Love, Partnership, and Valentine’s Day

First published at on February 11, 2011

When I floated the idea of writing a Valentine’s Day column, my friends’ reactions ran the gamut—from suggestions for themes (“Talk about what makes a successful relationship!”) to wariness (“Are you sure you want to reinforce this Hallmark holiday?”) to sheer disgust. (“Ugh. Please don’t.”)

Either because I want to show off my writing agility, or (more likely) because I’m stuck in a hotel room with a bad internet connection and a nasty headcold and no better column ideas, I’m going to try to accommodate all three reactions.

(1) “Talk about what makes a successful relationship.”

Answer: low expectations.

I’m only half joking. As I’ve written before, Mark is my partner in life, but he is not my “everything,” and I am not his.

Too many relationships falter because people harbor the insane idea that their partners should meet all of their emotional, intellectual, social, and physical needs 100% of the time. When their partners fail to do so (not because they are deficient, but because they are human), such people feel dissatisfied and convince themselves that the grass could or should be greener. Such people don’t need a partner, they need a hobby.

This is not to downplay the importance of compatibility or to make excuses for lack of attentiveness. Like most worthwhile things in life, relationships require effort. But the most successful relationships I’ve known are not the ones where the partners are obsessed with each other. They’re the ones where partners figure out how to love each other once infatuation passes.

(For what it’s worth, Mark still makes me giddy, just not every moment of every day.)

(2) “Are you sure you want to reinforce this Hallmark holiday?”

I am sure that I do NOT want to reinforce it AS a Hallmark holiday. But just as one can celebrate Christmas without embracing the season’s commercialism (or for that matter, its theological underpinnings), one can celebrate Valentine’s Day without being trite and tacky.

That might mean doing something unexpected and meaningful for your partner. It might mean throwing a dinner party for your friends, including single friends—a favorite tradition of mine. Although Valentine’s Day is traditionally associated with romantic love, that’s surely not the only love worth celebrating.

(3) “Ugh. Please don’t.”

The people who have this reaction to Valentine’s Day probably do so because they can’t get past the “Hallmark holiday” version. Either that, or they’ve been “unlucky in love.”

I admit that my being happily partnered probably makes it easier for me to extol Valentine’s Day’s virtues. But my dinner party tradition (which, for scheduling reasons, I’ve sadly missed in the last few years) began when I was single. You don’t have to be paired off to share the pleasures of candlelight and champagne and flowers and chocolate.

For that matter, you don’t have to wait for Valentine’s Day to show appreciation for those you love. Just think outside the (heart-shaped) box, and do it.