Is this a happy holiday? Hearts cut out of doilies, cuddly teddy bears, and cakes with pink roses. It sure seems like it ought to be. So why does it feel like the arch-enemy to my sense of peace and sanity?
I’ve been dreading this day for the past several weeks, when it first popped up on my what’s-happening-next mental calendar. Since then, it’s been lurking there as this low-lying sense of doom running in the background. Seriously, over Valentine’s Day! And Cupid seems so innocent. I don’t even have an excuse to feel this way. After all, I am not the target market for the “Love Stinks” station on Pandora. I have a date.
I should be grateful, not complaining. I am so lucky to have my husband in my life. And I’m not just saying that because he might read this one day. I mean I am truly lucky. But instead, the sense of doom. As my toddler would say, What the heck? Well, you need to know a little context. As I wrote about last year around this time, Valentine’s Day has long been a source of conflict between us. To summarize, he’s not a big fan. He thinks it’s a made-up holiday, and he hates being manipulated. So he boycotts. Which I get, intellectually, but emotionally, it leaves me feeling lousy.
The first several years of our marriage, I tried everything I could think of (guilt, logic, pleas, ridiculously long letters written late at night) to get him to change, all to no avail. Then last year, I thought I had hit upon the solution: I’ll just plan the whole thing myself. Including picking out my own flowers.
I recently reread my words from last year, and it became painfully clear: I had abandoned trying to change him, and moved on to trying to change me. If I couldn’t make him care about Valentine’s Day, then Plan B was to make me not care about it either. (Like Miss Jackson, I am a fan of control.) Nice try, genius self. I actually wrote that romance isn’t that important. That is hilarious. My whole being hinges on romance, right after air, water, and food. The only cartoons I liked as a kid were the ones with the girl cat who had red hearts trailing behind her. I read steamy romance novels when other kids were reading Nancy Drew. Once I spent a whole summer curled up in the corner of my room reading Gone With the Wind instead of playing outside like everybody else. I cry at commercials. No way around it: romance matters to me. Even if my brain knows Valentine’s Day is made up and stupid, there’s no stopping my yearning to celebrate it.
Then a funny thing happened. A friend emailed me about the frustrations she was experiencing trying to get her husband to do more housework. Not a unique frustration, I’m sure; I bet if there were a Women Trying to Get Their Husbands to Do More Housework support group, they’d have to book the convention center. But she prefaced her email with an entire paragraph of how she knows this shouldn’t be that big of an issue for her, how she tries not to let it bother her, and how she wishes she could just let it go. Reading her words, I realized we were doing the same thing: we had a feeling of frustration, but instead of just accepting the feeling, we were resisting it.
I knew this lesson! I even wrote about it. Resisting is not helpful. Unless it’s of an armed attack. But when it comes to feelings, acceptance is the way to go. So why had I forgotten? And furthermore, why do I always forget the lessons I learn? (Well, come to think of it, it’s probably the same reason I forget everything else: three kids, the lack of sleep, the brain damage I’m sure I suffered after the birth of my third son . . . I’d go on, except I can’t remember what else I was going to say.)
So here was the truth laid out for me to see: I had been resisting my own feelings of sadness over my husband’s rare flaw (we all have to have one I suppose), his crappy stance on Valentine’s Day. I had been telling myself I should just accept the situation and be OK with it, even though I didn’t feel OK. But all that effort was doing nothing to get rid of my disappointment. Not only was it not going away, but it was fermenting down there where I had shoved it, to bubble up occasionally as pissy, passive gripes.
My path was clear. I had to accept being sad about this. Hmmm, shouldn’t be hard. I even started to feel a sort of glee about it. If I had to put up with his dug-in resistance to romance on Valentine’s Day, I figured, then he would have to put up with my irrational emotions about it. It was fair, actually. I don’t know why I had never thought about it that way.
So for the first time, I tried my best to stop trying to control anything. I just lived my life, and when Valentine’s Day crossed my mental radar and I felt sad, I did not check the feeling. In case you don’t know me, that means I cried. Several times. At the same time, I tried to explain my feelings rationally in the midst of all that emotion, as my husband does not speak tears as fluently as I. I told him that he was prioritizing his abstract intellectual ideals (that Valentine’s Day is a corporate holiday for schmucks) over my actual happiness (however silly the source of that happiness). I told him that although I agreed with him in theory, the reality was that it left me feeling unloved, and the crap thing is that this happens every year. (Right before my birthday, too! Pout, pout.) And finally, I told him that his rigid stance was doing nothing to fight the power, since we don’t have enough money this year to celebrate the holiday with actual purchases anyway. So his resistance was doing nothing to further his cause, it was causing me distress, and it was ultimately causing him distress as well, since he was having to deal with me being a basket case about it. Basically, I said as I rested my case, if he were a robot who made his decisions based solely on logic, he would be taking me to dinner!
I harrumphed off to treat myself to some healthy acceptance of feelings. But a few hours later, the craziest thing happened. “Honey,” he said as he came to bed, “we can do whatever you want for Valentine’s Day. I’m sorry you’ve been sad about it.” If you had asked me what I wanted from him prior to this moment, I might have said some evidence of planning or forethought on his part about putting together a special date for the two of us. Or maybe some roses in varying shades of pink and orange. But right then I realized that what I really wanted was what he just gave me.
We ended up having the best Valentine’s Day we’ve ever had. I planned it, and no one bought me flowers. And we had the kids with us. (I’m really selling this, aren’t I?) I thought we could show the kids some of the important places in our “relationship history”—where we first held hands, where we first kissed, where we first said “I love you.” My overblown plans involved three stops, two restaurants, a hike, and a picnic. Actual reality, of course, had to deal with the facts that my husband and I didn’t make it out of bed until 11:00 a.m. and it takes us approximately four hours to do any one thing as a family, like go on a beer run or fill up a tank of gas.
So, we just made one stop (where we first held hands) and went on a picnic (where we first said we loved each other). But it was grand. Our picnic included wine and love dip, salami serendipitously cut into heart shapes, and hunks of bread. The kids drank sparkling cider. The champagne-esque aspect of it was lost on them, but they appreciated the juice-esque aspect, since I am a nazi mom that never buys them juice. They threw rocks into a small pond while my husband and I reminisced about what a wild ride the last five and a half years have been. After a glass and a half of wine, I stretched my arm out and made a short video of us. (This video is so sweet and true that it immediately caused me to imagine myself watching it on an endless loop while grieving from my husband’s untimely death, like Olivia Williams’s character in The Sixth Sense. I know I’ve said previously that I have stopped going down made-up emotional roads. Apparently that was not entirely true. Sorry about that.)
Perhaps at this point you are in full agreement with my husband that I have spent entirely too much time, energy, and emotion on what at its base is, as the old lady behind me in line at Central Market on Saturday pointed out, a “crap holiday made up by Hallmark.” But what can I say? I’m a romantic. Valentine’s Day may be made up and cheesy, but it’s still about love, which I believe I’ve publicly declared to be one of my favorite things.
© Amy Daniewicz and Beneath the Trees