Or so goes the lyrics of the song, sang so beautifully by Ella Fitzgerald, but, somehow, another one of her songs comes more readily to mind when I think about celebrating love, especially these lines: “And still those little things remain/ That bring me happiness or pain” (the song is called “These Foolish Things” and it is beautiful beyond words). Each day will not be a celebration, but whether we bring the little magical things into our everyday life, is up to us. If we celebrate the everyday love, rather than spend time on a constant lookout for the great, grand “Titanic’s” “I trust you” scene-worthy love, it might just work.
“Titanic”, “Love Actually” and pretty much every other romance-based film, as well as countless ads and the books of pulp fiction quality have since forever been trying to make us feel like we’re missing out - exactly due to their portrayals of romance, affection and unending love. And this, in turn, gives a chance for any company or service provider, which works in the “romance department”, to cash in big time on days such as Valentine’s day.
Will you be my Valentine? (if I shower you with gifts)
It is a day when every imaginable surface is covered in red paper hearts, when flower shops make you feel like a comic book villain for not choosing the more expensive bouquet, and when you’re supposed to be on a romantic dinner-date in an expensive restaurant while wearing an expensive dress/suit no matter what. Who’s to say if it gets much better with age, but from secondary school on this has been a day of fierce competition. Even if you’re in a relationship (God help you survive this day if you happen not to be in one on a day like this!), whether you’re enjoying this day or not is not so crucial – mainly you’re supposed to deliver.
Deliver the incredibly important information which will validate your social status for yet another year – did you get flowers? A good big bunch of roses? (Ideally this bouquet should be courier-delivered to your workplace for everyone to see with their own eyes, of course.) Any other kind of expensive present? And which restaurant did you go to?
But it is only one thing to start realizing that it really shouldn’t matter, and it really shouldn’t be about the amount of money spent on useless gifts, which are only there for the show (and for the consumerism machinery to keep rolling). Maybe, if these flashy gestures really worked and would really secure this promised unending love for us, it would be worth doing all this once a year. But the goings on of this day really seem to beg another question – is love really a once-a-year kind of thing? Can it be sufficiently cherished, taken care of or and salvaged by the rare grand and flashy gesture? I think we all know the answer to this one, but somehow, instead of using this knowledge in practice, it seems that in today’s world we become more and more isolated and less able to maintain healthy and functional relationships in the long run. How come?
Reap what you sow
Because relationships are sometimes hard. They are not always a walk in the park, but the films don’t teach you that – after the great-gesture ending, the kisses, the music, the promises of unending love, the curtain falls and we’re left to figure out the fineries of a couple’s daily life on our own. Events such as Valentine’s day might work very well for the benefit of companies selling stuff and providing services, but for us – the people scrambling about and trying to figure things out they’re not much help – such a day only propagates the idea that relationships require annual check-up (grand as it might be), rather than daily maintenance.
When you look around it seems to be the case with everything important – the grand stuff is usually just the tip of the iceberg. The fit and healthy body of somebody who works out at the gym is the result of daily work and diet – it doesn't come from one day’s annual fasting, while eating cake and sitting on the couch for the other 364 days. The violinist performing the solo piece at a symphonic concert has not earned the central place on the stage because he picked the violin up the same day and just got lucky. In fact, if you’ve seen the bruised spots on the necks of the greatest violinists, you will not doubt that their excellence is the result of tedious daily work – far away from the applauses, sparkling dresses and champagne.
Relationships are no magical exception – you reap what you sow, so to speak. But somehow, even though our romantic relationship with our life partner is clearly one of the greatest contributors to both our potential happiness and sorrow, we often struggle to make it work – we struggle a lot.
Meeting someone you like and falling in love is a piece of cake – wouldn’t you say? It seems to just happen by itself and requires zero conscious effort from our part. Sure, there is the Sex and the City type of struggle, which is related to the whole starting the relationship thing: am I going too fast? What is he thinking? What should I do after the first/second/third date? When should we exchange keys? Of course, these and the similar ones are also fully valid questions, but the biggest question is this – are you ready for the challenges that are coming, and the compromises that the actual relationship will require? Are you willing to really bind your life to someone else’s and go with it, as they say, through joys and sorrows?
Whatever it takes
We asked people on Facebook, prior to the coming Valentine’s day, what they thought was the most important factor for maintaining healthy and happy relationships in the long run. An overwhelming majority of respondents mentioned communication and willingness to listen and really hear the other person, to talk openly, compassionately and with a goal to find the solution – and not to win the fight.
Communication – verbal and physical – is literally the one and only way we relate to other people. We can share a home, a car, a bank account, have children together and sit at the same table twice a day, but that guarantees you nothing. If you are not interested in and willing to truly share with another person, the relationship cannot survive – it becomes like a plant that doesn’t receive the sunlight and water.
And, if the positive communication doesn’t take place daily, the grand gestures performed couple of times a year – on a Valentine’s day or on the wedding anniversary will make no difference. When we start out, madly in love, we might think it’s impossible – to not be so overwhelmed with this person anymore, to not want to touch them constantly and proclaim our unending love every minute.
But then life kicks in. We get comfortable, more ordinary maybe, more flawed than when we were on our uttermost and best behaviour constantly, trying to impress and please the other. We become human again, and we still love the other person, but it might go over our head that this is the moment to start putting in work. It doesn’t have to be a struggle; it doesn’t have to feel like a chore – but it will not happen on its own.
And this is the time to start working on the small, everyday habits that promote positive relationships. The small touches, which don’t necessarily have to lead to wild sex on the kitchen floor every time. No – the stroking of hair, the kiss on the cheek, the habit of hand-holding. The smile when you wake up and go to sleep, the hugs for no reason whatsoever. The talks. The “how was your day?”, followed by actual, careful listening and with your mobile phone stored away, because the actual, breathing human being in front of you deserves the entirety of your attention.
This is also the time to start working on the friendship. To, first, see your partner as your friend – before he’s a lover, a fellow parent, a person you live with. To always approach them friendly, to aim at solving all small and big issues amicably, to realize that you have common goals and only good things to lose by one of you “winning”. To be a friend even when you’re tired and annoyed, even when it’s been so long that you feel like you could say anything. Don’t. Because you wouldn’t to a friend.
Where does that leave Valentine’s day?
There is nothing wrong with going out for a nice dinner or gifting flowers or any other small and thoughtful gift to your partner. It can be on Valentine’s day, it can be on any other day, or you might have an entirely different idea of what people should do together and receive from one another. We are all different, and there should be no external pressure on how we should be celebrating Valentine’s day or whether we should celebrate it at all.
There is something to be said also about the social arrangement where the man is the provider of the Valentine’s days goods, while the woman is the receiver – the one sitting and waiting on the good stuff to happen to her, and her value and self-worth reliant on it. When you are in a partnership – a partnership which is based on friendship and communication, one person is not the entertainer and the one to deliver all goods.
The social pressure, gender roles and consumerism aside, Valentine’s day might still have something to offer to us. While we don’t have to spend it in any one particular way, it still is a day that can make us slow down in our daily run and duties, and look back at another year - another year together, another year of love. To mark it off, to remember the good and the hard, to say thank you to one another, and to move further again, hand in hand.
About the author: I am a reader, a writer and I love hiking in the mountains. If I can avoid going shopping to IKEA - I will. And I enjoy thinking and writing about the things that keep me up at night the most. Especially, if there is even the slightest chance that it might help bring about even the tiniest bit of change.