It can be argued that Valentine’s Day is a trumped up holiday, a festival for commercialism and Hallmark binges where we spend reflexively, because the morning news shows say we should.
A late afternoon trip to Safeway reveals as much. Last-minute plans and buying sprees, the haggard forty-somethings lugging their generic boxes of chocolate and half-dead roses wrapped in cellophane to the long checkout line.
The younger set dribbles in as well. Often together, giggling and holding hands, they neck in the cereal aisle and laugh when their love steams up the doors of the frozen food section.
They’ve got the passion and heat, but have yet to temper their relationships with crises, those moments in life when we reveal ourselves to be weak and fragile people incapable of perfection. When a couple lives through those moments, realizing that the person they’re with isn’t the fantasy they first imagined, yet loving them anyway, that’s when love becomes real.
My wife and I have been together since high school and have experienced every manner of high and low imaginable.
High school graduation, the long, steady professional climb, college graduation, pregnancies, children, professional success and occasional accolades, irresponsible drinking, the slow unsettling rot of addiction, the rebirth of recovery.
We’ve both had our share of disappointments, and both have occasionally lost hope in the long-term success of our partnership. But neither of us has ever given up. Whenever the worst has come to pass, we’ve simply put our heads down, kept the faith, however precarious it may have seemed, until happiness returned.
And because we truly love each other, happiness has always returned.
Even when I was at my lowest, homeless and bereft of family, I knew that my life partner was mourning my absence and hoping against hope that I’d finally one day get my shit together and find my way home. It took some time, but sure enough, through the transformative powers of her love and ultimate forgiveness, I was able to extract my head from my ass and make a serious play at rebuilding our marriage.
So far, so good.
It’s never a completed project. There’s never a moment when you lift your hands from this artistic creation and say, I’m finally done. This is it. Rather, it’s a work in progress, with good days and bad days, and many in between. The abiding truth I’ve found these past few years is that by worrying about my own needs less, and putting — as best I can — those of her and the children first, I give our relationship a fighting chance.
Valentine’s Day then is not a party for the vast expenditure of precious funds, or for showing off to the neighbors how much coin I’m willing to spend on her slightest whim.
Sure, we bought some ice cream, made sundaes, watched a weird movie on Netflix, and spent most of the night remarking on how goddamn cute our kids are.
Intertwined on the sofa, with our kids forever trying to squirm their way up onto our laps and into our faces, we laugh at what’s funny and forgive what doesn’t really matter. And the older we get, the less bullshit of all kinds really matters.
There’s her, and me, the kids, the dog and cat, and as many good memories as we can cram into this life for our kids to remember when we’re old. That’s romance. That’s Valentine’s Day.
If we’re lucky, in forty years our kids will cherish those happy moments and take the time out of their busy, workaday lives to place Dollar Store flowers on our graves, maybe brush away the weeds and grass that threaten to block our access to the sun. And maybe they’ll care enough to replace those flowers once in a while.
If we get that much right, this life — and this love — will have been a smashing success.
James Faulk is a writer, family man, and cemetery worker. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.