Monday, February 14, 2011

More than tokens

Happy feast of Sts. Cyril and Methodius!

Oh, and happy St. Valentine's Day, too, of course. :)

Much as it pains me to disagree slightly with the great Simcha Fisher, I have to say that I really am one of those women who doesn't want, need, or expect any particular token or gesture today. I like going out for dinner on our wedding anniversary when we can, and I appreciate very much Thad's gift-giving efforts on my birthday, at Christmas, and even on Mother's Day when theoretically he's just helping the girls pick something out. But the way Valentine's Day is celebrated in modern America, I've tended to tune the whole thing out--and this was true long before I found my true love and got married and had three beautiful daughters.

Don't get me wrong; I have no objection to Valentine's Day-themed candy around the house, especially in those years when Valentine's Day doesn't fall during Lent. And I don't mind making a nice dinner, either, or exchanging some homemade cards. But all the rest of it, the flowers and restaurant reservations and gifts ranging from cute and inexpensive to heart-shaped chunks of seriously overpriced jewelry, just seems like our American culture's usual tendency to take a good thing and run it to the ground via a process whereby multinational corporations convince American consumers that they really, really need heart-themed kitchen towels and pink and white lacy place mats made in (country redacted) to create a truly Meaningful Special Important Valentine's Day Experience with their Loved Ones.

Here again, though, don't get me wrong: that's just me.

Whenever I've written about holidays and gift-giving and couples, the one thing I've said is that each husband and wife should communicate openly and honestly about what they expect, want, desire, etc.--as well as communicating openly and honestly about things like budget, stress, and the nonavailability of seasoned baby-sitters to take over a household full of small children on a school night. Family experience plays an important role here; my own parents never made a big deal out of Valentine's Day, and I'm sure that influences my outlook--but I know women whose mothers spent the beginning of February in a fever of anticipation (sometimes, alas, culminating in an all-out plague of disappointment), and for them being ignored on Valentine's Day is the equivalent of having one's husband spend the couple's anniversary watching ESPN alone in a sports bar: not a good thing, in other words.

So when trouble arises, as trouble sometimes does, it's because one spouse thinks Valentine's Day should be a romantic evening out followed by the exchanging of some pretty significant gift items, while the other spouse thinks that Valentine's Day is an excuse for florists to raise their prices, for restaurants to offer "specials" as a way of clearing out that shipment of iffy chicken they got in last week, and for card-companies to make a killing. And if one person simply pretends that he or she is okay with the other person's way of doing--or not doing--things, sooner or later the truth will come out, usually with a lot of hurt feelings and recriminations along the way.

Which is really a pity. Because far more important than flowers or chocolates or trinkets or evenings out to the health of a relationship is open and honest communication--not just once in a while on major or minor holidays, but all the time. Words of love, of friendship and appreciation, nourish a relationship and help it grow; honesty about feelings, even about how one really feels about Valentine's Day, for instance, is necessary to the relationship between two people who love each other.

Tokens of love are important (though the specific days on which they are exchanged will vary from couple to couple, as I said before). But sometimes here in America I think we make the tokens more important than the reality they are meant to express, and nowhere is that more evident than in a nation which spends more than seventeen billion dollars on a holiday celebrating love and relationships--and in which so many marriages end in divorce.


Alisha De Freitas said...

"...and nowhere is that more evident than in a nation which spends more than seventeen billion dollars on a holiday celebrating love and relationships--and in which so many marriages end in divorce."

So true! Great post. I don't really get worked up over this holiday. It's the little things my husband does throughout the year that really touch me.

Siarlys Jenkins said...

The late Art Hoppe, a columnist with the late San Francisco Chronicle, wrote that his mother never allowed observance of Mothers Day in her household. She called it "National Florists Day." Although I don't begrudge anyone the celebration of Mother's Day, she apparently recognized the same over hyped commercialization that is present in Valentine's Day.

melanie said...

Yes I am the same way. I don't tend to make a big deal at all, even with the kids. I was feeling kind of guilty about that today, but I am just not s a sentimental person. The last time I was most touched by my husband? A few weeks ago, he came home late from work, he had to buy himself dinner because over the last few months there has been no cooking allowed and I go to bed at 7:30. I didn't ask him to, he just came in our room with his dinner, sat down next to me and shared what are my very favorite fries from a not fast food restaurant here in our town. He had asked me if I wanted anything but the idea of food was abhorent until he came home with the fries. He didn't say much, just came in to sit with his pregnant suffering wife and share his fries. Maybe it seems so dumb. But it was sweet. And considering he practically has to take over the running of our house for a few months, he's totally off the hook on valentines day. The man shows his love 24/7.

bathilda said...

I personally hate how people confuse the word "romance" with sex. It's crazy how right there in Target, there's trashy lingerie right out there for everyone to see. bras with boas attached and racy nighties. My innocent 11 year old asked why someone would "spend a lot of money on valentine pajamas that no one would see, plus, they don't look warm AT ALL!" Anyway, in my book, romantic gestures don't necessarily have anything to do with or lead up to sex.

@melanie, hang in there. I had two exceedingly nausiated, hyperemetic pregnancies. they are no fun.

catholic traveller said...

Love it! Especially since I just wrote an article about Cyril and Methodius for our church bulletin. I had more fun researching and presenting them than I did trying to think of something to write for "Valentine's Day".

Ditto your comments, ladies.

JMB said...

We make Valentine's Day a celebration for our family. I splurged on a beef fillet and made a nice dinner, along with cupcakes and chocolates for dessert. I figured what I spent on dinner was less than what restaurants would charge for my husband and I to eat out. My children wouldn't be here if it wasn't for my husband, so I like to keep them part of the celebration.

Charlotte (Waltzing Matilda) said...

I agree with JMB. Our Valentines celebration involves the whole family with everyone making valentines for everyone else, making treats together and enjoying a nice dinner along with some fun little, bath salts, yarn, a sealing wax kit, carnations (not roses). Why does it have to be one extreme or the other? If I purchase some special coffee for my sweetheart, I'm giving into rampant commercialization? The commercials might tell us there is only one way to enjoy this day but that doesn't mean we have to listen to them.

Deirdre Mundy said...

We celebrate Cyril and Methodius day instead-- Greek food for dinner! (homemade. You'd have to be CRAZY to go out to eat on Feb. 14!) And I let the kids make valentines and heart-shaped cookies.

But, since our very first Valentines day (back when we were dating) my husband and I have always shared the philosophy that Chocolate is much tastier when it's 75% off!

(Now, if only we could convince the EB to come on Divine Mercy Sunday.....)

Erin said...

I went ahead and named a Giant Hissing Cockroach after my husband (the Bronx Zoo sponsors this program!). It's the gift that keeps on giving--a namesake this year, a tax deduction next year!Hat tip to Fr. Z of What Does The Prayer Really Say for giving me the idea.

Rebecca in CA said...

Greek food--Deirdre what a great idea; I think I'm going to start that up next year.

My kids are really into making Valentines, so we lead up to it for a week or so, going crazy with scissors and glitter and sending them to everyone we love.

Anonymous said...

My 2nd daughter was born on Feb 14, so every year we shake in our shoes should she choose to eat out for her birthday dinner. This year, it was macaroni and cheese, so *phew* no restaurants to negotiate.

The big birthday stuff tends to overshadow the Valentine-y stuff, but we still have fun making some cards for friends and wishing each other Happy Valentine's Day.