As Valentine’s Day approaches, some people are filled with romantic thoughts—and others with dread.
If you and your honey are completely on the same page that Valentine’s Day is really special or not worth bothering with, you’re golden. In most couples, though, there are differences of opinion about how to celebrate the holiday. One may be hoping for a romantic evening full of thoughtful touches while the other just wishes the holiday didn’t exist. What then?
It helps to have a conversation about what Valentine’s Day means to each of you. What makes you want to avoid it? What makes you want to celebrate it? What does it mean about your relationship if you do or don’t celebrate the holiday in a certain way? Whether or not your partner’s views on V-Day seem rational to you, they’re legitimate. (As are yours.) This is not a win-or-lose proposition; it’s a chance for you to understand each other more deeply.
To make this work, you’ll need to do two things:
- Give some thought to what Valentine’s Day means to you, and why.
- Be truly curious about your partner’s perspective. Why does he or she feel a certain way? What cultural influences or personal history play a role? What feelings get stirred up by the expectations attached to Valentine’s Day? What is this like for your partner?
Here are some aspects you might explore:
Cultural expectations: What are we “supposed to” do? All holidays, and especially those that involve gift-giving, come with a lot of history and expectations, and Valentine’s Day is one of the biggest. Just think about how many movies are focused on February 14th. We’re immersed in a culture that tells us we’re “supposed to” have a partner on that date, that that day is a big deal, that we’re supposed to give and receive certain types of gifts (chocolate, red roses, jewelry) and have a fancy, romantic dinner. We’re “supposed to” choose a mushy card that’s exactly right. We’re “supposed to” have amazing sex.
One person may be longing for exactly that kind of fairy tale event, being showered with gifts and/or attention—something that would make her (or him) feel really loved and special. He/she may want to be able to tell friends how fantastic the day was.
On the other hand, those expectations can feel commercial and one-size-fits-all. (You might not even like chocolate and roses.) It can feel like a lot of pressure. It can create stress about spending more money than someone can afford, or about disappointing the partner. Is any of that true for your significant other?
(I suspect the cultural expectations skew along gender lines; on average, Valentine’s Day seems to be more significant for women. Maybe that stems from an earlier era when women had little economic and social power and depended on the men in their lives for so much; I don’t know. But I do know that partners of different genders may see V-Day very differently, and that’s okay.)
Personal history: What kind of holiday feels “right”? How did your parents celebrate (or not) Valentine’s Day with each other? How did your S.O.’s parents? How did you each celebrate the day in your childhoods and your early romantic relationships? Were you made a big deal of? constantly disappointed? Did you feel you could never get it right? Was there one year that was especially meaningful? How do those past experiences color your and your partner’s current views?
Relationship status: Are we solid? Valentine’s Day is particularly fraught for those in the early stages of a relationship. If you’ve been seeing someone less than a year, your first V-Day is a milestone. Will it be a big deal? Are we “a couple”? It can be awkward partly because the milestone is external—it happens on Feb. 14 whether or not that’s when the two of you are ready for whatever the next step might be.
It’s also a challenge for couples who’ve been going through a tough time. If your relationship is rocky, how will that play out on Valentine’s Day? Maybe February 14 reminds you that you love each other despite the recent bumps. Or maybe the two of you agree that this year, you’re both just not feeling it, and you’ll let the holiday go unacknowledged without anyone feeling offended? Or does one of you need reassurance and therefore care even more about the holiday? What form of reassurance feels sincere and possible right now?
Value: How much do I mean to you? This, I think, is the core of what makes this particular holiday hard. We all want to matter to our partner. If he/she doesn’t make an effort on Valentine’s Day, does that mean he/she doesn’t really care? That would be scary and painful. So we long for a big show that will reassure us we’re loved.
Valentine’s Day pushes people to demonstrate their love in concrete form on a specific day. But where does that leave a partner with deep love but shallow pockets? Or a caring person who’s just not good with words? Or someone who’d rather surprise you with wildflowers on a random day than buy same-old roses for too much money? Or someone whose way of showing love is to scrape the snow off your car or cook your favorite meal? Are those ways of expressing love enough?
Strive to weave each partner’s hopes and preferences into a Valentine’s Day that fits your reality and is satisfying to both of you. Maybe there’s an nontraditional way of showing love that would make V-Day special. Or is there a traditional element of the holiday that wouldn’t be too big a reach for the less-enthusiastic partner? Would the pro-holiday partner consider giving the option of doing nothing, as gesture of love to the reluctant one? Would the holiday be better celebrated on another day? Would planning a celebration together take the pressure off?
In short: How can you work together to have a Valentine’s Day that leaves both of you feeling respected and cared for? Because it isn’t about the chocolates—it’s about your relationship.