Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Valentine's Day

Valentine's Day. Not a day I normally celebrate. I didn't grow up with it and, during my many years living in Kenya, didn't experience the commercial reminders. 
Generally, it passed me by apart from one memorable year when I was at college. I received a wonderful, intriguing, poetic Valentine in the morning post. I was mildly flattered and mildly curious until I arrived at my first lecture. My best friend Sue had received an identical card with a slightly different poetic message. Obviously from the same person - first problem. Sue was married - second, major problem. Her husband had been rather upset, giving her the silent treatment. Although Sue was relieved to find that her card was evidently a joke, nevertheless she was desperate to find out who had sent it. I was so desperate for her I don't even remember if I was disappointed that my card wasn't 'for real'.
We spent the day asking EVERYONE who knew both of us if they had sent it, to the obvious amusement of our lecturers. (Yes, we were young. And giddy.)
At the end of the day, Sue trailed home apprehensively. She and her husband divorced a few years later.
(Not because of the Valentine's card, though. Sue eventually discovered, after meeting two other friends  - one a neighbour, one from her husband's course - that they had also received identical cards. Her husband had sent them - having only managed not to explode with amusement at her consternation by keeping silent.)
This year, as I catch up reading some wonderful blogs over the half term holiday from school, I find Valentine's Day messages everywhere.
I liked this one: a reminder that many men are not at all naturally romantic. I like that she reminds us it's not about us and how romantic our husband/boyfriend should be towards us when she says: "There are no exceptions in the Bible where it says on Birthdays, Mother's Day and Valentine's Day we have permission to be selfish and self-centered."  
We don't need to believe what the media tells us. Most men just don’t have ‘romantic’ bones. Their flashes of romantic inspiration are few and far between. My husband veers from absolutely no romantic gestures at all to, every few years, doing something ‘over the top’.  Never on Valentine's Day, but on our wedding anniversary. 
The most memorable - the one that still takes my breath away when I remember it - was when we were living in Kenya while the children were young. We had been married twelve years. He had given up his flying career to work voluntarily in an orphanage and I was teaching. So not a lot of money going into our bank account every month.  Somehow - I'm still not sure whether this was already arranged or if he managed to engineer it - our children were invited to two separate sleepovers for the weekend. As they went off,  I had my weekend planned in my mind but was happy to drive with him to our local airport while he 'checked up' on something. It wasn't until he drew up outside the air charter hangar that I began to suspect something. He had chartered a small plane to fly us down to an exclusive lodge in Amboseli game reserve, in the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro.  He had even packed a weekend bag for me with everything - including my prettiest dress - that I might need. I was almost too shocked at the extravagance to enjoy myself. 
Before that, it had taken me a long time to accept that he just didn’t ‘do’ bunches of flowers, sweet sentiments or even chocolate!! These things - whether small gestures or hugely extravagant gifts - are sweet, but ultimately don't matter. What really matters is not a once or twice a year fuss, but daily kindnesses and tiny acts of appreciation: the thanks for a meal, or an errand run. A gentle back rub, a touch on the arm. A meaningful kiss. A smile into eyes.
I'm thinking of a sweet friend of mine who is struggling with this whole romance thing - she longs for it, her boyfriend doesn't 'do' romance in the same way.  They are good friends, but the relationship has been a little bit 'on off'.  
I’m probably the last person to talk to regarding an ongoing relationship like this as my husband and I just met each other, deciding almost instantly that this was 'the one' and then got on with it! (I'm talking days, maybe weeks, here.) His excuse is that, as a pilot, he is used to very quick decision making. Mine is that I was SOOO old – nearly 30, and the spinster teacher of the family – that I would have said yes to anyone. That's my cover story, not the truth, of course.
Instant attraction. Romantic to the extreme. But then I think of Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott. It always struck me that the marriage of Amy and Laurie seemed relatively passionless (they agreed that they ‘pulled together well’ when they were out rowing on a lake, as far as I remember!) but it was a happy and lasting marriage. And I think that a lot of good marriages certainly end up like that – pulling well together –  however they begin.
As long as they have Valentine's Day sentiments 365 days a year.
Look here for a cute story of how one couple met...


Lisa notes... said...

I love how you point out that we don't have permission to be self-centered on holidays just because culture tells us so. My husband and I rarely do traditional holiday celebrations; I know he loves me every day. I'll take that. :-)

Mama Mpira said...

Thanks Lisa - I was just agreeing with Courtney (http://womenlivingwell.org/2012/02/valentines-day-ideas-for-your-husband/) when I posted about being self-centred - it was HER thought!