As a teenager I had a pretty unstable relationship with Valentine’s Day. I hurtled between warm fuzzies and stubborn indifference with a fervor befitting someone who ended up spending her days spinning 300 page love sagas in search of the meaning of romance, if not love. (Are they the same thing? There I go again, but I’ll save that for a less romantic day).
As an adult who has been in a mostly delightful marriage for over two decades my relationship with Valentine’s Day hurtles between amused cynicism and smug satisfaction with the fervor of one privileged enough to afford both those emotions.
As a mother of teenagers my relationship with the day has become one of wise observer, worry wart, dispenser of barely tolerated advice, dispenser of the sound ‘aww’, even provider of a shoulder for the inevitable disillusionment. As all things, Valentines Day through your children’s eyes is at once more adorable and more irking than it ever was as a first hand experience.
Cut to that ‘unstable relationship with the day’ thing. Yes, I know it’s just a day , but it is a day when enough animated hearts are thrown at me in text messages and on social media to make me wistful. A few years ago my mother even grumbled at me for not calling her to wish her a Happy Valentine’s Day, proving that it’s a day to put our love on display because everyone needs a display of love ever so often.
See, I do get wistful and that makes me dispense advice or go back and dig up advice I dispensed a few years ago. Which by the way I think was wise enough to re-dispense this year. So, on this fourteenth day of February, here are my seven rules for keeping the love so you can pull it out when it needs displaying.
One. Set aside time. Life is a monstrous time suck. And we’re all going to die. In the crazy race to fit all our living into that space before dying, it’s pretty darned easy to speed past the loving. Don’t. Watch a movie every Friday. Play a board game (unless your spouse, like mine, refers to them as bored games). Make fondue. But do something mindless together without multitasking.
Two. Find something in common. And then hold on to it for dear life. Cherish it and nurture it as if it were the last jasmine plant left on the planet. Even if it’s a tiny thing like the same comedian who makes you laugh, or the same political outrage that pisses you off. Between Aziz Ansari and Fox News, we can go from being amused and livid at each other to being amused and livid at something else. And it’s restful.
Three. Find something that’s yours alone. Marriage (or any lifelong commitment) is constant contact with one person. A life that lines up point to point is like trying to run a three-legged race with all four legs tied together. This is why women have girlfriends. This is why writers write (okay, this and because they’re crazy). This is why you encourage your husband to go play poker with his buddies. Get out of each other’s face every once in a while. It’s healthy.
Four. Share your burdens. I tried for years to keep my stresses about my writing to myself, the nail-biting every time a query went out. The heartbreak of the rejections. He isn’t a writer. He won’t understand, I told myself. I was right. He isn’t a writer, but hard as it is for us writers to comprehend, non-writers feel things too. And when we share of our private world, we let our partners in. Plus, when you stuff handfuls of chocolate chips into your mouth while slinking about in the same smelly sweatshirt you’ve worn all week, at least he knows not to say something stupid. Help him out.
Five. Hold hands. Go even further than that. Grab other body parts every once in a while. And, for heaven’s sake, put your heart in it.
Six. Yell at each other. But not for too long. Even more than the wonderful things you must say to each other, it’s the awful angry shit that can cement you. Not because it tells you how well you chose, but because it tells you what your relationship can withstand. And that’s gold.
Seven. Have crushes on other people. Celebrities are great for this, Romance heroes are fantastic too. But don’t ever be unfaithful. Even more importantly, don’t ever be disloyal.
And with that I leave you to your candy hearts and roses and I wish upon you a valentine who pushes your buttons and rings your bells and lifts you up when not just life but the inevitable, unforgiving hand of gravity drags you down.