I fell for my husband the day he took a homeless man to lunch. Before then, my future mate had been a smart, funny, slightly older guy in the CBC newsroom where we both worked. But when I learned about his kindness to someone in need, David became "the one."
Two years later, I mentioned that eureka moment in the speech at our wedding. And I've often tried to figure out why Dave's act of kindness mattered so much. How did his generosity in that simple meal with a stranger ignite feelings that may otherwise have remained dormant -- perhaps forever? What if David had simply walked past the man on the bench without stopping?
Here's what I've realized. And a disclaimer: these thoughts didn't all come at once. It's taken about 16 years of unpacking to sort out why I finally stopped and looked twice at my future mate.
- It meant he was different from the rest. And that was extremely attractive. In a fast-paced, me-centred, materialistic world, something had stopped David dead in his tracks to cross the road to the man. I was curious about what that "something" was. I wanted to know more.
- It meant he would be kind to me. If he were kind and generous with a stranger in need, I knew that David would care for me when I was vulnerable. And I had the sense that he'd do the same for any children we had in the future.
- It meant he was willing to give his heart and his time. Not just his money. David could have tossed the man some change and kept walking. Instead, he enjoyed an hour with someone new, and learned a great deal. The man's life story was an incredible one. Dave grew from the experience, and was willing to say so.
The power of generosity
According to several studies, I'm not the first person to be drawn to generosity in a potential mate. And I'm not talking about costly gifts and expensive restaurants. Researchers have explored the question of whether donating to charity, for instance, could actually be perceived by members of the opposite sex as a "mating signal."
This cold, scientific approach brushes much of the stardust off moments like the one I experienced. I remember that my future spouse didn't tell me directly of his generous act -- I learned through the grapevine. And I also recall that David didn't simply name the dollar figure of the lunch he'd paid for and expect me to swoon.
When we did talk about Dave's lunch with the man in need, it was a larger, more revealing conversation. Why had he stopped? Why was he concerned about the man?
It's a conversation of kindness that continued on, as I dated, then married, and then celebrated 16 anniversaries, with a guy who is kind and generous to the core. A talk that continues every time Dave stops to help a visually impaired person on the subway, or listen to the amazing life story of an elderly person he's only just met.
Dave and I with our two sons a couple of years ago. Our boys are also learning to stop and speak with people on the street who don't have a place to live, asking if we can bring something from the closest restaurant.
An approach worth exploring
It's something worth considering this Valentine's Day, as you look for ways to impress that special person in your life. An expensive dinner out may go a long way -- but hey, everyone's doing that. Jewellery sparkles, but it's not necessarily forever. Caring and kindness can be.
This year, why not show you're different from the rest? Generosity -- not just to your loved one, but to someone in need -- can go a long way in helping your potential partner see what's really inside you.
Here are three ideas for sharing your generous spirit this Valentine's Day:
- Ask to visit someone special to them. Whether it's their grandparent in a retirement home, a friend of theirs who's alone on Valentine's Day or a neighbor who needs a lift. Giving your time and your attention can go a long way.
- Give a gift in their honour. Show you understand and admire what your potential partner cares about, whether it's an animal species on the verge of extinction or children in developing countries who don't have books to read or enough nutritious food to eat. Check out the World Vision Gift Catalogue for ideas.
- Suggest you volunteer together. If there's something one of you really cares about -- whether it's people without homes or newborn kittens without mothers -- ask your potential partner if they'd consider volunteering with you at a local organization which helps.
The most wonderful thing of all? All of these acts of generosity cost much less than that expensive dinner in a five-star restaurant. And the results could be much longer-lasting.
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When I met Gladys Rodriguez, who's been living in New York for about 25 years, she was sitting on a bench in the Union Square subway station, waiting for someone to help her with her bags. She says that people are most generous around Christmas and New Years, but that she's always willing to lend a hand. "If I see somebody is down," Gladys said, "I will help them." (Photo: Damon Dahlen, AOL)
Rodriguez was super excited about the chocolates I gave her and handed me a lesson on giving in return. "Life isn't about money," she said. "It's about extending yourself." (Photo: Damon Dahlen, AOL)
Jasmin Charly, 24, a Berkeley grad who's been playing the violin for 14 years, performs with her band at bars on the Lower East Side and said that playing on subway platforms is an easy way for her to make some extra cash. (Photo: Damon Dahlen, AOL)
Charly said that straphangers are typically pretty generous, but on Valentine's Day they were a bit "stingy" and she said she felt a "weird energy" from passersby. We agreed that, perhaps, New Yorkers had already emptied their pockets for their partners. (Photo: Damon Dahlen, AOL)
When I went to serve dinner at the New York City Rescue Mission, I met up with four volunteers from Starbucks who were doing the same. Chephany Navarro, 33, (center) said that spending her Valentine's Day helping others was a no brainer. "I love to cook. I love to feed people," Navarro said. "It's the best way to connect on a human-to-human level." (Photo: Damon Dahlen, AOL)
Douglas said that he was anxious about going to the Rescue Mission and had expected it to be a "rough" transition. But, he said he has found inspiration in the people who have been helping him. "Life is a gift," Douglas told me. "You get out what you put in. You gotta be hopeful." (Photo: Damon Dahlen, AOL)
Antoine T. said that he struggles on Valentine's Day because he usually thinks of his mom who passed away a few years ago. He used to buy chocolates every year. To stay upbeat, Antoine said he "just prays a lot." (Photo: Damon Dahlen, AOL)
"It's not about loving the opposite sex," a volunteer named Cece told me of her thoughts on Valentine's Day. "It's about loving the world." (Photo: Damon Dahlen, AOL)