A lot of men feel pressured by Valentine’s Day. They don’t like being expected to do something romantic for their wife or girlfriend on an arbitrary date on the calendar. They flinch when their mate drops hints in early February about what flowers or candy she prefers, and they cringe when she talks about how somebody else’s husband goes over the top for his Valentine’s sweetie.
More sociologically inclined men critique the commercialism of the day or argue that Valentine’s Day in our culture is for new couples who need to affirm their special relationship; secure couples like us don’t need it. None of this works, of course. Most women, even if they intellectually agree with these arguments against Valentine’s Day, wish their guy would do something special for them on February 14.
Not wanting to be controlled by a schedule or by their partner’s expectations, many men, especially husbands, either do something token on Valentine’s Day (a last minute card or candy) or they are conscientious objectors to the whole thing. I used to veer back and forth between tokenism and high-minded abstention. The year I took my wife to Subway on February 14 was the low point. Eventually I realized that the cost of minimizing Valentine’s Day—the disappointment and the missed opportunity to connect—is greater than the benefits of maintaining my freedom to be spontaneously romantic on my own timetable.
I now mark the date on my calendar and book a reservation at one of our favorite romantic restaurants well in advance. I look forward to a special evening with my wife. She has moved from an accepting wife who never complained about my low-key approach to Valentine’s Day (although she did tease me about the Subway incident) to a wife who seems pleased that her mate takes advantage of Valentine’s Day to honor our romance of more than 40 years.
In the larger picture, cultural rituals like Valentine’s Day structure opportunities to do good things that we could do any day, but usually do not. You can honor your mother 365 days a year, but it’s not so bad to have one day when we all remember to do something special for her. You could have family reunions any time of the year, but Christmas Eve or Passover are handy opportunities because they come with cultural or religious expectations. Maybe there’s nothing wrong with a little forced spontaneity to show a little romantic love once a year.
This is the second time I’ve written about Valentines’ Day. The first was ten years ago when I was writing my book Take Back Your Marriage: Sticking Together in a World That Pulls Us Apart . Here’s what I wrote then: “If you really like Valentine’s Day, and it is an important ritual to you and your mate, go for it. Do it up big as a special occasion ritual. I know a man who makes a Valentine’s reservation months in advance for a favorite romantic restaurant. Another couple go away for a weekend near Valentines Day. When I hear these things, I feel a little envious of people who don’t let the superficiality of the day get in their way. Maybe I will come around some day.”
I guess I’ve come around.