The first sign of romantic interest chimed via a two-word text on Valentine’s Day:
“Hi. – Jared.”
Jared and I co-led a young adults group at our church, so I already had his number saved in my phone, but the significance of this message warranted a closing signature. I read so much context into those seven letters that they could have been a love poem.
Thankfully, I didn’t misread his intentions, and we communicated almost constantly for the next several days. Our first date occurred a week later, and 2020 marks our 16th Valentine’s Day as a couple and our 11th year of marriage.
The length of our relationship leaves plenty of space for good and bad romantic holidays — and more opportunities for both as each year passes. We’ve spent holidays at home and celebrations out. Some dates span the entire day while others fit within an hour. We’ve had Valentine’s Day with a 7-day-old baby, and a long-postponed celebration the year Jared had licensing exams at work.
The years pass so quickly that these festivities are blurred in my memories and blended with holidays, anniversaries, birthdays and exceptional date nights. Yet the way we celebrate each other is often marked by consistent priorities.
We plan a timeout
We dedicate these celebrations as timeouts from normal life. Discussion of task lists, calendar planning or ongoing hot-button topics is off-limits. We also break from our traditional date-night activities to try something new to mark the occasion. One of my favorites was the time he brought home Tex-Mex and sombreros for us to wear during dinner.
We prepare for time together
Sure, this includes planning the outing and coordinating the babysitter. But the preparation I’m talking about goes far beyond that. In stressful seasons of work, preparation means decompressing on the drive home so we don’t monopolize the date venting our frustrations. When the marriage feels tense, preparing involves softening our hearts and reminding ourselves how to enjoy each other’s company. When life is chaotic, sometimes we build in small buffers of alone time to get ready or catch up on things before our date, in hopes we’ll be more present in the time we have together.
We aim for special (not always fancy)
Fancy is often fun. You don’t always get the chance to dress up and go out somewhere that doesn’t serve food in cardboard containers. But sometimes we’ve coasted, hoping that a more expensive date would make it more memorable, and that’s not always the case.
Instead, we make it special by planning the date with each other in mind. A unique experience or intentional consideration can make a huge impact without a huge budget. Our second Valentine’s came a week before the anniversary of our first date, and Jared did well, crafting an elaborate homemade scavenger hunt that ended in what became our favorite coffee shop. Years later I returned the favor by planning a day for him, with the best bison burger we’ve ever eaten, a rented war movie and games at home. Simple, special and not at all fancy.
We communicate expectations
Communicating hopes and expectations makes everything easier. Early in our relationship, I made the horrible mistake of telling Jared that I didn’t care much for expensive bouquets of flowers and preferred quality time or other gifts. He heard that I despised flowers and thought they were a horrible gift. It’s taken many conversations since to clarify my floral preferences. But I knew he understood
when one Valentine’s Day he ordered a bouquet to be delivered to me at work.
I’d love for my husband to know what I’m thinking — preferably before I have to think it — and plan to sweep me off my feet out of his great love and affection for me. I’ve learned though, through many years of experience, men lack mind-reading capabilities and yet this does not diminish their love for us.
Yes, sometimes Jared will pick up on a cue or remember something I’ve mentioned before. But today, instead of wishing that he might guess what speaks love to me, I’ve learned to tell him and we both experience less heartache because of it.
We affirm the effort, not discredit it
When you first meet a new crush, dates can function like tests. Did you pass or fail? If it went well, you may do it again, if something went poorly it’s likely over forever.
Unfortunately, it’s easy to carry this same ratings system into marriage celebrations. But romantic holidays are not tests to validate or discredit our marriages. They’re opportunities to pause and show love to each other in ways that aren’t always feasible in the day to day.
Sometimes plans go awry or don’t make the impact you’d imagined. One Valentine’s Day, we took an early dinner reservation just so we could try a new restaurant — and we were the youngest guests by at least 30 years. We’ve had so many dates fall to pieces it’s comical. But we work to affirm the effort in the midst of it. The plan was faulty, but there were good intentions. The thought was sweet, just misremembered. We didn’t leave work on time but we did the best we could and we won’t let that ruin things now that we’re together. Whatever happens during the date itself, we have more fun when we affirm and enjoy each other in the process.
When maxed out, we keep it simple and sweet
When you have space and resources for extravagant dates, go for it! Yet taking cues from our first Valentine’s Day, we’ve learned that sweet and simple can carry just as much punch. So, if you don’t plan a huge date out, plan a quiet night in. Not sure what to do or say to make something special? Think of some options and ask your spouse what they’d like. Ready your heart to connect with them and come with lists of things you love about their personality or fun questions you’re curious for them to answer.
No matter what plans are already on your calendar, set this date aside as an opportunity to let your spouse know that you see them and you appreciate who they are. Such simple exchanges can have a profound effect on your relationship. Like slowing down enough to say hi.