I know this couple who don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day.
These happily married people—call them Nick and Nora— aren’t very romantic, either. They share money, so they don’t really “take” each other out. At their age they have most of the stuff they really want, so neither really wants a “gift;” besides, they can each shop for themselves way better than for each other. On top of that, they both dislike shopping.
Nick and Nora laugh about not celebrating Valentine’s Day, sort of a private joke.
What they do is treat each other well during the year. They go places, enjoy each others’ company, and even buy the occasional bouquet of flowers. Occasionally one does the others’ chore, simply to be nice. When one has a cold, the other makes soup. They notice when the other one has a new haircut or pair of shoes. They point out interesting magazine articles the other probably wouldn’t see.
So what they do on Valentine’s Day is pretty much what they do on other days.
No, they don’t wake up together and quietly make love before the kids get up. Their schedules are different, and Nick’s out of the house before Nora wakes up. They don’t usually go to sleep together, either. Nick’s asleep by 10, while Nora gets into bed around midnight. They generally don’t go to some charming café for an intimate dinner in the middle of the week, as they have the kids’ homework to deal with, and maybe even some paperwork from a hectic day.
So what do they do on Valentine’s Day? As usual, Nick has coffee in the morning because Nora set the coffee pot the night before. Nora’s lunch is ready to go, made by Nick before she woke up. She gets to enjoy the plants scattered around the house, watered and fed by Nick. He has clean underwear—as usual—because Nora washed and folded it.
As it happens, they’ll have dinner together. One will cook, the other clean up. Afterwards, they’ll watch half a movie together—more than that, and Nick won’t be awake enough to say good night.
What makes today special for Nick and Nora is that being nice to each other is the same old thing. And that’s what makes relationships work.
That, and an agreement that iphones, ipads, gameboys, and, as the airlines say, “anything with an on-off switch” is optional, not mandatory—and never as interesting or as fun as each other.
A significant number of my couples argue about one or both of them feeling they never have their partner’s full attention, that it’s always shared with machines that bring information, excitement, and demands. When I suggest that machines be banished from the dinner table, bedroom, or walks around the block, people frequently resist.
For Valentine’s Day, an evening of your full attention might be the greatest gift of all. Starting to work out your discomfort about being electronically disconnected for a few hours would be a great gift to give yourself.