by David McElroy
We claim Valentine’s Day is about romantic love, but it’s not. The day is really about fantasy — and that fantasy warps our ideas about what love should look like every other day of the year.
Valentine’s Day suggests that love is about over-the-top demonstrations of devotion and adoration, but I wonder if those grand gestures are mostly empty attempts to make up for the way couples live the rest of their lives.
It’s like a guilty way of saying, “I know I’m a terrible husband [or wife], but if I do these showy things for you and your friends to see, I can go back to living the rest of our lives as though you don’t matter.”
I believe love is best demonstrated by the way two people treat each other every single day of the year, not by the showy things they do once a year and attach shiny red plastic hearts. Love that is lived in an authentic way every single day can changes lives; love that’s just expressed when card companies and florists tell you to is shallow and already dying.
I’ve been thinking today about how a man expresses love for his wife. Other people are in better positions to say how a woman can best express her love for her husband (or how it might look in a same-sex relationship). I have no experience with that point of view.
All I know is how a loving man expresses his devotion to the woman who has chosen him:
— A man shows love by the respect he shows to a woman every single day. He doesn’t ridicule the woman. He doesn’t call her names. He listens to what she has to say. He’s genuinely interested in her thoughts, feelings and dreams. He wants to know what happened in her day — while she was at work or during a trip to the grocery store. He cares about the mundane details of her life. He listens.
— A man shows love for a woman by taking care of things he knows she doesn’t like to do. A woman who used to be in my life hated filling her gas tank. She knew how, but she just hated the task, so I filled her car’s tank every time I possibly could. It wasn’t a big thing, but it showed her a concrete commitment to making her days better in a tiny way.
— A man shows love for his wife by helping with the dirty work of raising children. He gets up in the night to take care of a baby — without complaints and without acting as though he’s being put upon. He changes diapers without whining. He feeds children and knows their schedules. He participates as an equal partner in raising them, not as an observer who swoops in every now and then when the family is in public or when a child wants to express love (or longing) for a dad.
— A man shows his devotion to his wife by being quick to volunteer to help when problems arise. When something is stressful in her life and she needs help, he says, “You have too much to do, so let me handle this.” And then he does handle it — whether it’s something big or something small. She learns that she can count on him. She learns she can trust him to be there when she needs him.
— A man shows his love by keeping his word to his wife. When he promises to do something, it gets done. When he promises not to do something, he doesn’t do it. When he promises to change certain behavior in his life — because the two have agreed it needs to change — he keeps his promise.
— A man shows love by expressing his devotion to his wife in small ways every day. This will look different in every relationship. Some women need for a man to hold her hand at unexpected times. Some women need a man to leave unexpected love notes. Some women need a foot massage. Everybody is different, but a man shows love when he listens to a woman — to what is said and what is not said — and gives her what she needs to feel loved and valued.
— A man expresses love with the gifts he gives his wife. Those can sometimes be big and expensive things, but they can — far more often — be small and thoughtful gifts that show he knows her and knows what she wants and needs.
There are a million other specific things a man does when he loves a woman, but they all flow from genuine devotion and honest respect. Too many times, people who claim to love each other give their best every day to strangers — and give their worst to those people at home who they claim to love.
These are some of the things that men do for women out of genuine love — and if they seem unrealistic to you, perhaps you need to re-evaluate your understanding of love and whether you’re really ready for it.
There’s nothing wrong with having a special day to celebrate romantic love, but everything expressed on that day is empty and meaningless and dishonest if the rest of the year doesn’t lay the loving foundation for the Valentine’s Day gestures.
Love is worth celebrating — but unless love in built brick by brick, day by day, for the rest of the year — there’s nothing to celebrate on Valentine’s Day.
If you love someone, express that love every single day of the year, not just on Feb. 14.