On Valentine’s day, communication, and not getting kicked in the nuts

Several years ago, I revealed to my husband that I actually kind of like Valentine’s Day.  This is despite all the times I told him that I hated it, it’s lame and stupid, and a made-up, over-commercialized saccharine-fest invented by Hallmark and Big Floral.  For so many years, the poor man had been wondering why, every February 14, I would say I wasn’t mad at him, while I was clearly mad at him.

I was mad, you see, because everyone else was getting flowers and riding in heart-shaped hot air balloons and– I don’t know, eating hot fudge sundaes that turned out to have a tiny violin player at the bottom.  And here I was getting nothing, which is what I repeatedly told him I wanted. Pray for me:  I’m married to a monster.

Anyway, I finally realized that it doesn’t make me defective to enjoy flowers — and that if it’s artificial to suddenly act romantic on a nationally-specified day — well, we need all the help we can get.  Alarm clocks are artificial, too, but if they didn’t automatically remind us of what we ought to do, we’d be in big trouble.  So, yeah, I asked him to get me flowers, and take the plastic wrap and price tag off before giving them to me, and he will, and I’m going to like them.  Whew, that wasn’t so hard!

Having taken this huge leap forward in our communication skills, I decided to hunt around to see what normal human beings do on Valentine’s Day.

If you want to feel like you’ve got your act together, just ask the internet a question.  Okay, maybe not in all circumstances.  If you’re rewiring your living room, for instance, or trying to remove the Spaghetti-o decoupage from an angry cat, you may very well have lots to learn.

But if you need help with your relationships?  A quick trip down Google lane will have you feeling like an expert, a champion, a genius, a hero of common sense and decency.  For instance, if you Google “What do guys want for Valentine’s Day?” you will come across this depressing paen to modern love, written by a man:

One of my favorite presents was a trip to the grocery store.

I remember the clear, cloudless day, sun shining down on me proudly pushing my cart into Central Market. Rachel was with me, and some friends who came along.

I picked up a steak and set it in the cart. Rachel said, “That’s great, Doug!”

I grabbed some chips. Rachel said, “That’s really great, Doug!”

I picked up some really expensive jam. Rachel said, “Yum, that will be really great, Doug!”

In fact everything I picked up got the same response from her (or very close to it), and that was my present: I could choose anything I wanted, and she could only say how great everything was. What an awesome gift that was, a trip to the grocery store.

So what did I get, besides some red AND yellow peppers?

I got what most men want. I was accepted.

I weep for America.  I weep for mankind.  I weep for myself, because this is the saddest, stupidest thing I’ve ever read, and I read it three times to make sure I wasn’t missing something.  What is Doug going to get for Christmas from the gracious lady Rachel?  A coupon for Not Getting Kicked In the Nuts?

You know, I probably treat my husband this way sometimes.  But the difference is, neither one of us is okay with it.  We don’t assume that relentless criticism and belittling is part of a normal relationship. If it starts to become a pattern, we go to confession, make amends, and start fresh, because we like each other, and want each other to be happy. 

This reminds me of the story of the man who had invented a brilliant method for saving money on the farm.  “On the first week,” he says, “I fed my  horse a bale of hay.  On the second week, I fed him half a bale of hay.  On the third week, I fed him a quarter of a bale.  I was damn near to teaching the horse to live on nothing at all, but on the fourth week, the ungrateful sonofabitch died on me!”

This whole communication thing isn’t as lame as it sounds. I hope that, sometime after that article was printed, Doug found a way to tell his wife, “What I really want is for you to stop treating me like I’m some kind of moron. Save the correction for really important stuff, and talk to me like you see me as a full human. Let me know what makes you feel important, and I’ll do the same for you.” I hope they figure out that this kind of thing shouldn’t be for special days, but should be the baseline of their relationship, and once the basic respect is a given, then special holidays won’t feel so fraught. 

