Butterflies in the belly. Lapses in logical thinking. Urgent, overwhelming desires to kiss and be kissed. Love? Yep. That pretty much sums up the romantic blend. But we get other flavors of love from family, friends and coworkers. We give love to animals, sports teams and the occasional “American Idol” contestant. So some people may pooh-pooh Valentine’s Day as a Hallmark holiday, but love matters—and it’s as important to give as to receive.
“Valentine’s Day can be a reminder about the place of loving in our lives,” says Dr. Walt Ciecko of Wilmington, who specializes in helping couples reignite their flames. Love may be a many splendored thing, but it is not always a fresh and new thing. Love, Ciecko says, can mellow—in a good way.
“Many of us think that we have grown love to the point where it is steady and we don’t need to exhibit it anymore,” Ciecko says. “We go on relationship automatic pilot. We stop saying, ‘Hey, I love you. Here’s why.’”
Saying “I love you” may be routine. Explaining why? That’s novel. Novelty, Ciecko says, is a key to keeping the flame hot, and not just on Valentine’s Day. “I encourage people to do surprises once a month or so,” he says. “It can be expensive or not, involved or not. Vary it. It’s one way to unexpectedly get some good energy going through the system.”
So this about sex? Ciecko laughs. “I think intimacy needs to be an ongoing staple of a loving relationship,” he says. “But people get hung up on what it means to be sexual or sensual with another. Intimacy can be cuddling and being physically connected.”
Debbie Esslinger knows a bit about physical connections and romantic relationships. Esslinger is the owner of Bare Essentials, one of Wilmington’s best lingerie boutiques.
“For men, Valentine’s Day means sex and intimacy means sex,” she says. “For women, intimacy means closeness. I see it in what people buy. When men come in, they want something that their wife would not wear on a normal basis. It’s black or red and skimpy or has cutouts. Women buy things that are pretty or feminine. They are looking for the intimate part of love.”
Esslinger sees women shopping for their most intimate moments. What do women really want—in lingerie and love?
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“Everyone wants to feel wanted and protected,” Esslinger says. “Women love the protective feeling we get when a man puts his arm around us. And women love feeling that someone else is there to carry the load of life. The number one thing I hear—and believe me, I hear everything—is, ‘I wish my husband would pay more attention to me as a person, not just as an object.’”
Objects—as gifts—are one way to show affection. What does the lingerie diva buy for her husband? Stamps. “My husband has collected stamps since he was a little boy,” Esslinger says. “I bought him stamps that were popular the year that he was born. The little glasses that he uses to look at the stamps are hard to find and expensive, so I bought him a pair. Those are things that only I would know that he would love.”
And what does Mr. Esslinger buy for his missus? “He has bought me many things, but the absolute best are the unique cards that he finds. They really express how we feel about one another. They always make me cry. You want to know the truth? A wonderful card would make me happier than something really expensive.”
She’s not alone.
“A card or a handwritten note is the nicest, most thoughtful thing that you can do,” says Carl Grimm, owner of Bayberry Flowers in Rehoboth Beach. “If you handwrite something, it’s a treasure. Look at the books of letters that are published from the greatest love stories in history—Wallis Simpson and King Edward, who became the duke and duchess of Windsor, Tsar Nicholas and Tsarina Alexandra. Love letters are great. And if you want to throw an orchid in there as well, all the better.”
Birthdays, anniversaries, celebrations—Grimm is in the business of showing floral affection to family, friends, coworkers and romantic partners. But Grimm does not send flowers to his nearest and dearest. “I call people,” he says. “Sometimes a phone call is the best way to reach out to someone and say, ‘Hey, I’m thinking about you. How are you?’ Especially if a friend is having a hard time with something or they are alone on a holiday like Valentine’s Day.”
Which brings us to non-romantic types of love. Valentine’s Day is also a time to celebrate the love of family and friends. And when it comes to kids, demonstrations of love matter.
