The other day I noticed that there are still television commercials for this strange holiday, and they amaze me for their sheer sexist idiocy. My favorite has an announcer intone, "Guys, what are you going to get your significant other on Valentines Day?" Then we see a slim beauty in satin tap pants and camisole answer the door to a hand offering flowers -- "flowers just get old in a matter of days" -- followed by chocolates -- "and chocolates are good for the first few but then she says" -- and now we see the beauty look sick from eating chocolates, asking (and I'm not making this up), "Do you think I look fat?" I imagine you're wondering what the ultimate Valentine gift could be. I sure was. Don't worry, the answer is upon us. You got it. It's a four foot tall teddy bear! You may be skeptical, but I'm telling you, our slim beauty's eyes light up and she pounces on that teddy bear and cuddles it in delight with a simpering, "Ohhh!" The announcer goes on to tell us that this is the only possible gift for the lovely lady in our life, and who's to doubt him?
Unfortunately, if this vacuous moron were my lovely lady, I'd probably drink drain cleaner, but that's not my point. This commercial seems wonderfully out of step with the times, but it's not really that far removed from bridal magazines and those hideous Harlequin or Hallmark TV movies that extoll the joys of real love, complete with montage sequence and gauzily lensed shots of quasi-sex. It's romance porn, and it's not real love. It's a lie.
It's as big a lie as the perpetuation of the idea of the big wedding and the bride having "her day", or the ad images of happy folks at resorts walking hand in hand on the beach and drinking wine from big goblets (a sure sign of love if ever there was one, provided there's no alcholic gene in the family), or even the Viagra ads portraying middle aged couples in matching bathtubs holding hands, presumably after a terrific drug-induced romp. I always wonder where in the hell they get those matching bathtubs and who exactly lugs them out on the back porch.
I guarantee you, young guys and gals, if you think this is love, you're headed for a life of unbelievable disappointment, with probably a side trip to divorce court. Don't get me wrong: your big wedding will look lovely, and couples really do walk on the beach, and I guess if you can wrangle those bathtubs out on the porch, you'll be right on top of the world, but ...
But heartless bastard that I am, this kind of adventure really don't mean anything to me. Perhaps I wouldn't be melted by someone giving me a four foot teddy bear, either.
Here's my Valentines lesson for everyone younger than me: love, believe it or not, is about losing your house.
I'm not kidding. It's about having your world crash in because sometime around 2008, a bunch of robber barons cleaned out the till. Your wife looks at you and you look at her. She hasn't worked since the kids were born.
You could both yell. You could both fall apart. I suspect the folks who had the big wedding they're still paying for might do exactly that. But you don't do that. Nope. This is where the rubber hits the road. No TV commercial teddy bears are going to fix this one.
The wife goes back to work, doing part-time clerical for a neighbor across the street. You pick up what jobs you can to keep the rent going, and basically beg borrow and steal what else you need. A lot of humility is learned, just as you educate yourself on the value of clipping coupons and what days to buy 50% off at the grocery store. Then your wife has the stupidest idea you've ever heard of. "I want to go back to school and study medicine. I want to help people." Help people? How about helping us, baby!
But this is real love -- not Harlequin or Hallmark love, but the real thing -- so you go with it and she drives the little car to night classes at community college for two years catching up on courses she didn't complete in high school. You keep doing what you can. (Note for Betsy Devos: God bless community colleges for their cheap fees and their first rate education).
While you try to put your own career back on track, she keeps chugging along, full of doubt and anger and determination. Amazingly, she gets into one of the top medical programs in the country. Graduates with a Masters Degree in nursing. As for the actual job part, you find out she passed her certification tests while the two of you are sitting in a Carls Jr. burger place having a nervous "lunch", waiting for the news. The message pops up on her phone. She winds up working in a cardiac unit at one of the top hospitals in the country. The woman managed all this when she was 52.
Notice something? There are no teddy bears here. There are no gauzy shots of couples clinking goblets of white wine while the surf rolls in in the distance. There is, instead, this image: my wife cleaning up your husband in his hospital room, making sure your mother dies with dignity, and caring for your teenaged son like one of her own. It's her working 7pm to 7 am four times a week when she's not also doing hospice care. She's going to see you through the fear, the apprehension, the operation, and the recovery, and she's going to sit with your wife through the night and watch her vitals like a hawk. She takes care of them, she advocates for them, and when they pass away she makes sure they do it with dignity.
Love is about a lot of things. It's about laughter, it's about conversation, it's about what you get through together, and, yes, I guess it's also about beaches and goblets of wine, but that is so narrow a lens it's almost hard to find the true image. The true image, in the end, is about respect and admiration.
Happy Valentines to my wife, to yours, to your husband, and to the truth.