Valentine's Day: remember this

This Valentine's Day is going to be a very special one for my husband and me. On February 14, 2009, we will mark the occasion when, twenty-five years ago, we began going steady. We will definitely be going out, and Stephen has been asking me for ideas.

So I opened up my inbox today and found an emailed advertisement linking to a whole world of possible ways to celebrate– inviting me to go "way beyond" roses and chocolate, by marking the occasion with something like tandem hang gliding. Well, now. As much as raising ten kids can feel like tandem hang gliding, I have no desire to experience the real thing with my husband. Besides, such an extreme sport would probably disqualify us from having our term life insurance renewed the next time it comes due.

And it would certainly be a far cry from how we spent that first Valentine's Day. In those days we had to be satisfied with a long walk on the boardwalk in Toronto's Beaches neighbourhood, all the way to the water treatment plant. Yes, you read that right – the view from there is romantic, as anyone from Toronto would tell you. My husband's biggest extravagance back then was a bottle of slightly overpriced and not particularly good French wine. He knows much better now. He knows not to walk into the house with a bottle of wine unless it is well reviewed and much, much cheaper.

He also knows that if he told me he'd marry me all over again with a diamond eternity ring, I'd cry -- in dismay, because I'm the one who looks after the banking and bills in our house. I’m not knocking a nice evening out or pretty necklaces and distinguished cufflinks. Certainly if we could afford it we'd be contributing to the local economy by spending some money that way. However, the danger lies in making material trappings the focus of time spent together, both after marriage and before it.

Even my nineteen year-old, starry-eyed self saw extravagant dates as a little discomfiting, a little pressure filled. I mean, what if you didn't want to continue the relationship? How would you let him down gently after he went to all that trouble? Was he expecting some physical compensation for his expense over dinner? Yes, there were plenty of men who were just that shallow, even in the days before "hooking up" took on its present meaning. And there were plenty of shallow women too.

A male friend of mine, newly employed in his chosen profession and looking for Ms Right, once complained that every first date was costing him a mint -- yet many women expected him to pay for the shot (a nice dinner, a movie or a show, drinks or coffee and dessert afterward) even though they were also gainfully employed. Perhaps it's a reversion back to caveman days, where a pricey restaurant serves the same purpose as freshly killed meat. Except that fresh meat indicated its killer would be a good provider. Nowadays an expensive evening out may only indicate that he owns one or several credit cards. We've come a long way, baby.

And how do you really get to know someone in a series of somewhat contrived circumstances? Saving sex for marriage isn't the only reason to skip the Valentine's Day spa weekend getaway. No, as I learned in my youth and as I tell my children, the best way to get to know someone is to see them in lots of everyday situations. See how they treat others. See how they treat you in front of others. How do they talk to their family members and yours? How do they talk about them? Even seeing how well or poorly they treat a cashier in the grocery store can be an indication of what your future together might be like.

As for Stephen and I, we'll probably end up at a nice little restaurant (moderately priced) for an early dinner, then head home to watch a DVD on the computer because the older kids will already have started watching one on the basement television. And this is highly romantic, because we used to have a variation of this when we were dating. We would go to the film studies library on our campus and take out a classic movie, push two chairs up beside each other in the study carrel, and pop the video cassette into the small console to enjoy.

All you nice young men on a budget who are despairing because you can't spring for champagne and a limousine take heed– I told a group of my teenage daughter's friends the story of how I first watched Casablanca, and they sighed in unison. So there you go.

Michelle Martin writes from Hamilton, Ontario.


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