On all the Valentine’s Days of my childhood that I can remember, my father would arrive home from work and present me with a heart-shaped box of Russell Stover chocolates. My mind’s eye can clearly see the very specific expression he makes during such a gesture – a shy, tilted glance with a kind smile and glimmering eyes. That memory is a quiet pause in my boisterous sensation of childhood.
Recently I asked my ten year-old daughter what comes up for her when she thinks of Valentine’s Day. “It’s fun because you always have little gifts for us (“us” is she and her sister) and I get lots of candy from my friends.”
I do always have a little gift – something inexpensive, cute, red, or pink. I’m sure she’s glad to get a pretty something, but I’d like to believe that the happy association is also because I make a tiny, but thoughtful fuss over her for a holiday that has associations to love.
I delighted in the quick, warm smile that came from my daughter as she told me what she likes about Valentine’s Day. She is a brave and expressive girl and she handed me her response directly. Hers is a trusting, exuberant grin, but imbued with that same profound feeling that my dad offered in the bashful glance that came along with his faithful box of chocolates: love.
A limited poll of my Instagram followers revealed that for fifty percent of those with any (several indicated having none) fond memory of Valentine’s Day, that memory is from childhood. For those of us lucky enough to have nostalgia for childhood Valentine’s Days, those memories have a unique sweetness.
And then romantic love ruins Valentine’s Day.
With puberty comes sexual attraction together with more understanding about romantic relationships, forever changing the landscape of our psyche. As said psyche travels through each calendar year it encounters Valentine’s Day – an immovable, annual spotlight on the intercourse (pun totally intended) of the weighty set of stakes that is Expectations and the elusive, intangible, ever sought after, master of humankind, Love. An annual holiday that forces the hand of this tricky cocktail is low-key cruel.
Renowned psychotherapist Esther Perel wrote of wedding vows, “This litany of expectations is a grand setup for failure.”
Healthy expectations are essential to building relationships where one will be treated with kindness and respect. This is true in romantic relationships as well as with friends, family, and coworkers. However, if you’ve lived at least a little bit of life with humility, you know that occasionally expectations can have a nearly imperceptible way of making a spectacular mess of relational matters.
I read a lot of what therapists and relationship experts have written about Valentine’s Day vexation in both single and coupled adults. “Expectations” is consistently called out as the culprit in conflict, disappointment and heartache as related to Valentine’s Day – unmet, mismatched, unspoken expectations.
Why have we developed such complex and often polarized emotions and expectations about a holiday? Because romantic love is unruly and baffling on its best day – how dare we assign it a single day to behave by any expectations for everyone.
As a representative of the “I don’t care about Valentine’s Day” set, am I just working an expectations shell game on myself? If after dismissing the romantic aspect of the holiday to everyone who will listen, I do find myself disappointed that day, has the Valentine’s Day Industrial Complex won at its rotten mission? Does everyone who says they wouldn’t be bothered by spending Valentine’s Day alone – ninety two percent of those I polled – truly had zero bummer pangs if they’ve actually spent a Valentine’s Day alone?
A holiday to celebrate love is a superb idea and is the spirit in which I enjoy Valentine’s Day with my daughters. I will prepare us a special dinner, make them heart-shaped cards, and tell them that I love them. Then we’ll watch a shiny rom-com and I’ll go to bed wondering if the movie injected poison into their young, impressionable expectation incubators.
Carolyn Jacobs, CDC®
Carolyn Jacobs is a CDC Certified Divorce Coach®, mama, and writer living in Los Angeles. As a Divorce Coach, Carolyn helps her clients to effectively navigate the separation and divorce process, define their co-parenting goals and build a framework for their future.
For more about Carolyn’s practice and to explore her blog visit: www.allyindivorce.com
CDC Certified Divorce Coach® Directory listing: https://divorcesupporthelp.com/find-a-divorce-coach/listing/carolyn-jacobs/