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“Kids pull their self-confidence directly from how much love they see between parents, grandparents, teachers and friends,” says Kate Leckel, a psychiatric therapist at the Rosenblum Child & Adolescent Center in Wilmington. “It’s really about self-esteem. People loving them helps them love themselves. The amount of caring and love teens feel from other people translates into confidence in other areas—sports, school, socializing.”
While gifts may be a great way to show affection, lots of kids have lots of things and are still unhappy. “Many kids are missing the feeling that they are important in the lives of their very busy parents,” Leckel says. “Really, giving time to kids is the most important thing. Stay and watch their practice. Get your nails done together. Get on the floor and play with them. Ask about their day, and when they say, ‘It was fine,’ ask more.”
For extended family who don’t live nearby, Leckel says there are other ways to stay connected. She recalls her grandparents’ frequent telephone calls, their interest in her life. “I’m also a huge fan of letters and cards,” Leckel says. “Writing a letter about what that person means to you and how you feel about them is wonderful. Receiving that letter is amazing.”
But, let’s face it. Jewelry is also amazing.
Ami Leaming is owner and manager of Forney’s Jewelers in Dover, so she is most definitely a Valentine’s Day expert. “Love is what keeps us going,” Leaming says. “First you think romantic love, but the big picture is that you love your family, your friends. You love seeing others be happy.”
So Leaming cooks. “Cooking is a really sincere thing to do. It’s a complete self-expression,” she says. “I cook for people I love.”
“The smallest things can reap tremendous benefits,” says Dr. Carol Tavani, executive director of Christiana Care Psychiatric Services. “The easiest thing we can do is this: If you feel something positive for someone else, tell them. Little gestures can be life-changing for coworkers, teachers and students, neighbors or people we haven’t seen for a long time. It’s a phone call, an invitation to lunch, a ‘How are you?’ or remembering birthdays. It makes people feel that they matter to someone. It may not be romantic love, but it’s expressing love.”
Is there medical evidence of love? Can Tavani, a neuropsychologist, point to an MRI and say, “This is your brain on love?” No. But she knows when love isn’t there.
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“I can see physical evidence of the lack of love. Ever wonder why elderly men get sick after their wives die? Why do people get diagnosed with cancer and illness after a death in the family or the loss of a job? It’s not coincidence. Mental depression suppresses the immune system and endocrine system.”
One quick fix: chocolate. “There are chemicals in chocolate that release loving feelings,” says Ciecko. “The chemistry of chocolate is a real thing.”
There may be no greater chemistry than the love story of Klaus and Roberta Wuttke. Owners of Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory in Lewes and Rehoboth Beach, the Wuttkes married 43 years ago.
“It was the early 1960s, we were in our early 20s and we lived in Boston,” Roberta says. “Klaus was working on his doctorate degree, and before you know it, we had three kids. My parents lived nearby and their love helped us survive. Their presence and unselfishness helped us to reach our goal, which was Klaus’ degree.”
Then Klaus was transferred to Delaware to work as a chemical engineer at DuPont. “It took me 15 years to adjust to life in Delaware,” Roberta says. “At least once a month, Klaus drove me to Massachusetts to visit my family. Klaus and I leaned on one another during the kids’ teenager years. When Klaus was getting ready to retire, we had to figure out what to do with one another. That’s when we founded the Chocolate Factory. It was what I wanted to do. Klaus supported me.”
Over the years, the Wuttkes have given each other few fabulous gifts. “It’s never the material things to us,” Roberta says. “It’s the small things. Half the time we don’t remember our anniversary. We’re together, and what else could I want?”
Well, lots of people want gifts on Valentine’s Day. Wuttke’s suggestion? “Give your time. In today’s society, it’s even more important. Sit down and listen to someone. Take the time to be there. Take yourself out of yourself and be there. It doesn’t cost anything.”
In the end, it’s the thought that really counts.