Well, kids, it’s Valentine’s Day. Wheee. I like Valentine’s Day about as much as I like regular teeth-cleanings or paying taxes. Which is to say: very little. But I do my duty in regard to these things, because failing to do so will get me into trouble.
Now, the first thing you should know is that I’m not, generally speaking, a thoughtless jerk. On pages that look pretty similar to this one, I’ve argued that chivalry and gentlemanliness may look different today than it used to, but it’s no less important. I also admit to having been married now for several years. And that combination of qualities — being gentlemanly and being married — carries certain requirements. It’s a short list:
- I have to kill spiders, beetles or any other creeping things that make their way, uninvited, into our home.
- I have to take out the trash.
- I have to acknowledge the existence of Valentine’s Day.
That’s pretty much it. Requirements No. 1 and 2 are usually no problem. I see them as part of my job, and I’m happy to do them. I perform these tasks not just because my wife would rather not handle insects or dump trash, but because it’s something I want to do for her. It’s a way for me to serve her. That’s why, in romantic movies, you always see the really charming guys picking up dead spiders. Or maybe not.
But Requirement No. 3? It’s different.
I observe Valentine’s Day because society dictates that I am supposed to observe Valentine’s Day. And because society dictates it, our wives and girlfriends expect us to acknowledge it. And because we are expected to acknowledge it, then we’d better find something romantic to do on Valentine’s Day. The thing is, when it comes to this point, whatever we end up doing probably isn’t done out of love. Or out of servanthood. Or even by choice. Nope. We do it out of obligation.
And that’s supposed to be romance?
Thanks to a positive religious upbringing, I’ve heard all my life that God gave humans free will because He wanted us to choose to love Him. He couldn’t force us to love Him, because forced love isn’t really love. Love has to be a decision.
I still believe that’s true, and at the risk of trivializing something of deep theological significance, I can’t help but apply the same logic to Valentine’s Day.
If you’re in a relationship, you’ve got to make an effort on Feb. 14, but it needs to be a choice born of creativity and freedom and love … not the robotic, thoughtless concessions the rest of the world will make. You can do better than that. To make sure of it, I’m here to help.It’s at this point that I’m tempted to give myself some advice-y nickname like “Dr. Love” or something that’s equally a) cheesy, or b) presumptuous, or even c) kinda dirty sounding. But I won’t, for everyone’s benefit.
Following, then, are Boyett’s Three Rules of Romance. Stick to these on Valentine’s Day, and you’ll impress your significant other by standing out from the other 95 percent of our gender.
Rule 1: Be Thoughtful
For any romantic relationship to thrive — boyfriend and girlfriend, husband and wife, indie geek and Sufjan — there must be some sort of intimate connection. Intimacy is wrapped up in details: the way she twirls her hair when she’s nervous, the way she always orders a tall skinny vanilla latte con pana at Starbucks, the way she’s always going on and on about how she loves gerbera daisies more than any other flower. You have noticed those kinds of things, right?
It’s important to do so, because romance isn’t about the big, gaudy, extravagant stuff.For instance, very few women want to be proposed to on the Jumbotron at a basketball game. It’s about knowing the little details and putting that knowledge to work, like arranging to have that favorite coffee order delivered to her desk at the office. It’s putting a stickie-note on her steering wheel telling her to have a great day, or sending a text message between classes just to say “hi.” It’s leaving a homemade bookmark — complete with a fun or encouraging note — in the book she’s been reading. It’s even sitting with her on the couch to watch a full episode of “Dancing With the Stars” without making gagging sounds or, worse, ogling the skimpily dressed women dancers. No one said romance was easy.
Do something small but meaningful on Feb. 14. Rent her favorite movie. Avoid the crowded restaurants and cook her favorite meal. Borrow her car and secretly wash it and fill it up with gas. Buy her a gift certificate for a manicure and go sit with her as she gets it. Still feel the need to do something big? Then do all those things.
