I used to hate Valentine’s Day.
It was a subtle hatred. Well, frankly, it was driven by jealousy, so maybe it wasn’t really hatred at all. I spent most of my Valentine’s Day single and without a “special someone.” I even wrote a column for the newspaper about how stupid I thought Valentine’s Day was. (I don’t think that was the actual theme. All I can remember is that I rallied the single ladies in our community before Beyonce’s song was even written.)
See, Valentine’s Day used to exaggerate all those lonely, inferior feelings I already struggled with daily. It felt like an exclusive holiday, and I hate being excluded. I didn’t want to be “out” just because I didn’t have a boyfriend. But rather than honestly deal with those feelings, I deflected my insecurities and gave passionate explanations for my feelings.
Love shouldn’t be limited to one day a year.
It’s a Hallmark holiday.
Flowers and candy are a waste of money.
I wouldn’t want a man to celebrate our love just because the calendar says so.
And on and on I went.
Then, 10 years ago, I fell in love. Or maybe love fell on me.
We weren’t dating yet when it happened, but I just knew. I knew that I loved this man, and I was going to be crushed if he didn’t love me back. But I was willing to let that happen because what I felt the day I realized I loved him was bigger than me. We were friends. Probably the best of friends. And I knew going forward that if he didn’t love me back, we couldn’t be friends anymore.
That’s storybook stuff, but I can still feel the weight of that realization today.
I loved him. Period. And I had no sure idea how he felt about me.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Have you ever been asked that question? Ten years ago, I couldn’t have given a good answer. I’m not sure I could today either.
Ten years always seemed so far in the future. Yet, here it is. Like turning the page of a book.
I turned 26 that year. Funny, but it was the same year I started to see the possibilities for my writing beyond newspaper journalism. (That’s something to explore another day, I guess.)
My best friend had started dating a guy in our circle of four, and the fourth member of our group was about to head east for military training. But he gave me a present–a Care Bear I’ve loved nearly to death since then–and a promise, to call while we were apart for three weeks.
It was a glimmer of hope, a memory that still makes me smile. He’s always been good at gift-giving, and this was the first of many meaningful gifts.
He did call. We talked on the phone a couple of times while he was away, and I noticed that my world was grayer without him in it. Our gatherings lacked sparkle because he was absent. (He still lights up my world.)
When I took a week to attend a writers conference on the East Coast, I missed his call one night. I was devastated. I was surrounded by writers, some of whom I’d probably be awed by now if I went back and looked at the names. But this blooming love made me blind to any other experiences. This was all that mattered.
We’d spent weeks of our summers at a Bible camp near our hometown, and I first found community at a weekend retreat for the 20-something crowd years earlier. This retreat brought us back to the camp that May, after we’d both returned from our trips.
With some “divine intervention” we found ourselves seated next to each other on a couch for a viewing of The Princess Bride. (It was and is my favorite movie.) I was distracted by his closeness, unable to concentrate on the movie. His arm was resting on the back of the couch, and though it sounds cliche, he eventually got tired of that position and dropped it across my shoulders.
I can still hear the beating of my heart, the questions in my head: What is he doing? Is this what I think it is? Does he mean what I think he means? Is this for real? Am I dreaming?
We were friends. Were we now something more?
I wouldn’t have my answer that night. The movie ended. The spell was broken (so I thought) and we played board games until lights out. I didn’t sleep much that night. And I didn’t want to tell anyone else, afraid that if I did, I would find out I’d imagined it all.
Those fears played with me the next morning. I was sure he would tell me it was all a misunderstanding. That he hadn’t meant anything by it.
Because I was never the pursued one. I was always just a good friend. I was used to rejection. Expected it, almost.
Then he said we should take a walk after breakfast.
And we did. He told me how he felt, and even though I can’t remember the words exactly, I remember how my heart felt like it could fly out of my chest. He held my hand, and we returned from our walk as an “us.”
A year later, at the same camp, he asked me to marry him.
I said, “yes.”
This will be our 10th Valentine’s Day as an “us,” the 7th as a married couple.
Not every year has been the happily ever after I dreamed of.
But we still love each other.
And not every day brings the tingly toes and speedy heartbeats of those first days.
Most days reality is not at all like a fairytale dream.
That’s why I no longer hate Valentine’s Day.
Because for a day, we tap into those earlier lovey-dovey feelings and remember what it was like.
Before unpaid bills.
Before marriage problems.
We remember why we fell in love and what it felt like.
If our marriage is like a fire, then most days it’s more like embers than flames. But for a day, we can fuel the embers with memories and keep the fire burning.
I’m no marriage expert. We don’t have it all figured out.
But if I’ve learned anything in 10 years it’s that the flame won’t keep burning on its own.
Ours was almost reduced to ashes once, and I never want to be there again.
So, I embrace Valentine’s Day, not because I want jewelry or candy or flowers or an expensive dinner out. Not because I think we HAVE TO celebrate or our relationship is doomed.
No. I embrace Valentine’s Day as a sacred pause. A time to remember. A celebration of joy. A day of gratitude.
I know it will be a hard day for some. For ones who’ve lost or never had or feel like they are losing.
And because of that, I say, that those of us who have love on Valentine’s Day ought to share it. Valentine’s Day need not be exclusive to those married, engaged or dating. Because love is more than that.
Whatever you do today, love others. And love well.