They’ve finally taken down the Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa decorations. They’ve worked their way through the January sales. What’s left to drive us to the cash registers between now and the President’s weekend rush? Valentines Day, of course! The shop windows are already filled with faux red roses, oversized pink hearts, and floating white cupids that look remarkably like my little nephew. This all wouldn’t be a problem but for the guilt and anxiety it creates in most of the marriages I know – the pressure to be romantic and swoon with unadulterated passion can be just too much to bear, particularly for those of us into our third decade of wedded bliss.
When you’re first married, everything your snuggle-bunny does is adorable; everyday is Valentine’s Day. That is until you have to start negotiating the household chores and you want to go out with your friends while he’d rather stay home and watch yet another episode of CSI. Eventually you come up with a system of survival. If you do “X” for him, he’ll do “Y” for you. The system works and Valentine’s Day still comes around once a month or so. A few children, a mortgage, and a mini-van later and you’re lucky if you see it once a year.
That’s why they call it a “holiday.” It’s a break from the routine of “if you drive Janey to soccer, I’ll take Billy to his music lesson, and who’s gonna take the dog to the vet and by the way your mother called.” But in many ways, this holiday is just another reminder that romantic love may have brought you together but it is the day-to-day journey that makes a marriage work. A few score years and it’s not about the high boil of romantic love, it’s about the low simmer of continuity and trust and commitment and loyalty and undying patience with a dash of good humor and compassion that is at the heart of intimacy.
I’d like to abolish Valentine’s Day but unlike most of our Hallmark holidays, this one has a bit of history. It began as a pagan celebration of fertility and the growth of spring. The story goes that in the mid-400s, the Catholic Church decided to co-opt the pagan ritual and declared it a saint’s day in honor of a priest named Valentine who continued to wed soldiers despite a decree by Emperor Claudius II that no soldier be allowed to marry. So it moved from an homage to lust to a marital affirmation. It didn’t become a paean to romantic love until the middle ages when lust was abolished in lieu of courtly manners. In short, it was never and still is not a celebration of the hard-earned love of a long marriage. What a missed opportunity because as Mark Twain once said, “Love seems the swiftest, but it is the slowest of all growths. No man or woman really knows what perfect love is until they have been married a quarter of a century.”