Why I Hate Valentine's Day, but I Love My Wife
What is the effect of having one day set aside for an
obligatory show of romance?
Well, another February 14th has passed, and I managed yet again to avoid celebrating Valentine’s Day with my wife, Jenny. Not once in our 17 years of marriage have we ever exchanged cards, flowers, candies, cupid arrows, or even Hallmark-inspired glances on February 14th. Pretty lame for a so-called marriage expert, eh?
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Obviously, I don’t think so. And neither does Jenny (at least I don’t think so). We haven’t gone these 17 years sans Valentine’s by accident. It’s an intentional avoidance of an international phenomenon. And, briefly, here’s why:
- Red & pink simply look hideous together
- It’s a miserable, miserable day for unintentionally single people
- All the crass commercialism has turned it into a savings-sucking requirement to “save marriages”…and satisfy a multi-billion dollar industry
- It has brought about a fundamental confusion surrounding the word and concept of “love”
- By pressuring one day to encapsulate romanticism between couples, it has actually backfired in encouraging yearlong love
Those last two reasons, as you might guess, are my main reasons for boycotting the holiday. By coronating February 14th as the one day to celebrate romantic love, and yet then clothing it with so many different types of love, we’ve trivialized them all. Hear me out.
On Sunday night, I took my son to a nearly empty Valentine’s Day aisle at the grocery store. He’s in fifth grade, and so this represented the last year of mandated, every-student-buying-for-every-student card & candy exchange. My eighth-grade daughter has long graduated from this awkward social-experiment, but here was my 11-year-old boy having to shop for the right way to say “I Love You” to 20-odd other boys & girls—without, of course, saying “I Love You.” You know, ‘cause, eww. Oh, and he had to pick a special one out for his teacher. Again, eww.
Upon doing some research, I discovered that my son was clearly in the majority across the world. The fact is that teachers are the ones who receive the most Valentine's Day cards. Teachers! From their students! The rest of the list, in order of numbers of cards received, is as follows: other kids, mothers, wives, and then, coming in last, sweethearts. Actually that’s not true. Between 6-8% of all Valentine’s Day spending goes towards our pets. Thankfully, pets come in last.
How is it, exactly, that we have managed to turn this celebration of romantic love into a warm-fuzzy fest between elementary students, their teachers, and their mothers? How is it that we’re training our kids to feel obligated to conspire with Cupid and give away candy hearts to everybody and their dog? And what has all this done to romantic, married-for-life love?
The history of Valentine’s Day is actually quite romantic. While a bit sketchy and myth-laden, it is filled with stories of star-crossed lovers and lifelong unions. It contains sagas of saints marrying young soldiers and their wives against the state’s wishes, tales of jailed saints sending last-breath messages to young forlorn brides-to-be, and even legends of Saint Martin’s Birds in France, waiting until February 14th to begin their mating season. (True—look it up).
Now, of course, there is still a huge romantic component to today’s version of Valentine’s Day. It makes up most of the crass commercialism I spoke of earlier. But what is the effect of having one day set aside for an obligatory show of romance? Just think about how many jokes, articles, blog entries, news features, etc. spoke about the pressure men feel to spend money on their mates. I remember a Seinfeld episode about the danger of encountering a birthday or Valentine’s Day near the beginning of a relationship. “These days…the pressure’s too much…they’re relationship killers!”
By socially obligating someone to demonstrate behavior that feels better when not obligated, we actually prevent ourselves from experiencing what we want most. Let me say that in a different way. When I feel forced from outside, public pressure to do something that comes best from an inside, private motivation, the act is doomed to fail. A forced demonstration of love can never do the trick because both the giver and receiver are now removed from what they want most—to be chosen by another, completely unforced. Simply put, a have-to show of love never feels as good as a want-to show of love.
And for me, a have-to actually prevents me from pursuing a want-to. That’s probably the main reason I don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day. I don’t like being pressured to be romantic. I like to pressure myself. When I’m at my best, I am actively searching for ways, both big and small, to show my wife how much I prize her, want to be with her, and want her to have the most meaningful life possible. And I am searching for these ways to be completely unique to her—I want her to know that I have chosen her, I am committed to her, and that I pursue her in a way unlike any other. This way is categorically different than the way between me and my kids. It is categorically different than the way between me and my extended family. And it is definitely different between my kids and their teachers!
Committed, romantic, lifelong love between married partners is so categorically different than any other kind of love, it deserves to be treated as special. It deserves to be set aside as the most stabilizing force in a family, the bond that literally makes life possible, and the bond that makes life most livable for our children. I find most single parents to be incredible heroes of mine, but it’s no secret that I believe kids do best in homes with passionate lovers for parents. That is so much of why I do what I do to help marriages, including publishing our newest book, ScreamFree Marriage, this month.
Well, that’s enough of my rambling for now. My hope is that, whether you had a wonderfully romantic Valentine’s Day or not, that you find a way to make romantic love a priority in your week. Every week. A simple hand across the small of the back on your way to the other room. A simple “I’ve been thinking about you a lot today” as you hug before dinner. A simple “how ‘bout we skip the family vacation this year and just go away ourselves for our anniversary?”
Now, maybe to you, in your marriage as it is right now, those gestures and pursuits are anything but simple. But I guarantee you that they’ll go a lot longer than giving candies, candles, and a card on the day you’re supposed to.