By Ellen Margulies
It’s almost Valentine’s Day, and you know what that means: Couples everywhere will be feeling extra love for each other, and they’ll demonstrate that love with the perfect gift, flowers delivered to the office, a romantic evening out at the hottest restaurant in town followed by a night of tender love-making like they’ve never experienced before.
I hate rom-coms.
Over in the real world, there’s a lot of unrealistic expectations, overcrowded restaurants and more than a few break-ups. I myself was once dumped after a spectacularly disappointing Valentine’s Day. It would be perfectly understandable for me to hate it.
But I LOVE the trappings: the pink, the chocolate, the hearts, the chocolate, the cards, the chocolate, the flowers. And the chocolate.
What’s a conflicted girl to do?
That fateful V-Day dump was prompted in no small part by an overly-emotional overture from me and a clearly last-minute “I’ll give her a gift if she gets me something” present from him. It wasn’t the perfect romantic gift I had hoped for. It was a gift he could just as easily have given to his mother or sister or boss. What that perfect romantic gift might have been, I’ll never know – that was his problem. But I was crushed. He was uncomfortable. We never quite got past it. Dumping ensued. (Oh, and the gifts were: A handmade card from me with an over-the-top letter about how we were on this journey of love together. I cringe at the thought of this now. Scented lotion from him. It came in a Victoria’s Secret bag, which made it even more offensively un-special.)
Had I not been so dead-set on the perfect Valentine’s Day, the relationship might have survived. But I knew what I (thought I) wanted. Like most women, I’d been raised on it. We set ourselves up for this. We’re fed on fairy tales, spurred on by Disney fantasies of the ugly duckling girl who becomes homecoming queen, convinced we’re doing something wrong if Fate hasn’t intervened by the time we’re 21 and the perfect man hasn’t fallen out of the sky and swept us away into an idyllic life. Still. In this day and age. It’s shocking, really.
I hope we raise our daughters smarter. There’s nothing wrong with fairy tales, as long as we clearly understand that’s all they are. Prince Charming ain’t so charming after a few years of marriage, trust me. Women no longer need rescuing; men are, and should be, our companions and mates and partners and friends – not our heroes. We have to be our own heroes. That one-true-soulmate stuff? The ‘’there’s someone out there for everyone’’ crap? I’m out, thanks.
I’m not saying such things don’t happen. They do, to some people. But not to most of us. I’ve spent more years single on Valentine’s Day than not. So after that dismal V-Day, I made a vow to myself: I would never again celebrate that holiday in the context of a romantic relationship. There would be no candlelight dinners, no whispered ‘’I love you’s,’’ no heart-shaped boxes of anything. If I was single on Valentine’s Day, I could – and did – celebrate to my heart’s content: gifts for girlfriends and nieces, pink everything, handmade cards, an excess of celebratory chocolate.
And eventually I went out and found love. It was a calculated move, an online pairing, just after my 40th birthday, and seven years later we are happily committed to one another (yes, you can do the math – I’m 39). There was nothing star-crossed about it. He doesn’t send me roses or love letters and doesn’t especially enjoy holding hands – all of the things I used to think I wanted, even needed. Fueled by those damn romantic comedies and the thousands of bodice-rippers and Harlequin Romances I devoured as a teen and early twentysomething (seriously, those books should be outlawed).
With my new boyfriend that first February, I established some ground rules: No acknowledgment of Valentine’s Day. No gifts, no cards, no nothing. Without any expectations, I couldn’t be disappointed, and he’d never end up in the dog house (for Valentine-related stuff, anyway). As you can imagine, he happily agreed.
To this day he has never gotten me a single thing for Valentine’s Day. And I love him for it.
He’s actually a great gift-giver on Christmas, birthdays and random occasions. He takes me on trips, fixes stuff in my house, cooks meals for my family. And every time he picks me up from the airport – did I mention he lives a thousand miles away? – he has a cold Diet Sprite (my soda of choice) waiting for me in the car.
Now THAT’s romance.