybe I will be incapacited. I would hate to do that to him. But this is the gamble, isn’t it?
My husband is one of the kindest, gentlest, sincerest, effective, patient people I will EVER meet. This is my version of Dan:
And he married me. This is who I think I am compared to him:
But he walked into my life and now he’s stuck with me.
I had a very small request of Dan when he proposed to me. I said “yes” obviously, but I said to him, no lie, “You must promise me that we will always pay the utility bills. If you can’t promise me that we will never lose power, or water or heat in our home, then I can’t marry you.”
Quickly nodding and with an understandably quizzical expression, he said “Sure.”
He never asked why, but over time I explained and he gets it. I didn’t have that kind of reliability growing up.
And here we are.
People, especially newlyweds and those intending on matrimony need to get this very basic understanding not just clear, but deeply knitted into their psyches: marriage and love is more than living together and playing house. It’s beyond the toothpaste cap being left off and piles of receipts and baseboards that need painting. It’s terribly loud, and unnervingly quiet. It’s about nasal hair and laundry duty; missing tools and body odors; it’s about running the sink for no reason and silently wondering when it will be turned off; it’s about turn-signal neglect and sore throats; about rescue dogs and emotional transferrence; it’s about too many pens and junk drawers; debt and stupid purchases; expensive dinners you regret but paying for; biting your tongue; it’s about endless sports or Bravo TV; about careers derailing and supporting anyway; it’s about saying stupid things and begging for and allowing clarification; it’s about hair in the shower drain and stubble in the sink; about buying the wrong thing and being cool about it; it’s about fears, secrets and shames hemorrhaging in unexpected ways; about psychotherapy and patience during unexpected growth patterns; about miscommunication and apology; about false praise backfiring when you really should’ve been honest; about parents dying and not knowing how to deal; about expensive hobbies and foolish ideas; about driver’s seats not being restored to the primary position and obvious domestic inertia when you walk through the door; about excessive amounts of exercise equipment when a simple daily walk will do; about crazy in-laws and amazing in-laws; it’s about conspiratorially watching an inappropriate YouTube* video away from your children’s ear shot and dark chocolate because it’s healthy; it’s about ratty t-shirts and health changes; sharing your interest despite a prejudice; mood swings and confusion, a cup of tea showing up just because; asking for advice and taking it; bad food choices and nocturnal flatulence; blanket thievery and tulips by surprise and so much more and maybe less… the one thing we do know about love is that we don’t know all about it.
When children are added to the mix, it’s especially essential that if you haven’t already, that you get your head out of your ass and put their needs ahead of your wants. I recently read that Pope Francis said that people who choose to not have children are selfish. I am digressing, but just for a sentence: No, no they are not selfish; what’s selfish is having kids and then treating them like garbage.
Valentine’s Day isn’t a gimmick to me anymore, the way I see it, we should do what we can not just celebrate love, but to recognize it in all its imperfect perfection.
So on this day, of all days, thanks for reading. You’re good eggs. Here’s a Valentine doodle I sincerely totally made for you: