And in case you missed the title, CRANKY.
I might be a little grumpy.
It’s that time of year again, that time when all of the commercials are geared to try to make men feel like complete jerks if they don’t fork over a couple of months’ worth of income to buy something shiny or pretty or frivolous in order to prove to the woman that he loves that he does, indeed, love her. Everywhere guys turn, they are inundated with the message that if they don’t fork over a lot of money, they are cheap bastards who don’t deserve the woman they’re with. (Oh, sure, there are occasional advertisements for women to buy something for a guy, but the majority of the ads are aimed at men.)
Seriously, this is so freaking archaic and unfair, it’s ridiculous.
I hate this holiday.
Now, keep in mind, I have always hated it. The first few years of our marriage, my husband tried to give me something for the holiday and I categorically told him to stop. He does stuff for me every day–he doesn’t need to do one big gesture to prove himself. And frankly, if a guy’s intentions and heart are so far buried that a woman doesn’t really know how he feels and she needs the Valentine’s present to judge his devotion? She’s with the wrong guy. Otherwise, that sort of gift–when it’s not clear how they felt beforehand–is just one bigass expensive bribe, a brief stopgap measure to buy off the woman’s ill will and manipulate her into thinking better of him for a little while. Because if a guy cares–he will show it, daily.
Oh, it’s true–guys don’t have to buy really expensive gifts for Valentine’s Day… they could buy a card, or a flower, or write something out themselves, and if we kept it to that, if it weren’t some sort of subtle contest as to whose guy got his woman the most bling, then the small gestures would be great. But it’s not that simple. Let’s be honest: it’s about the bling, baby. If a guy sends flowers (big, expensive) to a woman’s workplace, and the girl in the cubicle over gets a bigger arrangement, or flowers and candy, or, God help us all, flowers, candy, and bling? then the first woman, with just the flowers, looks like she’s with a guy who doesn’t care as much. And that poor guy at home… who thought he’d just done a great deed with the flowers… doesn’t know he just got outclassed. (And never mind the other implicit message — that if you happen to not be in a relationship, that there’s something wrong with you. I know so many single people who get so incredibly depressed over this man-made, totally over-hyped holiday, and for what? Because some advertiser wants to make a buck off making people feel guilty so that they’ll go buy a product. It’s insane!)
Love is not a competitive sport. There are no trophies at the end, there’s no set time that someone has to perform a specific set of routines and then they get a ten from the judges. There are no clear cut patterns, no specific guidelines, no way to weigh and measure love, and there shouldn’t be. It should be about the individual needs and desires and personalities of the two people involved–it should be about what makes them whole, what makes them united, what makes them a unit, not how much loot they can get at the reception. We’ve Disney-ized romance to the point of the ridiculous–(Say ‘Yes’ to the Dress, and Bridezillas, I’m looking at you.) We’ve created a false sense of what love–and commitment–really are. We’ve tacitly gone along with the concept that “if he loves me, he will buy me stuff,” and frankly, at best, that’s belittling and reductive.
On my list of MOST HATED commercials:
Seriously? I would take a guy who has the chutzpah to proclaim his love publicly any day over someone who could just go to a store and buy a ring. And that woman… embarrassed by him, instead of being flattered and proud… but only saying she “loves this man” after he gives her a big diamond, and not when he’s enthusiastic? Should be smacked upside the head.
One of the things that we do, as writers, particularly those of us who try to write about relationships and/or romance, and who end up with a couple together by the end of the book–is to distill onto the page what romance actually is. What commitment is all about. Otherwise, the “happily ever after” — or HEA–at the end of the story would be hollow and meaningless and the story would be imminently forgettable.
If that’s true of stories, why isn’t it logically translated to real life? Are we just addicted to stuff? to measuring things? to having some sort of object, of possession, in order to “recognize” affection? (And how sad is that?) It absolutely horrifies me that we’ve turned our focus in our society toward engagement=BIG WEDDING, spend spend spend to have the biggest, best party EVER, never mind that the couple in question very well may be absolutely broke after the wedding’s over, OR they’ve tapped so heavily into their parents’ money, they have no concept of reality until the harshness of said reality crashes down around their ears. Afford a home? nope. Handle their own bills? hardly… because they lived (for so long) in a Disney-ized version of relationships, without saving for their future, that when the truth hits–it’ll hit hard. But by God, they’ll have a nice set of china to split up later.
What I would love to see (and believe me, I know it’s not going to happen), is for most women to eschew the mass commercialization of love and pay more attention to those little moments along the way where a loved one shows his or her love through words and actions… daily. Those small moments (remembering to bring someone coffee in the morning, or picking up dinner when you know the other one has had a rough day, or a massage when they’re exhausted…)… they are what makes the true HEA possible.
Now, if you celebrate Valentine’s Day and you give and receive presents, I’m not condemning your choices. For many people, this works–it’s incorporated into their lives and they have fun with it. They could pick any other random day of the year, call it “Romance Day” and accomplish the same thing, but they just happen to go along with the national past time of celebrating it on a specific day. I don’t really have a problem with that–as long as it’s mutual. I have a problem, though, when we so clearly send the wrong message: that love = gifts, and only is measured by the value of said gift. That’s how we have so many relationships deteriorating and falling apart within the first two years. That why there are so many unhappy couples out there–they fell for the propaganda of romance and didn’t know how to dig down to figure out if the person they were with was, indeed, the person they were in love with and wanted to commit to.
Love isn’t about the big stuff. The big stuff will take care of itself, if it’s built on a foundation of small, daily acts of kindness, respect, commitment, affection, and desire. Love and commitment are rewarding, but they’re not always easy, and they’re certainly not about the shiny bling. They are about sticking, when it’s tough. Learning how to communicate, figuring out what the other person needs, even when they can’t articulate it. Love is about fighting to stay together, when the world and its stress tries to pull you every direction but toward one another. Love is about the nasty, nitty gritty hard days when someone is sick, when it isn’t fun, or pleasant, but you stick, and you do for them every single day, even when there’s no obvious reward, because that’s what they’d do for you. Love is about finding what pleases the other one, and secretly surprising him or her.
Love and commitment? Are awesome. I truly believe that when we stop looking so much at what we want, what we think we have to have (in things), and start looking at what we can do for someone else, what we can celebrate about them, then we have the key in hand to a successful relationship. But they have to have that same key–it can’t be one sided. Respect. Mutual respect, self respect, go hand in hand.
It’s not always easy to find the right person. It’s very easy to find the wrong one. One of the things I stress, when I’m asked about the secret to finding the right person, is that we both had self-respect, first. We were whole people, who could celebrate the other person fully. And we weren’t worried about status or bling. We had that zing of mutual attraction, immediately, and we recognized in each other that sense of “like” — that immutable sense of fun, of joy, of grabbing onto life and living fully — and we ran with it, in spite of the obstacles. And we’ve hung on, in spite of the obstacles. That, my friends, is almost 30 years worth of happiness.
Now, it’s your turn–do you like Valentine’s Day? Think I’m all wet? All wrong? Or have some pet peeves about the day you’d like to share? I’d love to hear them all, pros and cons.
And to prove my V-Day loathing doesn’t carry over to other areas, four random commenters will be eligible to win a $25 gift certificate to an online US bookstore of your choice. I’ll have to be able to email you the gift certificate and buy in the US (I’ve tried to buy for other countries and it gets extremely complicated, I’m sorry!) Just leave a comment through Saturday morning, 8 a.m. CST, and I’ll announce the winners on Sunday. *If your name is one of the random winners, you have to check back and claim the prize the following week to win it.*