There are a lot of extreme opinions out there about Valentine’s Day. Some people adore the hearts and flowers and the chocolate, and insist on observing all those couples’ rituals that the holiday calls to mind. Then there are those who see it as nothing more than crass commercialism, a conspiracy between chocolatiers, card makers, and flower growers to force people to spend money on a “Hallmark holiday”. There’s a big spectrum in between however, and people often move back and forth depending on what else is going on in their lives. Valentine’s Day may be a sour pill for a person who is single, or bittersweet for someone who has recently lost a partner. It can take on a disproprotionate significance to a new couple who are still learning about each other, a day where romance isn’t just allowed but is expected and which might provide young love the impetus to progress a relationship further. To a married couple it can be a chore, a tradition to which the partners feel obliged to pay lip service without any emotional investment. Some may even forget or not bother.
Ever since ascending from the ranks of ordinary people to that exhalted state of motherhood (i.e. ever since I lost agency over my own life, my sleep, and surrendered all control to a tiny tyrant) I have seen the discussion arise around the first week of February in some of the mummy Facebook groups: “Hey, what do you guys do on Valentine’s Day with your hubbies?” The answers are as varied as the attitudes to the holiday:
“We usually go out to dinner, though last year we stayed in.”
“Nothing here, I can’t be arsed with it.”
“Hubby’s working that night so we are going out to dinner later in the week.”
“I better get something this year, last year he didn’t even get me a card!!!”
“It’s just an artificial holiday. Every day should be Valentine’s Day with your partner.”
The Mister and I fall in the middle of the spectrum. Once upon a time when we were young and carefree we would do the traditional thing. A dinner, a movie, some other sort of romantic outing. (The first year I moved to Ireland he went all out getting me pastries chocolates, and fancy flowers and even got rose petals to spread over the bed and I reciprocated by getting terribly sick and spending the day huddled on the couch under a blanket in a semi-comatose state feeling about as romantic as a mouldy mushroom. I was devastated by my unfortunate timing and I think he may have been somewhat traumatised as he has never really gone all out like that since.) Whatever was going on, we always made an effort to go on a date on Valentine’s Day as a way of reminding ourselves not to take our relationship for granted. At some point though Valentine’s Day just slipped in importance. I got older and started getting annoyed by the way florists jack up prices of bouquets for this one day and introduced a no-flowers rule. Flowers are encouraged 364 days of the year, but not for Valentine’s Day. Sometimes we stayed in.
Then we had a baby and just making it out of the house together was a challenge. Getting away on a date seemed like an impossibility. However, I was more conscious than ever that if we neglected our own marriage, all the exhaustion, fatigue, frustration, anger, impatience, and any other negative feeling that parenting can dredge up from the black depths of your soul would start to erode our relationship. Valentine’s Day returned to importance not because we felt the need to be romantic, but because we both knew that we couldn’t take what we have between each other for granted, and that we need to spend time together, sans child, to remind ourselves why we are still in love with each other so many years later.
Of course, trying to make it out of the house for a date now requires strategic planning worthy of a four star general, so instead we do a quiet night in where we come home from work, put Hawkeye to bed, then have a dinner and a movie which we eat and watch together on the couch. We do not retreat to our own worlds, our own computers, our own phones, our regular distractions that we often use to decompress from the accumulated stress of the day.
This year Valentine’s Day snuck up on us. Between the stress and the tragedy of January our focus has been to try and return to our routine as best we could, and this past week was the first week where we could do that. Aunt Strawberry and her Chap had returned to Kuwait, The Mister was back in Dublin full time, and we both looked forward to resuming our regular activities.
For me that meant finally returning to Wednesday night yoga which I had neglected for months now. Not only did I need to return to my regular stretching and practice in order to keep my lower back pain-free and mobile, but yoga is also a mental space where I can relax and leave everything else behind. I was fully set to attend class this Wednesday when the significance of the date hit me.
“Ah crap!” I swore to my husband. “Do you want me to skip it this week and start back next week? I haven’t activated my class pass yet so I won’t lose anything.” Yoga was very important to me, but so was our tradition of being together on Valentine’s Day and I wasn’t going to make any decision about it alone.
“No, honey. You should go to your yoga class. I know you’ve been missing it and it’s important to you. We can have our Valentine’s Day on Thursday.”
“Are you sure?” I asked him, not quite certain yet whether to be elated at his suggestion or disappointed.
“Yes, I’m sure. We will eat together and watch a movie on Thursday.”
And you know what? It turned into the best Valentine’s Day gift he could have ever given to me. Not only did I desperately need to return to yoga for my own physical and mental well being, but the entire evening turned out to be a perfect jewel of a gift. The yoga studio, conscious of the day that’s in it, offered regular members to bring a friend to class for free. On a complete whim I emailed a work colleague who I knew had an interest in trying various yoga and pilates classes. The two of us attended a very sparsely populated, extremely relaxing and engaging class, and then as a treat to ourselves we spent over an hour in Gino’s chatting over ice cream. My colleague really enjoyed the class, and I really enjoyed having time to get to know her better outside of the office. As someone who is not very socially outgoing this was a huge achievement. (I wondered, afterward, how many people saw us sitting across from each other in Gino’s utterly engrossed in conversation, and though that were were a couple.) When I did finally board my bus to head home, surrounded by couples returning home from dining out, I was in a great mood and the first thing I did when I got home is to give The Mister a giant hug and thank him for giving me such an amazing Valentine’s Day gift.
Because that’s really what it was. Valentine’s Day, to us, is about the two of us. Our marriage. Our relationship and our love for each other. Sometimes what our relationship needs is curling up on the couch together over a movie. But sometimes, what it needs is recognition that we each have our own individual needs too and that our relationship can suffer when those are ignored, and that it can improve when we give each other the space to look after those needs.
He gave me the space to come back to yoga for the first time in months. Then the next evening he gave me a steak dinner and a night of cuddling on the couch watching The Avengers.
Who needs rose petals when you can have steak and superheroes?
I had no image prepared for this post but wanted to have something rather than just text. This is a photograph of an electrical box outside of the Mater Hospital. Appropriate, as the Mater is renowed for cardiac care and heart surgery. The network behind the heart is meant to represent both blood vessels and the streets of the city.