As strange as it sounds, I was uncomfortable that I felt uncomfortable. It was a feeling I had experienced only a few times before. But, on that night, when my boyfriend gave me flowers, opened the door for me and acted like a perfect gentleman, the truth was, I didn't like it. And it bothered me that I could not identify why. So, I went along with the evening and smiled like there was nothing wrong when my boyfriend pulled out my chair as we sat down to Valentine's Day dinner.
Exactly two years after that awkward Valentine's Day date with my ex, I was sitting in my car looking at you. I was unsure how to broach the subject. All my friends were inquiring about our big plans for Valentine's Day. After all, it was our first Valentine's Day as a couple and you had not asked me out or informed me of any plans. I was sure you had either forgotten the day or planned a surprise. When the topic finally came up I was startled by your proclamation that you had no interest in celebrating the tradition... unless I "wanted to."
Even more surprising than your proclamation was my relief upon hearing it.
Despite my assurances that I was OK not doing anything, you were quick to clarify that you wanted to spend the evening together. You just didn't want "to do the whole Valentine's Day thing." As I listened to you explain your dislike of a day all about love, I could feel something shift. Something change. Looking at the orange light from the street lamp fall across your face I suddenly saw you differently. I knew I had crossed a line and could never go back.
Your explanation encapsulated everything that I felt but could not articulate. I now knew that my ex-boyfriend being a sweet gentleman was not what made me uncomfortable. Rather, what bothered me was the fact that it was not normal for him to go out of his way to make me feel loved and special. Our day to day interactions in no way resembled those of our Valentine's Day date. While I appreciated his effort, I hated that through his carefully planned romantic evening he demonstrated that he knew how to treat me well, but was regularly choosing not to. The evening felt fake and disingenuous. I didn't like it.
You said the notion of Valentine's Day made you feel like your actions were contrived and obligatory. Love, you said, should be expressed because one feels compelled to express it. Not because it's the designated day to do so. You believed the power of romance lies in how love is shown in the mundane of day to day life. Not through required boxes of chocolate.
It was the very first Valentine's Day that none of it made me uncomfortable.
And that was it. The feeling I couldn't identify two years ago. That's not to say I'm against romantic dinners or Valentine's Day. But, it isn't what matters to me. It's not how I need to be told I'm loved. One great night of romance does not make up for being an inconsiderate ass the rest of the year.
That night I became acutely aware of all the little things you did. You held my door open for me. You often made me dinner. You would appear with a sweater when you noticed goose bumps on my arms and knew I was cold, but too lazy to go upstairs to put something warm on. You spoke to me kindly. Respectfully. You went out of your way to make me laugh.
It was the very first Valentine's Day that none of it made me uncomfortable. Because you making me dinner and showing me love and respect wasn't a grand romantic gesture. It was something you just did. Regardless of the day.
"Were you afraid to tell me you hated Valentine's Day?" I asked, genuinely curious. I wondered if you thought I'd be mad or hurt. But your answer surprised me. "I'm not afraid to tell you anything," you said with a smile. "I figured worst case scenario you'd say it was important to you. So then I'd take you out. Just because I don't have a need to celebrate, doesn't mean I'm not willing to."
It was a moment I will always remember. In that instant my feelings for you became clear to me. That day, sitting in the car with you, you were no longer my boyfriend. As least not emotionally anyway. On Valentine's Day of the year 2000, you became my future. It was day I knew I wanted to marry you.
Now, on the year of our 18th Valentine's Day together, our first is still fresh in my mind. I can't help but be amused at the irony that I realized how much I loved you on a day you found annoying for being about love. Your proclamation against what you called "obligatory romance" highlighted just how incredibly romantic you naturally were.
Valentine's Day now makes me nostalgic and happy, even though we still don't really celebrate it. This year, as we cuddle up with our kids and watch a movie on the 14th of February, I will be thinking of what you said 18 years ago. And I will say the same thing to you now that I did then. Thank you. Not just for loving me, but for how you love me. Thank you for showing it daily and for teaching two little boys how to express love. Not just with words but through actions. Because it is how love is shown that is perhaps the grandest, most loving gesture of all.
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