I no longer measure love in rose petals.
My husband Neil and I have been together almost forty years. In that time, our Valentine’s Day acknowledgements have run the gamut.
* In the very early years, Neil was on the partner track at his law firm, which operated like a 7-Eleven — they never closed. I should not have been surprised that, though every store in NYC had giant red hearts plastered all over its window displays, when I asked him tearfully how he could not have remembered what day it was, his ingenuous response was: “It’s today?”
* One year, I received a ceramic keepsake box. He bought it because it was red. It had a bird on the cover. It’s the thought that counted.
* The time I consider my coup de grace was when I got out of my morning shower to find two dozen roses on the bed, then, when I arrived at work, there was a delivery of a dozen more for my desk. And yes, I placed them strategically so all could see my cache.
Two back-to-back V-Days in the mid-‘90s though were what put me on the road to not using the holiday as a metric for whether or not I am loved.
* I sat in our apartment waiting for Chinese food-for-one because Neil had to work late. To add insult to injury, I thumbed through a fashion glossy with a model-turned-actress on the cover. Her story described a perfect life, and last “ultimate date night” as a way of showing how equally perfect her marriage was. The star’s husband led her up the mountain behind their Montana spread where she found a table set for two under a heated tent. They were served a catered meal flown in from her favorite NYC restaurant, and dined to the dulcet tones of a string quartet. I may have thrown the magazine across the room. I don’t recall exactly. I do remember that when Neil returned home, he removed a rather crinkled card from his briefcase. I’m pretty sure I mustered up a tired “thanks,” most likely through gritted teeth.
* The following year, he again was on a case that required 24/7 diligence. That time, my reading material of choice was an entertainment magazine, where the aforementioned actress was giving her first interview since her divorce and new life as a single mom. I guess a quixotic Valentine’s Day does not a happy marriage guarantee, I realized. This time when Neil arrived with what looked like the last picked over card from Duane Reade and a bouquet on-its-last-legs from the Korean deli, I was more gracious than the year before, hugging him and offering a genuine “thank you.”
In the years since, I learned to give validity to the phrase I once heard that “love” is not a noun, but an action verb, and shown once a year with a gift is not it.
It’s — in my case, anyway — preparing dinner because Neil knows I would rather wash every dish and pot in the kitchen than boil water; when he used to take our young children to the park on Saturdays, so I could do errands in peace or have a non-chore afternoon to myself; or most recently, holding my 97-year-old mother’s hand while she laid in her hospital bed, so she would not feel alone when I took a break to get some rest.
Last year, was a first for our long relationship. I put a moratorium on flowers. I decided that I would rather get an impromptu, reasonably priced bunch in July to brighten our home, than get gouged by an obligatory, overpriced one. (Same goes for the pervasive $300 per person pre-fixe, 5-course V-day meal offered by many a restaurant.)
I have no doubt that, even without either, love will be in the air on February 14th as it is the other 364 days.
As for you dear readers: Happy Valentine’s Day. Or Palentine’s Day. Or Galentine’s Day. Whichever of the offshoots you celebrate. Happy Friday to everyone else.
Lorraine Duffy Merkl is the author of the novels Fat Chick and Back to Work She Goes.