Valentine’s Day. The day that happy couples exchange kisses and chocolate and go out for a candle-lit dinner. And unhappy couples feel worse about their marriage than on any other day of the year.
With all the pressure to be romantic and passionate, to feel like starry-eyed lovers, to somehow resurrect the mystery and allure you felt in the early days of courtship — after a long day of work and a race home to pick up the kids, after picking up their pizza and your dry cleaning and double-checking with the babysitter — even reasonably happy couples may wonder are we happy enough?
And struggling couples? All the hype and heart-studded hoopla can push them over the edge.
Valentine’s Day generates record-breaking flower sales and the exchange of over a billion boxes of chocolate. It also triggers a dramatic increase in the number of calls made to divorce attorneys. Online searches for “divorce” and “divorce advice” increase by as much as 40% in the weeks that surround this supposed celebration of love.
One explanation for this is that unhappily married people hold out through the holidays, and by January or February they’re ready to act. Another is that Valentine’s Day makes a clear distinction between the haves and have-nots: those who have love and romance (and a dozen red roses) and those who do not.
Valentine’s Day is the relationship equivalent of standing in a fluorescent-lit dressing room trying on swimsuits: every dimple, flaw and bit of flesh out of place is magnified tenfold.
The forgotten bill or the snappish attitude, the trash left un-emptied, the “not tonight dears” or the sex that lacks spark — the things that we tolerate (even if just barely) — can, on this one loaded day, transform into deal breakers.
Hold any relationship up to an ideal and there will inevitably be ways that it won’t measure up. Assume that one person can be everything we wish for, expect sparkle and pizzazz and unflagging enthusiasm, and the sweet, ordinary aspects of married life can seem second-rate, when they’re not.
The things I love most about my husband have very little to do with romance: The fact that he’ll go out of his way to get the tangerines that I like, that he’ll let me put my cold feet on his slightly warmer ones at night, that he’s wildly appreciative for the simple things that I do, like bringing him tea, or helping him make plane reservations, or putting tulips in a vase on the dining room table. Best of all, he looks as cute to me now as he did when we were young lovers in our twenties.
For many people, Valentine’s Day can be a pass-fail test of love and devotion and, under such rigorous scrutiny, even some of the best marriages might fail the test.
Valentine’s Day should, instead, be a reminder to focus on what we have, as opposed to what’s missing. It can warn us that comparisons are dangerous, especially when we’re comparing ourselves to some idealized relationship that cannot exist. Not for us; not for anyone.
Love is about acceptance. It’s about adjusting our expectations and not demanding perfection, or even seeking it. Love is about noticing what’s good and nurturing it, as well as noticing what needs repair and attending to it.
A few years ago, a client came in after Valentine’s Day with the following story:
“There we were, in a restaurant, surrounded by couples. Everyone sipping champagne and eating chocolate-dipped strawberries. Some couples looked happy. Others looked bored. And I found myself wondering, when was the last time that couple had sex? Yesterday? Last weekend? Month before last? Then I wondered how many of them were going to down the last bite of their sundae, go home, tear off their clothes and have hot, passionate sex? I used to assume it was all of them,” he laughed. “Even the bored couples. I used to assume everyone was living in wedded ecstasy except Angie and me.”
It was then that I thought we need a new holiday. One that recognizes that marriage is about the everyday, not the one-day-a-year.
Nowadays, much of life can appear, well, larger than life, more dazzling than life. Looking at Facebook, it can seem as if everyone’s gotten a fantastic new job, along with a gargantuan raise, traveled to somewhere exotic, cooked a dinner to die for, and seen THE ABSOLUTELY BEST sunset, bar none. Compared to that, your regular old life can seem dreadfully flat.
Who slaps together a meatloaf sandwich and posts a photo of it on Instagram? Who shares a snapshot of their beautiful new couch and includes the never-ending basket of unfolded laundry that sits on it — and is even willing to mention the struggles that surround folding it?
Why not have a holiday that says “this is what married life is actually like and it’s good and satisfying enough, as is?”
My vote is to call it Ordinary Relationship Day — a day when couples acknowledge the un-edited, un-photoshopped truth about life with their partner, including the good, the bad and the ridiculously absurd.
What a relief it would be to see a photo of the beautiful new duvet cover on your friends’ unmade bed, the takeout Chinese food dinner that they ate at 9 p.m., straight from the containers, one spouse crashed out with their 4-year-old who’s been having trouble sleeping, the other wondering whether to wake her or just let her sleep.
People often grouse about the everyday annoyances and disappointments, the repetitive frustrations that make marriage a challenge. I say, let’s celebrate the whole lot of it: the triumphs, the struggles, and the lessons we learn from them.
Real love is messy and complicated, delightful and sweet — and worth more than anything we might get, once a year, in a pink, heart-shaped box with a sparkly bow.
