When we husbands flip the January pages of our golf or swimsuit desk calendars and see that bold number 14 staring back at us, the cold, hard, dark reality hits like a black hole. Valentine’s Day is not like birthdays or anniversaries, where simply remembering the occasion gets you more than halfway home. In this age of Palm Pilots and other digital mnemonic devices, we husbands can succeed at birthdays and anniversaries with the very best of them.
But Valentine’s Day is not about remembering. It’s about expressing. This is not a strong suit for most husbands. Even those shortsighted enough to have offered to write their own wedding vows learn quickly—and too late—just how shallow that well of feeling and expression really is for us.
But at least those guys had an idea of what was ahead, expression-wise. The rest of us, who either took an off-the-shelf version of vows or copied something from an obscure book of poetry, approach that first Valentine’s Day with the obliviousness of lemmings heading for the edge of a cliff. And by February 15, most of us are still reeling from what exactly it was that hit us the day before.
It’s the almost sub-atomic calibration of the gift that does us in. I mean, sure, we still have that obscure book of poetry somewhere. But should we try to trot out another ineptly delivered but heartfelt verse, we simply reveal ourselves as the fraud she already knows we are. What we had gotten away with amongst a hall full of half-drunk wedding guests is not going to work within the now-unbridled confines of a one-on-one situation, where experience has already demonstrated our lack of either rhyme or reason. That’s when we realize we’re out of bullets and that every birthday and anniversary remembered simply serves to remind you of that impending February Judgment Day we cannot escape.
You see, taking the shotgun approach by going overboard with presents and reckless expressions of love and devotion only raises suspicion and doubt that we’re concealing something truly despicable, something other than the well-observed truth that we haven’t a romantic bone in our bodies. Yet if we don’t make enough of a fuss on this Day of Infamy, we’ll discover that we do have at least one romantic bone, because it’s suddenly in danger of being broken by a kitchen utensil.
And the longer we’ve been married, the worse it gets. Over the years, Valentine’s Day is like Comic Relief: it’s long since become stale and overworked, but it’s still for a good cause. And we’ve long since become the objects of disaffection. But she’s bought a ticket, so she still expects the effort.
So you stand there, naked before God, and watch the bemused sneer form at the corners of her mouth as you parade a series of cards, sweets, items from Victoria’s Secret (what exactly is our thinking on this one?) and other things before her: certificates for a Day of Beauty (a gift we would have thought would have been a home run, only to see it drift foul at the last second with, “So you think I’m ugly and fat, is that it?”); mis-sized jewelry (“You know, dearie, this is bigger than my engagement ring. Just what in hell are you hiding?”); tickets for a Broadway show that, for a second showed some real possibilities until she saw they were for “Spamalot” and that sneer came right back. Then, mercifully, she extends her hand to receive that finely wrapped obscure book of poetry you finally chose in desperation, sighs deeply, turns away, leaving you standing there empty-handed, but still clueless as to just how wide you missed the mark this time.
Husbands need to try another tack for Valentine’s Day, accepting as a basic truth that the closest we’ll ever get to expressing true emotional devotion is wearing an authentic jersey of our favorite quarterback. We need to simply and resignedly fall upon our swords and proclaim that our whole lives and all that we do is an expression and testament to our undying love and devotion.
At least we’ll succeed in turning that sneer into outright laughter.Â
Reid Champagne, Delaware’s resident cupid, continues to fire from an empty quiver.