8 years ago, I got a call from the summer camp where I’d been a camper, saying they were short on counselors, and even though I was technically a year too young to be a counselor (they want college freshmen, I had just graduated from high school and wasn’t eligible til the next summer), and I hadn’t even applied for a job, did I want to work there for the summer? I jumped at the chance for a summer of fun, and my first day there, met the hottest guy I’d ever seen, no lie. It turns out he thought I was pretty cute, too, and within 24 hours, we were smoochin’ and smitten. 8 years later, he’s still the hottest guy I’ve ever seen. I’m so glad he’s mine.
This story is sorta like “The Gift of the Magi” if those characters had been sorta jerkish instead of altruistic and self-sacrificing.
Some time before our first Valentine’s Day together (at which point we’d been dating like 8 months), I was hanging out at Jon’s house watching TV when a Hallmark commercial came on. It was advertising whatever their cute plush Valentine stuffed animal was that year. I think I said something like, “Why would a dude EVER get an adult woman a stuffed animal for Valentine’s Day?” Jon’s face fell a little and he said, “You better be careful what you say!”
A few days later, on Valentine’s Day, Jon presented me with the gift he’d already bought *before* we saw that ad: a stuffed animal that looked like a chocolate lab puppy. He reminded me what I’d said, and of course I felt like a jerk. The truth is, I thought the stuffed dog was adorable. I named him Jack, I spritzed him with Jon’s cologne, and I slept with him every night because he smelled like Jon, who at the time was going to school 100 miles from where I was going to school. I still have him and sometimes sleep with him when Jon’s working the night shift.
Maybe a year after that, a few weeks before Valentine’s Day, I noticed that Jon’s wallet was totally falling apart, so I bought him a new one. A few days before V-Day, we were walking through the mall when we passed a special Valentine’s Day wallet display. Jon said something about how wallets are intensely personal and how they get better with age as they conform to the perfect fit for a man’s pocket. My face fell a little.
On Valentine’s Day, a few days later, I presented him with the already purchased wallet and reminded him of what he’d said. I bet he felt a little like a jerk. But the thing is, he liked the wallet. Years later, he’s still carrying it.
These days we don’t give each other gifts at all. It works out better that way.
The night I met my husband, we sat around a campfire and talked late into the night. We saw shooting stars (or were they fireflies?), were startled by a tail-less cat, and started the fall into love.
The day my husband proposed, he took me back to the site of that campfire and asked me to marry him, and then we sat there and talked about our life together.
Not too long ago, we hit a bit of a rough patch. Trust was damaged, hearts were hurt, and things got hard.
This weekend, we went camping with a group of new friends. We sat around a campfire, talking into the night. We debated the influence of the Beatles (why anyone would dispute their status as the single most influential band ever is beyond me), we laughed at the puppy snoring in my lap, and we got to know each other. I caught glimpses of my beloved in the firelight, looking just as sexy as he did that night we met. I smiled when, asked about his top 3 favorite movies, I guessed every one. We walked through the dark to our tent, where we snuggled for warmth, heads under the sleeping bag, exhaling deep, hot breaths to heat the air inside. He wrapped his arms around me and told me how thankful he is, how lucky he feels that we have each other. That we get each other. That we love each other. I think that spark of gratitude might just be what we needed to get back into full flame.
Today’s post is inspired by the lovely Kyran Pittman’s question on her brand new blog, Planting Dandelions.
Side note: I’m in the middle of writing an epic paper on 14th century mystic Julian of Norwich, and it’s taking up a lot of my time. Please excuse my sparse posting as of late.
One of the best things I ever wrote was a column in my high school paper about hating Valentine’s Day. Fueled by all the angst of being 17 and never having had a boyfriend, I was downright inspired. If I may say so myself, the imagery was excellent. I may have mentioned that every January, pink and red displays pop up like pimples in stores, and stuffed animals “hang like convicts” over cash registers, begging shoppers to “Be Mine.” I painted a scene of a smoky room in which a conspiracy was born, hashed out between the DeBeers diamond people, the greeting card industry, Victoria’s Secret, Godiva, and an international flower-growers cartel, Valentine’s Day was born. I railed against a manufactured holiday, I exclaimed that love should be celebrated every day of the year, I complained that people without partners feel left out. That piece won me an award from the Arkansas Scholastic Press Association. It was all true.
And yet, a year later I met my true love, and a year after that, I had my first ever Valentine who wasn’t my dad. And now? Now I kinda like Valentine’s day. I like homemade cards with heartfelt inscriptions. One year Jon gave me a glittered drawing of a train that said “I Choo Choo Choose You,” just like the card Lisa received on The Simpsons. For our first Valentine’s in Charleston, he drew me a picture of Rainbow Row and thanked me for coming here with him. I like thoughtful gifts, the smaller and sillier the better. One year, Jon gave me a packet of zinnia seeds, knowing they were my favorite flowers, but unable to find any live ones in stores. That packet of seeds made me happier than any bouquet could have, and I planted them, and grew many, many bouquets. I also like excuses to go out to a rare fancy dinner (one of our favorite places here in Charleston is FIG, you should try it). And really, beyond that, I try to avoid the manufactured-ness of corporate Valentine’s Day. I want a homemade card, a thoughtful gift, if at all, and maybe a nice dinner, if at all. I want to wear red and act schmoopy and call my husband my Valentine. I don’t need any kisses that begin with Kay, thank you very much.
