Archive for Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Social stew: Valentine’s Day food for thought

February 14, 2007

It's February, and we all know what that means. It's time for garments of pink satin, flowers and candy -- not necessarily in that order. And while teenyboppers, newly engaged couples and a whole host of other sappy sentimentalists scurry around with hearts aflutter in an attempt to find that perfect gesture of eternal devotion, we realists will enjoy the day as it should be spent -- popping a few chocolates and calling it good.

Frankly, I don't understand the hysteria surrounding Feb. 14. Not to diminish the importance of solid relationships -- I am in one myself -- but to me, Valentine's Day represents the ultimate in faking it. Wives get dressed up and swoon over their spouses. Husbands show up with fresh bouquets, candy and invitations to dinner, while secretly regretting their frivolous expenditures. The National Retail Federation reports that consumers spend about $14 billion annually on the holiday. The masses scramble for poetic greetings, sexy gifts and way-too-sugary snacks in an effort to say what they have trouble saying on the other 364 days of the year -- I love you.

My husband and I used to play the game. But a few years back, we learned the secret to really enjoying Valentine's Day. Once we dropped the pretense that we were madly infatuated with each other, Valentine's Day became a whole lot more fun.

I don't know when it came to him, but for me, the realization came a few years ago when I was cleaning out some drawers and found a stash of old Valentine's Day cards. While reading the cards, which dated back to the early days of our courtship, I was amazed at how powerfully the personal notes I had written in the cards characterized our relationship. Years one through five contained notes of adoration, such as, "You complete me," and "You take my breath away." The next five years revealed feelings of love, but less intense: "You and me = together forever," or just a simple "Happy Valentine's Day." From there, monotony had set in. The greetings were curt and obviously obligatory. I found a scrap of paper tucked among the cards; a note I had written to one of my kids. "Tell your dad I said Happy Valentine's Day," it read. The next card held the words, "Happy VD." But it was when I came to the most recent cards, the ones written five or so years ago, that I came face to face with my liberating catharsis. The cards read "You're a decent guy," "I'm glad we're in this together," and finally, "Happy Valentine's Day, and I really mean it."

An insightful and articulate friend once summed up marriage for me in a delightfully analogous way. Marriage is like wallpaper. In the early stages of choosing, the possibilities are endless. Then you pick one, enchanted with your selection. Over time, you forget to notice it. Many days, you don't like it, but what are you going to do? After all, you picked it. Every few years, you buy some new art to spruce it up, but that excitement is short-lived. At times, you think of changing it, tempted by new designs and colors. But in the end, you realize the paper you chose so many years ago helped make your house a home and has qualities that are irreplaceable.

Today, Feb. 14 around here is a good day. I call our arrangement "Love Ping-Pong." He balances my checking account. I cook a high protein breakfast for him. He researches which car to buy. I call his mother to say hello. In the evening, we get some carryout. I plop on the couch next to him with a box of chocolates in my lap. I offer him a piece, muttering, "Love ya." I turn on the television and we settle in for a blissful night of college basketball. Now that is true love and, in our house, it is here to stay.

-- Marcia Hallenbeck McFarlane, who grew up in Leavenworth County, now lives in Johnson County. She can be reached via e-mail at

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