Point to remember: It’s about the small stuff.
Rule 2: Be Creative
What makes a romantic gesture really special is when she knows the experience is completely unique. It needs to be clear that she is the only person opening this gift, reading this card or enjoying this moment.
That’s hard to accomplish when you’re picking up the same dozen red roses as everyone else. Why? Because she loves gerbera daisies, and if you’d been paying attention to Rule 1, you’d know this.
Seriously. Try to keep up. Being creative means you can’t just pick out a pink greeting card, scribble your name inside and stuff it into an envelope. Letting American Greetings do the work for you is not romantic. You might as well find a card that says, “I’m too lazy to do any more than this” and then signing your name to that. You have to make it personal, even if the note inside is as simple as “I love you because …” and then listing one or two good qualities.
Not everyone’s a writer, of course. If you’re not comfortable putting thoughts into coherent sentences, then get creative with quantity instead of quality. I know a guy who once bought his wife a box of Scooby-Doo kids’ valentines — the little ones 8 year olds give their teachers and friends. He wrote short, simple notes on each of them (i.e., “You’re pretty” or “I love you”) and scattered them around the house, in her car, in her purse and at her desk at work so she would find them throughout the day. Brilliant. Serious bonus points because it was Scooby-Doo.
Let’s break it down further. A bouquet of daisies (if she loves daisies) is more creative than a bouquet of any other kind of flowers. But a bouquet of something other than flowers is more creative than either option. For instance, multiples of her favorite candy, or a basket of bathtub stuff (soaps, oils, lotions). Or gift cards to her favorite coffee place. Like you learned in Rule 1, fit the gift to the recipient, and you’re well on your way.
Point to remember: You don’t find romance in the Valentine’s Day aisle at Wal-Mart.
Rule 3: Be Unpredictable
We’ve already established that roses on Feb. 14 are unimaginative, expected gifts … which means no woman is ever surprised to get them. Same goes for chocolate.
What’s truly romantic is a gift that comes out of nowhere. Examples? How about a bouquet of flowers a week before Valentine’s Day. Of course, it’s too late for this one. File this away and try it next year. Or a rose a day for the 12 days leading up to it.Too late for this one, too, but it also works well for anniversaries and birthdays. Besides, 12 single, unadorned roses, bought separately, will end up being less expensive than a dozen roses elaborately arranged into a bouquet. Score one for both creativity and frugality. How about a foot rub without being asked? Or something handmade? Is there something she has always wanted to do together — like go shopping, or roller-skating, or take scuba lessons — but which you’ve always resisted because the very thought of it gives you manly shivers? Swallow your pride. Ask yourself: What’s the last thing she’d expect you to do? Then do exactly that. She’ll be floored.
Point to remember: A simple-but-unexpected greeting card on a regular day will often be treasured more than an expensive gift for Valentine’s Day.
The Greatest of These Is …
You see where we’re going with this? Whether it’s for Valentine’s Day or Columbus Day, a gesture is romantic not because of the price of the gift or the extravagance of the action, but because of the thought and effort put into it. It’s easy on Feb. 14 to meet your romantic obligations by submitting to the easy-way-out approach, but that makes you look bad and makes her feel like an afterthought.
Being romantic is not about your own convenience. It’s not about what you want to do. It’s about making someone else feel like the most important person in the world. It’s about love — whether that’s a word you use with each other or not — because that’s what love does. Love takes risks. Love doesn’t settle for mediocrity. Love goes out of its way to put the other person first.
The Bible is full of passages in which the relationship between God and Israel (or the church) is compared to a romantic relationship. It’s a stretch, I know, but can you imagine God — the Creator of octopi and waterfalls and the Eagle Nebula — wooing His bride with a last-minute armful of lame, uninspired gifts? No? Then you know what to do. Drop that box of chocolates and get moving. Happy Valentine’s Day!
Copyright 2008 Jason Boyett. All rights reserved.