Sunday, February 18, 2007

You are Making a Serious Mistake...

I received a letter from my father with the above opening in regards to my unwillingness to conspicuously celebrate Valentine's Day. The following is in reply to his letter. Please read and tell me if you honestly think this is the wrong viewpoint.

Dad,

I have always rejected the viewpoint that that chocolate and roses, alone, suffice to honor everything that love (especially married love) represents. Don't get me wrong. I wholeheartedly support expressions of love--especially love of family, love of friendship and love of ethics and fairness. It seems to me, however, that Valentine’s Day does not truly celebrate any of these. Worse than that, it demeans everything else I do on the other 364 days of the year to show my love for her by reinforcing, through a complete lack of creativity, spontaneity and sense of compassion, the mistaken view that love must somehow require expression that is soul-crushing and ego-defeating.

I am an idealist in many ways, but at heart I am a pragmatic person. I don't suffer foolishness gladly, especially the kind of foolishness Valentine’s Day sells wholesale, and I resent the suggestion that failing to acknowledge that foolishness somehow means I do not love my wife.

I've made no secret of my belief that having a day where romantic performance is paramount takes the focus off of real love and real issues between mates--job sharing, equal chances for respite and personal growth, support, loyalty and who the hell is making dinner tonight. Aren’t both of our names on the bills, anyway? My belief is not without some foundation in my marriage. I can say that my wife is way more turned on and reassured about my love when I clean the bathroom than I am when I bring her flowers. Don't get me wrong--I’m sure she loves the flowers, but she loves them much more when they come unexpectedly, and they carry more weight when I come to bed smelling a little like dish soap once in a while. A beautiful card means far more to her when I am an equal partner in parenting, and chocolates taste right when they were given to her while she feels she is getting support for her goals and interests within our loving relationship.

We need to stop holding out these "I would die without your love" fairy tales to young women and men (we could do the same for the adults, too, while we're at it) and start talking about the sort of love that we ought to be honoring and asking kids to aspire to. I’m talking about love that is good for the people who are in it and supports and encourages growth in both partners, which someone I read recently equated to the Valentine’s Day sort of love as whole grain bread equates to Twinkies.

I keep Valentine’s Day a mundane day, even in the currently awesome and enormous face of tradition, particularly where very impressionable little girls are concerned. I know that I sound more than a little antiestablishment, but I steadfastly maintain that this is appropriate here. I want my girls to understand how to celebrate love in general, not romantic love in specific, and, instead of just drawing pink hearts and singing "all you need is love", I want them to understand that, they are both going to be needing an education and life insurance, and that the streets are littered with women (and men) who bought the commercialized Valentine’s Day idea of love and ended up lost because it turned out that there was a lot of dirty laundry, bitterness and misunderstanding under all that frilly pink adoration.

Wifeness is working to make Valentine’s Day as much of a community affair as possible around here, and I enthusiastically support this approach. Her efforts to celebrate the “whole wheat” sort of love will, I hope, balance out that overwhelming tide of Twinkie love sweeping over them every day through pop culture. We’re both fans of real, whole love--the kind of love that makes for strong women who don't end up losing track of all of the dreams and hopes they had for their own lives because Valentine’s Day style love says that if you're in love that's all you need or, that if you still want things for yourself after you are in love, then you must not be in love enough. I want my daughters, (and everyone else’s kids, for that matter, because mine are going to need some well-adjusted people to marry) to have realistic expectations of love. I want them to know that the Valentine’s Day love isn't sustainable. It’s certainly not going to get you through taking out the garbage, losing your job or trying to raise children and do grad school at the same time. You need love with teeth for that.

Sure, my daughters will have their days where they will be knocked down and dragged through the snake pit of crushing romantic first love. We’ve all been there, and we run that gauntlet to learn something from the experience. They will likely get hurt and sob because they think they can't live without the object of their affection. I know this, and am preparing for it. All I'm trying to do by taking my stand as I have is to make sure that someday, when they gaze into their lovers eyes and the lacy and ruffled world of romantic love unfurls around them, that somewhere in the back of their heads is a little voice that says "Don't forget to have a bank account in your own name, Babycakes."

6 comments:

Kizz said...

I don't know that it's a serious mistake but I do think you're wrong. By rejecting "Valentines Love" in such a specific way then you're giving it power and you're using a sort of childish logic to refute it. You don't have to buy a box of Ninja Turtles Valentines on the 14th, it might just be a day that you make a card or do the dishes or make a cake or whatever but if you're so all fired set on showing your love for your wife every day (I believe it was a resolution for you) then it seems pretty silly to make a point of NOT showing your love on a specific day or in a specific way. You don't have to do the day like Hallmark does. Sometimes the best way to fight the establishment is from the inside.

Kizz said...

No wait, I've got a revision. A re-phrasing, if you will.

Think of the Valentines kind of love like ice cream. Then you've got the whole wheat love you're advocating. Both good things. But a balanced diet (in my opinion) includes both.

There, better, more succinct, and hopefully clearer, too.

Wayfarer said...

Don’t misunderstand me, Kizz. I am not refusing to show my love on Valentine’s Day, but I resent someone else telling me I have to do it any differently on this particular day than I should any normal day of the year, and if I don’t, then I’m not doing my job as a man. That attitude is destructive to relationships and does nothing to teach people (men, in particular) what it means to show love in a healthy way.

I don’t disagree with you that ice cream is good (literally and figuratively). I also don’t disagree with you that a diet that includes both can be nurturing to body and soul alike. It’s a wonderful thing to end a delicious, healthy meal with a nice bit of something sweet and satisfying! The thing is, our society has become such a consumer of sweet stuff that we’ve gotten fat and lazy off it. We’ve forgotten that to base an entire relationship off fluff leaves you empty and dissatisfied when the sugar rush wears off (I like your metaphor a lot for this!)

I want my kids (and everyone else) to see that good food is what sustains you and to treat desert as just that--a treat. My resolution this year by reinstituting Teapot Time is to make sure there’s a little desert being consumed regularly in my marriage so my wife doesn’t feel like she has to get a feast of it on Valentine’s Day to be satisfied. That doesn’t mean there won’t be surprises or special moments during the year when romance will take center stage, but those moments will be appropriate for US, and they will be done on OUR terms, not Hallmark’s.

Does this make sense?

mrschili said...

I agree with Kizz.

I understand where you're coming from - we've had many discussions about this very subject in the past - and I appreciate what you're trying to establish for your children. Having said that, however, I DO think it's important to commemorate Valentine's Day in some way simply because hearts-and-flowers Twinkie love IS important in a relationship, too, and I'm SURE you want your daughters to have an understanding of that part of a healthy relationship, as well.

I'm not saying that you have to go out of your way to deliver a dozen roses and a diamond heart pendant like they do in the commercials, but making some effort to commemorate the day, however artificial you may think it to be, shows that you're paying attention and are willing to go beyond the mundane (though, I'm sure, greatly appreciated) bathroom cleaning. Think of it in the same way you would think of a birthday or an anniversary - having an excuse to celebrate your relationship can never be a bad thing.

Kizz said...

IT makes sense to me but it's not what I'm getting out of what you said to your dad.

Wayfarer said...

Hmmm... Maybe I'll have to devote a longer post to this thought at some other point. It's complicated to explain (as Chili said, we've been around this topic numerous times), but I'm feeling like it's worth getting it all out there at some point. Thank you for offering feedback!