Monday, February 14, 2011
True Love and Chocolate
Another Valentine's Day has come and gone. Although we probably agree that the greeting card companies and florists have practically hijacked the holiday, there is some value in taking a moment to think about the ones we love. If only we could go back to the days when February 14th stood for something that simple - love and appreciation.
Now it stands for many things, including the token day to get engaged. Almost every girl with a ticking clock and a halfway serious boyfriend is hoping that a little square box will show up sometime after her romantic dinner on that night. The jewelry companies start early, reminding young lads (and old) that now is the time to plunk down a month’s salary on a sparkly bobble to put on her left finger. It’s a lot of pressure, for fragile relationships that could probably use a bit more time to bloom and grow.
Couples break up right before the holiday and feel cheated. If they break up after, they feel used. Little ones slave over shoe boxes, trying to find the exact right mix of construction paper, stickers, and glitter to make their box stand out when it’s time to pass out little white envelopes at the school party. That’s not to mention the mysterious task of assigning the exact right Valentine to every person in their class. It’s important to guard against unintended romantic crushes caused by misplaced heart shaped cards.
Married folks have similar pressures. Finding a sitter. Hoping to find a restaurant that’s not too expensive, crowded or over booked. Figuring out if flowers are necessary. Guessing what kind of jewelry might express the right kind of affection. Single people look at married people and wish they had a built in Valentine. Married people look at their single friends and try to remember what it’s like to have no pink and red heart shaped obligations. It can be a lot of pressure if you believe any of the hype.
But love is way too big to be defined by a single day. No chilly winter day in February can represent the enormity of what loving someone really means. It has very little to do with the token gifts of Valentine’s Day. Because true love is about making someone else’s life better, every single day of the year. Quality relationships are what gives meaning to life.
I recently read the follow up book to the best selling Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. It’s called Committed, and is an examination of marriage, through trials in the author’s life. After suffering through a painful divorce, then meeting a new love who had also been divorced, she and her new man decide to stay out of the justice of the peace’s office and just contently be lifelong companions. It works out well for them until immigration comes into the picture (her new boyfriend is not an American) and insists they get married or face exile. Suddenly she’s forced to choose between her frustration for the institution of marriage and her love for her foreign man.
It’s a long book, as her personal journey is woven into some pretty interesting cultural and historical studies of marriage. Determined to enter into the union much more educated about how they can find success, the author discovers some practical truths along the way. In a nutshell, marriage is a lot like a business deal. Both parties lay out their needs and desires and then work to create a mutually successful union.
Having been married for over two decades, I found myself agreeing with much of what the author spells out. True love has very little to do with Valentine’s Day. Day to day life is the battlefield where marriage is played out. Romance and affection are important, but just as important is the obligation we have to see each other clearly, and understand each other’s true needs, if we hope to find happiness on this journey.
It’s more about showing practical love every single day of the year. Living with a man who is always thinking of ways to make my life easier, every single day, is what I want for this special holiday. The fact he scrapes the ice off my car for me, or picks up milk on the way home so I don’t have to, means so much more to me than how many roses he brings me on one day of the year.
Watching him interact with our children, whether they’re skiing, hiking, or just playing video games together on the couch, I am more content than I ever would be with a box of expensive chocolates. The way he patiently coaches our young adult daughter as she files her own confusing tax forms makes my heart swell, more than a dozen roses ever could.
I have never been known to turn down a box of chocolates. I enjoy a beautiful bouquet of flowers in the center of my dining room table. But I also know better than to take one day on the calendar too seriously. Sometimes I can feel the devotion from the love of my life just by the way he brings home my favorite brand of chips when he gets back from the grocery store. That makes him my Valentine every day of the year. Not just a single, overhyped day in February