Happy stupid Valentine’s Day, folks.  I hope you get something nice.  Or if you get nothing, I hope at least it doesn’t feel like a gift!


(This post first ran in 2011.)

Horse skeleton photo by James St. John [CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)]

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11 thoughts on “On Valentine’s day, communication, and not getting kicked in the nuts”

  1. “For so many years, the poor man had been wondering why, every February 14, I would say I wasn’t mad at him, while I was clearly mad at him.”

    Oh man. I spent 6 years doing this, all through college and afterward (especially when we were long distance), and then I finally married my husband this year and realized it was going to kill both of us. So I asked him to buy me flowers, and I bought him chocolate, and miraculously no one died when I actually admitted that I wanted something. Maybe I actually liked nursing weird, self-inflicted resentments more than just asking for the freaking flowers and being happy about it? Ugh.

  2. Happy Valentines Day to one and all. I love the day. If not for seeing people sell bunches of flowers. And young ‘ens giving them to eachother….I Don’t ever do anything on the day except my husband usually gives me and the kids a flower each after work (even our now 3 year old son gets one with his 3 sisters 😝). His own doing. I’m lame for not getting him anything or doing anything for him on the day. But I love him and he knows it. I’m pretty sure 😂. Showing it randomly every other day of the year when you aren’t obliged is ok. I think. But, I liked what you said about starting again after confession when you are being a moody ratbag to your husband- I hear you! I love that our Faith gives us this opportunity. Every. Single. Time.

  3. My husband and I don’t do anything special on Valentine’s Day. No, really. We agreed (good communication skills) a long time ago that it was a stupid holiday. I’d rather he saved the money so we could do something special on our anniversary. I do appreciate the post Valentine sales on chocolate. I was in a store today that had a radio station on with music interspersed with Valentine’s Day ads – like massages or dinner specials. The woman checking me out said she hated it. She didn’t have anyone special in her life and the ads were a constant reminder of what she was “missing.”

  4. Rachel (may she rest in peace) adds in the comments of that post that part of the gift was her husband could shop without a budget. Maybe a more charitable read of her post is recognizing that for many of us in charge of grocery shopping, it’s hard to let go of that budget mentality. Maybe she’s not “belittling” her husband on a normal day, but feels very understandable anxiety seeing him try to spend a week’s worth of meat budget on one night of steaks, or buying tons of colored peppers (often twice the price of green ones!). Or maybe my comment is wrong– but it’s always worth looking for a charitable take on someone else’s relationship!

  5. This paragraph is exceptionally unkind and not what I typically expect from you:
    I weep for America. I weep for mankind. I weep for myself, because this is the saddest, stupidest thing I’ve ever read, and I read it three times to make sure I wasn’t missing something. What is Doug going to get for Christmas from the gracious lady Rachel? A coupon for Not Getting Kicked In the Nuts?

    Especially given that Rachel passed away last year leaving behind her husband and children. Also, do you think a husband wanting acceptance is really that stupid. Isn’t that all any of us want, any day of the year?

    1. Welp, I didn’t realize she had died. That is awful. I will be honest, I was in a rush and found an old post from 2011, slapped a new picture on it, and put it up. I don’t think the content is especially mean or terrible, though. I don’t think it’s stupid to want acceptance; I think it’s awful that he is so starved for it that it seems like a treat reserved for a special day. But mainly this wasn’t supposed to be an especially profound post.

  6. Hi, I followed the link to read Doug’s answer and then wanted to know more about Rachel and her blog. The post you commented on is from 2010. The most recent post talks about Rachel’s death in April, 2019 and has some information about her.

    Thanks for leading to that webpage, we can pray for her and her family.

  7. After 48 years of marriage my husband died 9/13/19 , for years I thought if I have to tell him what I would like for Valentine’s Day that means he doesn’t love me enough! How dumb is that?But I eventually learned that he appreciated my telling him what I would like.Ahh the glory of communication, I like your writing a lot, thank you.

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