Some of us wait for Valentine's Day with hopes we don't express. We may wonder if our mate will meet our expectations this year, or if we will be disappointed yet again. We way proceed through the actual day thinking about the card we got for our partner last week and wondering what thoughtful thing our partner got for us or what adoring words we will hear over dinner.
Of course it is assumed that there are dinner reservations. Well, maybe there are not, but that's okay. Perhaps our partner plans to cook dinner at home and have wine and candles. That would be nice. But what if our partner forgets or, even worse, what if the Valentine's Day gift is something really tasteless from the House of Ooh-La,La? Oh, it could be a nightmare.
There can be plenty of tension associated with Valentine's Day. One cold, dreary February 14th, I am at the grocery store at 5 p.m. In the parking lot I can see men getting out of their cars and scurrying into the store. Inside at the express lane checkout counter are five men standing in line, each holding a dozen roses. Other men are talking to the attendant in the flower department who is the bearer of the bad news that the store has sold out of roses. One man stomps his foot as he pleads for the attendant to somehow magically produce more roses. Another stuffs his hands in his pockets and storms out of the store.
The five men at the checkout counter have different poses. The last man in line seems very self-conscious. His roses are stuffed under his right arm. His muscular arm looks as if it is more used to cradling a six-pack than a dozen roses. He is holding a cigarette in his left hand and on his face is a look of duty -- the same kind of look a little boy has when he is doing something to please his mother and he hopes none of his buddies see him. The fourth man in line looks worried. He holds his roses very carefully with both hands, and he keeps looking and sniffing at them as if they might not be up to some imagined standard. The third man in line looks exasperated. His roses hang by his side in his right hand and he taps his foot impatiently as if he is irritated with the fact that he has to be doing this at all. The second man has his roses in a Shopping cart. He is holding a card in his left hand and a pen in his right while he looks up at the ceiling as if hoping he will be struck by some inspiration that he can write on the card. The first man in line stands in front of the clerk smiling proudly. He is a young man. It is easy to imagine that he is newly married, buying roses for his wife for the first time.
Valentine's Day brings with it a great deal of pressure on relationships. Our culture sets standards of romantic behavior that can only happen in the movies. A man may feel as if he is taking a test and that he must find the right answer or the correct combination to his mate's safe. A woman may feel exposed and vulnerable. She may hope that her partner will demonstrate his love for her. She doesn't want that much. She doesn't need a dozen roses. She just needs to feel that she is special to her mate. Is that asking too much? Sometimes it seems that it is. And yet she can't help but want, at least on Valentine's Day, a declaration from her mate that she is loved.
Valentine's Day is, of course, a Madison Avenue economic vehicle, a day on which florists and restaurants make money. But it can be more than that. Our relationships need ceremonial moments, time to reflect on what we mean to each other, opportunities to affirm our desire and commitment. Such moments are treasures. While it is true that most of us don't know how to use a special occasion such as Valentine's Day, it is important that we learn.
The first thing a couple must do is talk to each other about what they can realistically expect of each other on Valentine's Day. Some people expect too much of their mate. Others may try to do something wonderful for their partner and the relationship, but they may try too hard. A partner may make a lot of expensive elaborate plans, only to discover that the other partner did not really want to get dressed up and go to an expensive restaurant on the night before a demanding work day.
Making Valentine's Day into a part of your relationship's art requires the work of both people. My friend Jean tells this Valentine story about herself and her husband, Fred.
"Fred is an engineer type. He doesn't have much sense about things like flowers. But he did hear me say once that I love potted flowering plants, so on Valentine's Day he went out and bought me a flowering plant -- snapdragons. Until then I hadn't held snapdragons in very high esteem, but when I saw my proud husband presenting me with this gift of red snapdragons they became my favorite flower and they have been ever since."
Jean's compassion for her husband and her willingness to see the beauty in his effort and in his love behind the effort is what made this Valentine's Day a success for her. It is our job as a mate to find value in whatever our mate gives us as a gift and to make that gift into a treasure in our hearts. That is what Jean did, and she gave herself a wonderful Valentine's Day.
Valentine's Day can be a metaphor for everyday life in a relationship. Our job is to find the good in our mate and to appreciate and honor that good. Our mates don't come perfect. Expecting perfection will only lead to disappointment, but we will never be disappointed if we do our job of finding the good in our partner's best effort and making snapdragons into our favorite flowers.
Create Your Own Love Story
by David W. McMillan, Ph.D.
Shows couples how to take their shared histories of how they met, fell in love, and overcame trials to create a love story that makes their relationship stronger and more satisfying
David W. McMillan, Ph.D., inspires readers to have the highest vision for their own relationships. He is the creator of the Sense of Community Theory and the founder of the Nashville Psychotherapy Institute. He is co-author of Teach Your Child About Feelings, and A Craving for Life. He is the author of Create Your Own Love Story : The Art of Lasting Relationships, published by Beyond Words Publishing, Inc. http://www.beyondword.com.