Last week we were out to dinner with my daughter, grand-daughter, and my daughter's boyfriend. We were making family plans for the following weekend, and at the mention that the following Friday was Valentine's day, my daughter rolled her eyes and her boyfriend instantly stiffened up.
"What's up with Valentine's day?" I asked.
My daughter started laughing and said, "Justin doesn't know what to do with the fact that I don't believe in Valentine's day." Justin nodded uncomfortably in response. I smiled at him and asked, "You feel set up, don't you?"
Valentine's Day is perhaps the biggest set-up of all the made-up holidays. As a society, we worship romance, but we worship it in the same way we worship female beauty by buying the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edition. The romance we are told to aspire to is the romance experienced by Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt on the large screen - the romance of impossibly beautiful people with no financial difficulties and professional writers telling them what to say. No wonder marriages have such a hard time staying the course. Our realities are filled with long days at work (or two jobs), difficult discussions over which bills to pay, stress over our childrens' experiences at school, and feeling too tired, or bloated, or uninspired to make love at the end of the day.
The actual definition of romance has to do with the quality and mystery associated with love - with the excitement that comes from being removed from every-day life. That's almost impossible to recreate with a bouquet of flowers and some sexy underwear.
This isn't to say that there is no real romance in the world. It just looks a bit different than what we're told it is. True romance involves saying thank you, for everything. Saying I Love You every time you leave, every time you return, and as many times as you can in-between. Remembering to pick up your loved one's favorite cheese at the grocery store. Taking his car and filling it up with gas to surprise him. Rubbing her feet with no ulterior motive. Having a really good laugh together. Setting aside time every day to spend together - even if it's just watching TV.
The sum of all these small acts serves to create a protective, private bubble within which a couple lives - a bubble that doesn't even include the children. This exclusive place is the place you go to together, the place that is outside of every-day life. The mystery is found in the fact that someone else actually knows you as well as someone else can possibly know you. The excitement is found in knowing that these little acts of love are yours to give and receive as many times as you think of them, every day of your lives.
So it's no surprise that Valentine's Day is a big disappointment for so many. It's impossible to create in one day that which needs to be cultivated every day in order to happen at all. True romance isn't a moment, it's a path traveled.
We explained our take on Valentine's Day to Justin, and I think he's feeling better about it. At least he knows he's not being set up. But now he knows the bar is actually much higher for true romance.