A couple of weeks ago, an editor over at CafeMom.com asked me for a “male’s opinion” of Valentine’s Day: “a little insider info about what men really think.” She added, “Are you willing? It can be as short or long as you want and we’ll link to your site, your twitter page, and anything else you’ve got going on!”
That sold me, as it would any desperate blogger, so I wrote up this lengthy, schmaltzy, sentimental post and sent it over, and then the site only quoted a single graf of it. Oh well. That means you now get to read it here, and you get to laugh at its utter emotional nakedness. Ha! That Gross, what a wuss. Well, whatever! It’s fucking Valentine’s Day. Anyway, here it is:
Once upon a time, more than a decade ago, I cooked a Valentine’s Day dinner at home in my small studio apartment in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. The menu consisted of seared duck breast, sauteed green beans with pink peppercorns, and potatoes cooked in the rendered duck fat with garlic and rosemary. Everything came off perfectly, the duck pink in the middle, the green beans still snappy, the potatoes crusty and rich. My date, Jean, was pleased—or, at least, I assume she was. In any case, she wound up marrying me several years later, and today we have a daughter, Sasha.
The reason I bring up this particular Valentine’s Day dinner is because, out of the 12 or 13 Valentine’s Days that Jean and I have spent together, it is the only one I remember. Since then, Valentine’s Day has revealed itself not as an opportunity to rekindle the glorious spirit of romance but as, well, a duty, one prescribed by pop culture and societal expectation. Every year it comes up, and every year we (i.e., I) figure out some restaurant to visit that we wouldn’t otherwise visit any other day of the year. If I could remember which ones we’ve been to, I’d tell you.
This is not to say that it’s an unpleasant duty, or a reminder that, after so many years together, we aren’t in love like we used to be. In fact, if it was either of those things, I’m sure I’d remember well the strained silences and pillows stained by midnight tears. (I do cry easily.) So it must never have been too awful.
At the same time, it does feel like a duty, one that I as the Man am primarily responsible for. (Like it or not, we guys usually do the V-Day planning.) A million things go into consideration: Do we go out for Valentine’s Day on February 14, or avoid the crowds and go a day earlier or later? (I know: real romantic.) Just dinner, or drinks or a movie or something else? A fancy restaurant of questionable quality, or some out-of-the-way Taiwanese dive that I know Jean will love? And now that we have a kid, there’s a baby-sitter to arrange, and a definite hour we need to be home by, and the likelihood that, between work and child care and the general stress of living, we’ll just be too tired to enjoy ourselves the way we feel like we’re supposed to on this, the Most Romantic Day of the Year™.
Surely we can’t be alone in feeling oppressed by the holiday? Or are there couples—or single people—out there who go gaga for all the rose-pink pomp?
When I try to imagine a perfect Valentine’s Day, my mind grows hazy. That’s because for me (and for Jean) a perfect Valentine’s Day would be one planned and executed entirely by someone else, a magical being who would arrange baby-sitting for Sasha, who would talk to our bosses and clear our schedules, who’d produce gorgeous weather in the middle of February, who’d ferry us to and from a marvelous restaurant without complaint. The ultimate Valentine’s Day would last months, or maybe years, giving me and Jean the freedom to just be with each other and not worry about jobs and kids and the little pinpricks of pressure that zip in from all sides. There would be duck and there would be dumplings and we’d never get old or fat.
This is never going to happen. Instead, we’ll chug through this Valentine’s Day the way we have all the others, going out and indulging but never feeling like it’s special.
And the thing is, Valentine’s Day really isn’t special for us—because we go out regularly all year round, and because I’ve become the primary cook in our household. That duck breast I fed Jean so many years ago has become one of my signatures, a crisp-skinned slab of juicy, salty, tender meat that I can prepare virtually without thinking. If anything, Valentine’s Day now is a reminder that Jean and I already have what so many couples are seeking: love—for each other, our families, our work—and the freedom to indulge ourselves whenever we see fit, not just on the one day a year that Hallmark has deemed essential.
Still—and I say this for all the guys out there—I’m going to buy Jean flowers. My cooking she’s used to; she half-expects a five-course meal every evening. But flowers (not roses, but something equally beautiful) will take her by surprise, and remind her that although the holiday may not be special, she certainly is.