unreciprocated: a valentine’s day post mortem

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A few days ago, my cousin Stephanie asked me to contribute to a piece she posted to her blog on Valentine’s Day (those who are interested – which should be everyone – can check it out here).  I was given a simple task: select my favorite quote about love, write a short quip about why I loved it and how it applied to my life, and submit a picture of me with something or someone that I loved.  I chose the quote above, and this is what she got from me:

(My wedding day, March 23, 2013)

I came across this quote for the first time a few years ago, when I had just gotten engaged. At the time, it seemed so beautiful, hopelessly romantic. It conjured images of days filled with endless joy and good feelings all around. Truthfully, it seemed almost too cliche for my favorite author, a man whose words are usually deeper than this.

And then I got married. I realized that perhaps this quotation was profound after all.

The truth about being in love is this: it’s easy in the beginning. As time goes on, there are days when staying in love is not something you feel like doing. There are days when work is rough, dishes are piled up and you can’t find clean underwear–the last thing you want to do is engage in small talk, but you do it anyway.

You stay in love because you made a decision that out of it you would not go. It may sound unromantic, but love is a choice to be made–not something decided by destiny or fate. If you ask me, that only makes me want to stay in love more than ever.

I firmly believe in this interpretation of love.  I have felt it.  I have lived through it.  I have and will continue to endure it, because it is worth it.  Love, and especially successful love, should be celebrated and admired.

So it may come as a shock to you that, as a whole, the celebration of Valentine’s Day leaves me a little empty inside. There are a few reasons why.

1. Valentine’s Day is not about love anymore.

I’ve noticed a disturbing trend amongst women in this society, and Valentine’s Day is the super bowl of that trend.  I see it everywhere, casually accepted and dutifully parroted, and it hurts me to my core. That trend is this: in modern American society, Valentine’s Day isn’t about relationships, or love, or affection.  It’s barely even a holiday anymore.

It has degenerated into an unfair gift-giving contest. It is unfair because the people competing for the prize are not in a relationship. They don’t necessarily even have to be close friends. They don’t even have to know each other.

Their connection? They are all female. And that’s what this day really has evolved into – a day for women to brag. Or for people to feel sad about the fact that they are single.

Growing up, I never thought of Valentine’s Day as a day to only express romantic love.  I always received gifts from my parents, made sure to share goodies with my friends, and saw the day as a time to express love to everyone in my life that I care about.  It would be nice if everyone could celebrate February 14th in this manner – no bragging about gifts, no moping about being alone, but using that day as an opportunity to acknowledge and give thanks for the blessings in our lives.

2. Women are horrible gift givers.

I’m painting with a broad brush here, so don’t get upset – I’m not talking about you. I’m talking about modern American women in general.

Just think about it.  All of the Valentine’s Day posts on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram yesterday regarding gifts were mostly from women, yes?  Photos of red roses or adorable stuffed animals or jewelry (because, as we all know, “if she said she didn’t want jewelry for Valentine’s Day, she was lying!”) captioned with “I have the best (husband/boyfriend/fiance) ever! Thanks sweetie!”  And of course those same women checked in to steakhouses or fancy dining establishments like The Melting Pot later for their nice meal.  But as for the men in those relationships – did they post anything besides an I love you message to their ladies?

Probably not, because unless it’s a box of chocolates or a tie or something equally underwhelming, giving men romantic gifts or showing them thoughtful gestures on Valentine’s Day isn’t really what is done.  If anything, the assumption is that your boyfriend/fiance/husband will take you out for a nice dinner, shower you with expensive and luxurious gifts, and when you get home the two of you will have sex.

Because apparently, in this society, sex is considered a gift.

We all know the trope, of course.  Women, especially married women, put up with the existence of sex, but they never enjoy it.  They use it as a manipulative tool when it suits their purpose, and whenever an occasion arises that necessitates a gift or gesture be given to the man in their life, why not sex? It’s all they think about all day, anyways.

Businesses have noticed it, too. I can’t count the amount of ads that I heard this February that went to this haunting tune: “If you want to give your man something special for Valentine’s Day, give him yourself! Come to [store] and find some super-sexy wrapping paper!”

I cannot, cannot, can. not. emphasize how much this premise disgusts me.

Sex is not a commodity.  It should not be traded away half-heartedly – “Well, he shelled out the big bucks tonight, so I guess we can have sex.”  This is a horrible attitude to have, regardless of your marital status.

If you are married, then sex is a gift not from you, but from God. It is to be treasured and enjoyed equally, with no personal ulterior motives. Just enjoy each other, and stop using it as a way to keep score or get even.

If you still are waiting for that ring to be placed on your finger, you shouldn’t even be thinking about it, but let’s get real. It happens, we all know it happens, so let’s discuss it. In your situation, you’re already misusing the holy gift of intimacy.  Don’t add to your list of troubles by twisting its purpose even further.  Nothing good can come from it.

Women expect thoughtful gestures from men all the time.  Why not return the favor once in a while?  I took a sex roles and gender course while in college, and I remember the professor exclaiming one day in the midst of lecture, “You know, I’m a guy, and I think that flowers as a gift would be nice. We like thoughtful gestures, too.”

Ladies, we reap what we sow.  It’s time to start planting seeds of thoughtfulness and kindness, instead of nagging and spoiled entitlement.

3. Women judge each others’ Valentine’s Day experiences.

See my previous post about engagements – it is the same nightmare over and over again, each and every year.  If you have a male significant other that doesn’t show you a breathtakingly good time on February 14th, doesn’t send you a teddy bear and a $200 bouquet of roses and something encrusted in precious gemstones that he probably had to finance, he must be a lousy (husband/boyfriend/fiance).

It doesn’t matter if he treats you with respect and dignity and love and affection every other day of the year. It doesn’t matter that he does the laundry on a regular basis because he knows you dislike it, if he gives you back massages on command, if he makes sure your finances are taken care of, if he never demands dinner be done at a certain time, if he never has a negative thing to say about anything you prepare for him to eat because he appreciates the time and effort you put into preparing it, if he makes sure your car is roadworthy, if he skips working out on Saturdays sometimes just because you want to cuddle a little bit longer, if he texts you to let you know he’s safe whenever he rides his motorcycle just for your peace of mind.  None of that matters.  If he doesn’t buy you chocolates or a stuffed animal on a certain date of the year, he must be a horribly abusive man and you deserve better.

Rubbish. Rub. ish. 

Love is not flowers and chocolate and poetry and champagne.  Love is staying fiercely committed when you have a migraine, your work day was a bust, the chores have hopelessly fallen behind.  Love is deciding that even when your significant other is annoying the living crap out of you, that you are going to get over it and love them anyway. It is not a feeling, it is, as CS Lewis insinuated, a place.  A place out of which I will not go.

Notice he doesn’t use the word “cannot” or “should not” or “do not want.” He says that he will not go, that he will not leave. It is a decision, a daily choice to be made.

So what’s it going to be?

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2 thoughts on “unreciprocated: a valentine’s day post mortem

  1. Olivia, this is wonderful. I’m so glad love is not based on fate or feelings, of which I have little control. Instead, I choose to love my husband, little boy, family and friends. And the fact that they make the same choice to love me is much more meaningful than any uncontrollable urge. <3.

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