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Your cold feet on his warm ones.Tulips on the dinning table, his plane reservation,lol: and my absolute fave, he’s still as cute as when you two kids were twenty or so.
Winifred, I could not agree with your client more! He’s male as well, go figure!
Valentine day is like any regular day to me, I look forward to it though,because it’s one of the few days, the kids let me chill. They know it’s valentine, so mom deserves to be pampered and all.
I relish the time, and I sleep!
People talk of true love and actually rationalize and quantify love. Love is love period! Which one is true love and false love? If I’m to accept love for what I deem it to be,then I’m also willing to accept that whilst living and surrounded by love, it’s only natural that love will see the multitude of errors, but looks the other way…most times. Times when it can’t, well lets just say life is not all rosy all the time huh.
I would vote for ” the Ordinary Relationship Day” anytime, yup, sign me up. The reality is that, there’s nothing ordinary about any relationship. Each is unique and has a life, and certain elements that makes it tick…or not tick. Once more,a very apt post, and as we say in my home land naija, THIS IS SO ON POINT!
That first paragraph is me, appreciating the life in your far from ordinary relationship 🙂
Thanks, Dotta. No relationship is “ordinary” any yet its the everyday, ordinary things that make it sweet and special. Hey, enjoy your day of rest!
Hey Winifred-How did such a young thing get so wise?! Very helpful reminders and perspective,Vicki
Sweet of you to say so.
You’re spot on Winifred! It IS the little things – the fact that my favourite cookie shop had reopened after the owners had returned from their annual vacation abroad and my husband walked in there to buy me 4 boxes of their ‘to die for cheese biscuits.’ He also still chases me after over 35 years of marriage and tells me it’s my fault for still looking cute and enticing.
Don’t get me wrong – we have NEVER celebrated Valentine’s Day as he told me at the inset that he loves me EVERYDAY and not just on V Day. He shows me in so many other ways that he loves me. That is more than enough for me. And yes, I know I’m lucky and I’m more than grateful that I’m blessed.
This also begs the question as to why I subscribed to your blog. I will admit, when I read a re-post of a Q & A interview Cristian conducted with you, I mistakenly thought your blog was one of the usual conversational blogs on WP and subscribed. Now that I’ve learnt it is not and is instead more of a guidance and advice site, I will unsubscribe. Absolutely no offence meant! My very best to you Winifred and to all your readers.
Thanks for reading.
I love what you write about your husband. It’s very sweet and kind.
As for Valentine’s Day, my husband and I don’t celebrate. First, living in France it was easy as it wasn’t (yet) very commercial. A bouquet of flowers and that was it. Then, my husband said that it was Valentine’s Day every day with me. What started as a joke became our “tradition.” Maybe the couples who don’t do anything too plannified, such as celebrating love on given days, have kept a little bit of the rebellious or free-spirited aspect of early love. Just a thought. Happy Valentine’s Day, though, to everyone.
I was amazed to discover that Valentine’s Day is observed all over the world and in some countries it’s controversial and there have been attempts to ban it.
I like your theory about the rebellious spirit. Gave me a good smile.
Even by your high standards, Winifred, this is a bloody brilliant post. Your stats on the downer side of Valentine’s day are an eye-opener.
Yes, look for the good, and celebrate Ordinary Relationship Day. Hear, hear.
Thanks. You’re always so kind, Nav.
Re: the divorce uptick- one group of divorce lawyers referred to it as “The Valentine’s Day Effect.” I was amazed the numbers we this high.
Speaking of Relationships… personalized considerations are high on the list of what we appreciate from our loved ones – which is a big part of feeling seen and understood, from my perspective.
Yes, the small ways we’re known and recognized are essential. Thanks for commenting, Pat.
Fantastic blog, Winifred! I’ll bring it to a small V-Day party we’re going to–four couples who will love it! And love each other!
Wow. I just love what you have written. Real, authentic, truthful, transparent and wisdom about the real experience of relationships. Yes we can have amazing times when single and with a partner and also difficult and highly stressful times! The up’s and down’s of life and relationships. No wonder they finish the romantic movies sailing into the sunset. They don’t tell us what happens after!
Thanks, Sherry. So much of what’s written about relationships is either negative and cynical or rainbows and roses. Or as you say, sailing blissfully into the sunset.
Either one sets us up for failure, because the real deal is that it’s a combo of sweetness and struggle. It simply doesn’t come any other way.
“Marriage is about the everyday, not the one-day-a-year”.
Yes, totally agree with you. I also love your paragraph about your husband & his love for you. My husband always takes care me as yours. How happy & warmful it is!
It really is the little sweet stuff, isn’t it?
Thanks for adding your thoughts.
Really enjoyed reading the content. Its something different i found from other people’s blog posting about valentine day. I think Valentine day for me as such have no meaning because i dont need to wait for this ocassion to show my love to my partner.
Glad you liked my post. You’ve paid me the best compliment: that you’ve found something new and different here.
That’s my goal. Do come back!