Be Romantic. Now!
February 14th, 2011

When I was younger I had a love-hate relationship with Valentine’s Day.  Awash in ambivalence, I had mixed emotions about both the theory and the practice of this holiday.  I wanted to love it.  I wanted to be swept off my feet in a flurry of romantic showmanship.  But at the same time I questioned a holiday that – more times than not – excluded me.  Then in the years when I was one half of a couple I loved being eligible for the festivities, but resented the pressure to summon passion and romance on demand.  Don’t get me wrong – I love romance.  But there were always other aspects of dating relationships that I loved more.

I sometimes wonder if I’m an anomaly.  I wonder if I’m missing the romance chromosome.  Because while I can appreciate a candlelit dinner, I care much more about the conversation that takes place over those candles than about the candles themselves.  I feel just as much affection for my husband after a few laughs at a baseball game as I do at a quiet table for two.

Given this, you won’t be surprised to learn of my relief when I happened upon this article on The Huffington Post about the post-romantic age of marriage.  Author Pamela Haag explains that marriage (like any other cultural structure) has changed over time.  In the 19th century it was a “social institution and duty.”  It was a woman’s ticket to stability, and a man’s ticket to sex.  Then, per Haag, the 20th century brought about a romantic revolution of sorts.  Love became the end in itself.

But now, for the 21st century, Haag writes of a new brand of marriage.  It is rooted in friendship.  It may include professional collaboration.  It extends far beyond the confines of a romance to find stability in all corners of our lives.  It is marriage that comes later in life – perhaps as an amendment to a fully-formed person, rather than a required rite of adulthood that exclusively defines us from the moment we say “I do.”  Haag goes on to explain, “The post-romantic not only accommodates but idealizes the stable over the sublime.”

This description of marriage suits me, probably because it’s the version of marriage I’ve always known.  Nevertheless, I felt validated as I read Haag’s article.  My reluctance toward Valentine’s Day isn’t a shortcoming unique to me.  It is symptomatic of an entire generation’s beliefs about the qualities of a good relationship.  If grand romantic gestures leave me cold it is because I came of age in an era that sings the praises of friendship, compatibility, camaraderie, and partnership.  Romance is still a part of the equation, to be sure.  But in my experience romance is helped by spontaneity, and hindered by extensive planning; thus my hesitant feelings about Valentine’s Day.

I’ve gone through many phases when it comes to Valentine’s Day:  Embrace it.  Ignore it.  Hate it.  Love it.  Accept it grudgingly.  Don’t be bothered by it. Etc.  I’m happy to report that as a married woman in her thirties I’ve finally made my peace with this holiday.  A level of observation that is probably best described as “happy medium” seems to suit both of us individually.  And after many years together that is what we’ve both embraced.

Today is GAP’s and my twelfth Valentine’s Day.  We will eat cheese fondue, a delicious (if generic) choice.  We will drink red wine.  We will nibble on dessert.  We will probably curl up for an episode of Friday Night Lights.  We will tell each other that we love each other.  And if we are not overcome with romantic gusto, that’s just fine with me.  Romance happens when it happens.  In the meantime I know there will be love, laughter, and friendship.

9 Responses to “Be Romantic. Now!”

  1. BigLittleWolf Says:

    “Romance happens when it happens.”

    I couldn’t agree more. I think Valentine’s Day puts unrealistic (and artificial) expectations on couples, and makes those who are not in a couple feel somehow “less.” Silliness.

    I also note your reference to post-modern relationships valuing stability over the sublime. Interesting observation. And I agree. When it comes to marriage with children – I consider that a good thing, especially in an increasingly isolated and complex world. As an individual? It’s another matter. But when we bring children into the world, I believe we owe them the best we’ve got. And loving them – every day – is my kind of Valentine’s celebration.

  2. Ana Says:

    Interesting, I hadn’t heard before about the “post-romantic” theory. But it makes sense. my friends and I talk often about how the traits that are so meaningful to us in our spouses are not the ones we would’ve imagined to be important.

    we don’t really do valentine’s day. but yesterday, my husband took my son out for a few hours and then came home and cooked dinner (even though I said I would do it) while I took a 3-hour nap (oh the never-lessening exhaustion of the first-trimester). that right there…that’s love.

  3. Pam Says:

    I’m not sure I agree with the post-romantic theory and propose instead a meta-romantic theory, as in, we are continuously romantic in our marriages/relationships today and now the idea of an additional day to highlight romance becomes surperfluous. My husband and I have been together for 13 Valentine’s Days and about six years ago came to the decision that we no longer needed to celebrate this day in the traditional way. We felt that we were/are romantic everyday, and that we would do better to share that love with others than to buy more gifts for each other. That year, we found a domestic violence shelter and with the money that we would have spent on gifts and an expensive dinner out, provided a Valentine’s party with tons of treats and gifts for the women and children. We have continued this tradition since, and made our delivery to the shelter this morning. I think it is the most romantic thing we do. One of the shelter workers, who has surely seen more than her share of romance gone bad, told us this morning that we had restored her faith in marriage. My heart swelled, and I just beamed at my husband. That is what Valentine’s Day should feel like.

  4. Gale Says:

    Ana – Yes, the first trimester is a bear. But a three-hour nap and a meal prepared by someone else? I suspect that did the trick! As for the traits we expected to matter – some of them still matter, but some don’t. And there is a long list of other traits I didn’t think of which matter a great deal. Somehow I managed to find the right man in spite of myself!

    Pam – You and your husband are a rare breed. Good for you for giving to such worthwhile causes and helping so many women for whom this would otherwise be a very dreary day. And thank you for sharing your story here, and hopefully inspiring others to the same generosity.

  5. Anne Says:

    I think I probably am in the camp with those that don’t make much of a big deal of Valentine’s Day. I don’t have animosity towards it, but I also don’t get all that mushy. We don’t really even do a special dinner anymore, although I might request a milkshake tonight if I’m feeling wild.

    I do think it’s nice, however, for there to be a day for gals and guys that really enjoy having a reason to get mushy with each other. They shouldn’t need a day for this designation, but sometimes it’s nice. Just like it’s nice to have a birthday designated for people to tell you they appreciate you. It’s a reminder, and for those that enjoy it, who am I to be Scrooge-y?

  6. Aidan Donnelley Rowley @ Ivy League Insecurities Says:

    We almost chose the same heart image and now I learn that we both scarfed cheese fondue? We might just be the same person, Gale :) I love this post and am very intrigued by the idea of the post-romantic age of marriage. Hope you guys had a great night!

  7. Cathy Says:

    I tend to agree with Haag’s assertion, but I wonder if my agreement is due to my likeness to it. There are still plenty of women out there who believe in romanticism, even to a fault. How much of this modern institution of marriage relates to all women of all classes and education? I don’t know. But I do know that I’ve celebrated 20 Valentine’s with my hubby, my best friend. And tonight we are both on our laptops, him eating the chocolates and me some ice cream and we are happy.

  8. TheKitchenWitch Says:

    Sounds like a perfect evening, in my book! There’s nothing wrong with comfort and stability.

  9. Jane Says:

    I love that “new” 21st century definition of marriage. And I’m glad you’ve made your peace with Valentines’s Day. I’m a romantic at heart – I’ve never considered it just a romance kind of day. I use it as an excuse to profess my love for my kids, my friends and yes, my blogging buddies. Happy Valentine’s Day to you!