Ahhhhh, February. Christmas decorations are packed away, tax returns are being filed, winter stews fill the crock pot, and we watch the skies anxiously for a cozy blanket of snow or a promising hint of spring. And Valentine’s Day…oh yes, Valentine’s Day: the one day that possibly generates more stress in the hearts of men than a wedding anniversary; or a first date; or the wedding day itself; or the honeymoon; or becoming a father; or being a father on his daughter’s wedding day.
In a word, Valentine’s Day = anxiety.
Here’s the quandry: if a man spends too much his wife may question his motives or wonder if he is being financially responsible; if he doesn’t spend enough she may feel cheated, disappointed, unappreciated, rejected. This presents a tightrope walk for sure with only past successes (or failures) as the balancing pole for our men.
Enter peer pressure. “Well, so-and-so’s husband took her [fill-in-the-blank]” or “you should see what so-and-so’s husband gave her for Valentine’s Day” or the ever popular “I just thought you knew how much this day meant to me” (accompanied by sad little tears, manipulative pout, and possible stomping of feet and/or a lock on the bathroom door).
And exactly when did one day on the calendar become the benchmark for LOVE? Love can’t be measured in a day! I propose we have taken a dangerous detour from the word’s true meaning when it has been reduced to what can be paid for, wrapped up, and tied with a bow.
A group of professionals recently posed the following question to a few children between the ages of 4 and 8: “What does love mean?” The answers were broader and deeper than anyone could have imagined. See what you think (italics mine):
“When someone loves you, the way they say your name is different. You just know that your name is safe in their mouth.” Billy, age 4 (Love protects)
“Love is when a girl puts on perfume and a boy puts on shaving cologne and they go out and smell each other.” Karl, age 5 (Love inspires our best)
“Love is when you go out to eat and give somebody most of your French fries without making them give you any of theirs.” Chrissy, age 6 (Love shares)
“Love is what makes you smile when you’re tired.”
Terri, age 4 (Love energizes)
“Love is when my mommy makes coffee for my daddy and she takes a sip before giving it to him, to make sure the taste is OK.” Danny, age 7 (Love makes the extra effort)
“Love is like a little old woman and a little old man who are still friends even after they know each other so well.” Tommy, age 6 (Love is commitment)
“During my piano recital, I was on a stage and I was scared. I looked at all the people watching me and saw my daddy waving and smiling. He was the only one doing that. I wasn’t scared anymore.” Cindy, age 8 (Love is empowering)
“My mommy loves me more than anybody. I don’t see anyone else kissing me to sleep at night.” Clare, age 6 (Love is affectionate)
“Love is when Mommy gives Daddy the best piece of chicken.” Elaine, age 5 (Love is selfless)
“Love is when your puppy licks your face even after you left him alone all day.” Mary Ann, age 4 (Love is happy)
“I know my older sister loves me because she gives me all her old clothes and has to go out and buy new ones.” Lauren, age 4 (Love is smart!)
“When you love somebody, your eyelashes go up and down and little stars come out of you.” Karen, age 7 (Love is romantic)
“You really shouldn’t say ‘I love you’ unless you mean it. But if you mean it, you should say it a lot. People forget.” Jessica, age 8 (Love is expressive)
And in my personal opinion, hands down the best one:
“Love is what’s in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents and listen.”
Bobby, age 7 (Love is profound)
WoW! “… if you stop opening presents and listen …”
As parents, my husband and I have tried very hard to instill balance in our children’s expectations about holidays, and about life in general. While we want them to always believe in the magic of Christmas and the unique celebrating of their birth day, we have worked to keep their expectations within the framework of reality. As in, “I don’t care if one of your friends got a limo ride downtown to share a hotel suite with their friends for the weekend, complete with 24/7 room service and tickets to a concert.” Someone – or several someone’s – will always have more, do more, be more. And the disease of ‘expectation’ may be far more dangerous than any other childhood illness they will ever face.
So what kind of example are we setting for our children when it comes to this one day set aside for lovers? What are we teaching them about what love really means? I’m not suggesting that gifts are not appropriate; I certainly enjoy opening a pretty little box or two and I have never been accused of turning away from chocolate. True, there are times when a card can express what we may not be able to say in our own words. But maybe right alongside reining in our children’s expectations, we ought to be evaluating our own.
Ladies, may I encourage you this Valentine’s Day to set aside your expectations of the presents you ought to get – or stop comparing what your friends and co-workers get - and simply listen to what’s already around you?
Men, may I encourage you this Valentine’s Day to pause, look your wife in the eyes and give to her from your heart? Not as an excuse to squeeze your wallet a little tighter, but because you truly want to share yourself with her.
It’s easy to buy something. What takes time and effort is giving of our selves. To share a piece of who we are. This Valentine’s Day, let’s stop opening the presents and listen. It just might be the best Valentine’s Day ever.