My approach to Valentine’s Day has changed over time. In middle school I hung hearts from my ears and donned all the red and pink I could find because everyone else was doing it. As the only Black girl in my class until the seventh grade, I didn’t want another reason to stand out, so I conformed.
Then came the years I defiantly wore gray or black while in the throes of my teenage angst. Back then, Valentine’s Day was salt in the wound of my loneliness. I was a cynic. If love (Eros or Cupid) was the god of the day, I was agnostic. I believed in happily ever after, I just didn’t think it would happen to me. I felt too introverted, too quirky, too particular, too full of weird fears, odd thoughts and strange compulsions for anyone to love. Eventually I grew content in my singleness and worked on being the best version of myself I could be. That’s how I spent the first half of my 20s. I also dated occasionally.
And then, in the middle of my second decade of life, the inconceivable happened: I met Frank. He became my friend, he became my best friend and then we walked into love together. (I don’t like the sensation of falling.) It was an utter surprise. By then I was sure I’d never marry. In fact, part of Frank’s proposal was reading one of my blog posts in which I’d said exactly that. Then he remarked on how I’d opened myself to love for our relationship. And this year we’ll celebrate thirteen years of marriage.
As a married woman, I view Valentine’s Day with a bit of skepticism. At its worst, it’s a day that encourages grand acts with shallow meaning or done more for show (and social media) than from genuine feeling. At its best, it’s a reminder to cultivate all the relationships that bring love into my life. So that’s where I try to keep my focus.
At this stage in my life and love, I’d rather have a fireplace than fireworks. The show can be exhilarating, but it doesn’t last. I don’t mind some spectacle, but I’d rather have the warmth of a well-tended fire.
I try to celebrate Valentine’s Day in ways that feel authentic and meaningful versus insincere, contrived or commercial. I also feel free to ignore it. I see (and sometimes envy) the photos on social media, but I can’t live my life as a series of photo opps.
I’m too frugal to get swept up into wanting gifts whose prices are marked up around Feb. 14. I forbid Frank from buying me anything for Valentine’s Day that costs more simply because of the occasion — flowers especially. In fact, I don’t want a Valentine’s gift at all.
Quite honestly, if Frank loves me well every other day of the year, there’s nothing he needs to do or prove on Valentine’s Day. I’d rather he did something spontaneously romantic on March 17, July 8 or Nov. 1. To me, going big on Feb. 14 is like cramming for a test you didn’t study for. I want someone who consistently puts in the work. That’s what makes me feel loved — having a husband who considers me, appreciates me and cares for me all year.
That’s not to say I mind a loving gesture on Valentine’s Day. I won’t be upset if Frank does one of my chores for me, writes a note of appreciation or buys my favorite candy bar at the drugstore. But I don’t need any sweeping gestures. I’d rather something small, private and genuine, than something that feels like a performance. I don’t take my cues from television, social media or the movies. I’m looking for consistent kindness, thoughtfulness and emotional intimacy. Frank is my best friend and chosen love. That’s all I need him to be — not Shakespeare, Prince Charming or insert famous heartthrob’s name here.
Frank also doesn’t feel beholden to Valentine’s Day. He appreciates the thought more than the cost of a present. He feels loved when I remind him to take care of himself (especially when he’s sick) or when I do a chore he’s dreading. So, when we moved last month, knowing how pressed and stressed he was at work, I packed and unpacked everything except some of his clothes and Mets paraphernalia.
Also like me, Frank values experiences over things. So instead of buying each other expensive gifts, we save up to take fun trips. And there’s no one I’d rather travel with. Perhaps that’s another love language. For Valentine’s Day we take all the pressure off. For Valentine’s Day, we give each other the freedom to be ourselves and not have to conform.
I try to celebrate Valentine’s Day in ways that feel authentic and meaningful versus insincere, contrived or commercial. I also feel free to ignore it. I see (and sometimes envy) the photos on social media, but I can’t live my life as a series of photo opps. What Frank and I have isn’t always picture perfect, but it is always real, and I feel secure in it.
Now my mantra for Valentine’s Day is this: It’s not a day for lovers; it’s a day for love and every incarnation of it. There are many types of love that I make room for in my life — the familial, the romantic, the platonic and the love of self. Convention may focus on romantic love, but I don’t want my Valentine’s Day to be so limited.
For me, Valentine’s Day is a day to take stock of how I’ve been treating myself, my husband, my family and my friends. Am I being a loving daughter, sister and wife? Is there a friend I haven’t connected with in a while? Am I making enough space in my schedule for my favorite pastimes?
I’m happiest when I don’t let anything on my screen (be it social media, film or TV) skew my perception of what I want and what I need. So, on Valentine’s Day (every day, actually), I want to keep it real and focus on the love that’s true and there for me.