So what about my angsty self who used to rail against Hallmark Holidays? I wish I could tell 17 year old me to stop flipping out. Valentine’s Day wasn’t really for me, then. And that’s fine. But it’s not like my bitterness about the holiday ever helped me land a Valentine of my own. And it’s not like I was really that unhappy– I’m pretty sure I went and saw a chick flick with my best gal pals, and we laughed our heads off. There’s more than one kind of love worth celebrating on V-Day. This Wednesday I’ll be repeating the chick flick with the chicks tradition and seeing Valentine’s Day with my girlfriends at Cinebarre.
In fact, there are lots of fun things to do if you’ve got no Valentine to call your own. Here in Charleston, you could see the Vagina Monologues at the College of Charleston, check out the Mellow Mushroom’s F-Cupid party, or go to the Valentine Sock Hop, get dolled up like a pinup and dance to some rockabilly with the Lowcountry High Rollers roller derby team (I secretly wish I could go to this event, but I’m pretty sure it’s not up my Valentine’s alley, and there will be burlesque dancers performing, so, not for us). As for me and my Valentine, I made him a card and a little surprise, and we’ll probably be staying in. Downtown restaurants will probably be insane since the big Southeastern Wildlife Exposition is in town, and I’m not in the mood to fight the camo-clad masses for a table.
If there’s one thing that confuses me about the whole discourse of modern marrieds, it’s “date night.” Particularly in churches, it seems couples are encouraged to have a regular date night, to continue dating their spouse. And the more I think about it, the more confused I get.
Like, what counts as a date? If we regularly go out to eat, does that count as a date every time? Or only if we plan it in advance? Or only if it’s the kind of place with real table cloths? What about cooking a meal together? Does that count as a date? Do you have to go to a movie, or would renting a movie count as a date? I would have considered renting a movie a date back when Jon and I were dating, but is it no longer a date if we live together? Or taking a walk– we liked to take walks when we were dating, so is it a date when we walk the dogs together? Is it only a date if we’re holding hands while we walk?
Come to think of it, pondering what a married date night looks like makes me think of nothing so much as a brochure my friends and I received and mocked in college: 101 Ways to Make Love Without Doing It. If those things count as dates, Jon and I have had 31 dates (at least, this doesn’t include repeats of the same activity) in the past month. Really, though, I’m not clear on what delineates a “date night” from “sharing life together” and couldn’t tell ya the last “date” we had. Because really, we’re married. We’re not dating anymore. Thank God.
Though I must say, sipping spiked Russian Tea while snuggling on the couch wearing PJs and listening to music in the glow of the Christmas tree, which we did last night, is a darn good date, though I’m not sure it would count towards the mysterious but apparently all important “date night.”
It was not so many Thanksgivings ago that I told my (biological for those who know both of the women who have mothered me) mother that I never wanted to see her again, and then basically didn’t for several years. I was in junior high at the time. Not to get into the whole long story, but we had hurt and been hurt by each other, had misunderstood each other, and basically ceased to have a relationship after years of hurt and misunderstanding. And it seemed that as years went by, hurt and misunderstanding piled upon hurt and misunderstanding, and even talking on the phone became difficult. At the same time I felt guilty and somehow defective for not being able to have a functional relationship with my own mother, but the guilt just made the hurt and misunderstanding even harder to deal with. Others who attempted to help heal this broken relationship just added to the burden of guilt and pain, making me feel even more defective.
Tonight my mother is coming to visit me for Thanksgiving. It will be the first Thanksgiving we have spent together since that horrible Thanksgiving years ago. I’m actually really looking forward to it.
What changed between then and now?
This Thanksgiving, I have to say, I am so thankful for him. It is thanks to Jon that I have a relationship with my mother today, one in which we can email and talk on the phone and visit and just know and be with each other in a way I couldn’t have imagined not so many years ago. Rather than making me feel guilty for my broken relationship with my mother, Jon patiently and gently pointed out that while I didn’t have to reconcile, didn’t have to force forgiveness I didn’t feel, I did have to let go of anger and bitterness and hurt, because those things were weighing me down and making me a bitter and unhappy person. And because I never felt anything but accepted and loved by him, I felt free to let go of those feelings that were holding me back and keeping me from really being myself. And I also felt comfortable enough to see a counselor and work through my own issues. And eventually, I felt free enough to forgive. And forgiveness led to reconciliation, and reconciliation to renewed relationship.
How many people can honestly say their partner makes them a better person, helps them have better relationships with others, and shows them what grace and freedom really look like? I can. And this Thanksgiving, I’m so thankful for him.
David Brooks is sort of the Andy Rooney of the New York Times, always baffled by modern ways of life and love, and wishing we could return to the good old days, maybe even in Lake Woebegone, where the men don’t have iPhones, the women don’t have Facebook, and all of the relationships are hookup-free until marriage. Brooks’ latest column is about how cell phones and texting have killed romance.
Brooks’ column is littered with proof of how he just. doesn’t. get. it. (He notes that the daters he quotes make up nicknames for their partners, not catching that “Stage Five Clinger” is a “Wedding Crashers” reference. He also seems to think Bruce Springsteen is an appropriate cultural reference.) I sort of imagine that Brooks does his phoning on a Jitterbug. He seems to almost want to return to the days of arranged marriages:
Once upon a time — in what we might think of as the “Happy Days” era — courtship was governed by a set of guardrails. Potential partners generally met within the context of larger social institutions: neighborhoods, schools, workplaces and families. There were certain accepted social scripts. The purpose of these scripts — dating, going steady, delaying sex — was to guide young people on the path from short-term desire to long-term commitment.