It’s taken me nearly a decade of marriage, but I’ve finally come to terms with the fact that I actually really love Valentine’s Day.
I’m hugely cynical about branded opportunities to buy things and romantic love as sold to us by movies and magazines, yet my husband and I celebrate this manufactured consumer holiday every year with a bottle of delicious wine, a cheese plate, and sparkling conversation. I’ve always considered it an appointment with fun in the midst of a particularly bleak stretch of winter. As our lives have changed, it’s become an important ritual, one crucial to maintaining not just baseline sanity, but even a semblance of connection as we navigate the midlife crunch of work and small children.
It’s like a template for the best parts of our partnership.
We set the expectations up clearly. We’ve created a routine that we both enjoy, and look forward to. And we’re honest, and realistic, about what we want out of the evening. We choose delicious cheeses we love, and a bottle of wine we’re both excited about (we both lean toward the easy-drinking glou glou style). Then, after our kids go to sleep, we sit at the kitchen table, sip the wine, and talk. It’s a simple thing, and in theory we could do it every night, but we don’t. At this stage in our lives the days are so full of faces that need wiping, knots that need untangling, and of physical, intellectual, and emotional labor that we just don’t.
For us at least, life with small children is defined by two seemingly opposite forces that somehow amplify one another—immediacy and repetition. The never-ending waves of laundry, the hundreds of times you have to ask a child to say please and thank you before it becomes habit, and the daily battles over taking a bath, brushing teeth, or wearing pants are unsexy and exhausting. It’s difficult to be honest about that—rom-coms and diamond commercials would have you believe that heart-pounding, first-blush romance is the best kind of love.
Having a yearly moment to reflect, one that’s just about us and not the shared celebrations we enjoy with our families and friends on Thanksgiving and Christmas, helps us look at our relationship in the round, not just in the sometimes tense daily motions of caring for small people and running a household. It started as a young(ish) couple’s idea of what would be fancy and fun, and has deepened into something more profound.
At this place in my life, there are weeks when I’m so focused on the tasks that must be accomplished—the phones calls to make, the emails to write, the doctors appointments to schedule, the early pick-up that came on exactly the wrong afternoon—that when the day is over, I’m not even sure if what runs through my brain could accurately be described as thoughts. They’re more like fluffy strands of unfinished to-do lists, article ideas, and stray bits of information from the ether. To turn that candy floss into an actual conversation, let alone one with some charm and flirtation, takes a bit of work.
So the excuse to sit and do nothing but chat, to reminisce a bit about when we were younger and less harried, is a gift, one that emerged from repetition, from doing the same thing every year on this maudlin, crushed-velvet, chocolate-dipped holiday that I love.