I’m a baseball cap mama. Yoga pants if it’s Saturday. A smidge of mascara if I feel extra fabulous. But for once, I could smell my own hairspray and perfume. My lip gloss with mint extract felt oddly tingly as we pushed through the heavy glass doors and into the swanky theatre. I scrunched my toes to keep my sparkly black flats from falling off my feet. My husband, Keith, had surprised me with concert tickets only that morning. An opportunity to be serenaded by the world’s new romantic piano sensation on an actual date night? Yes please!
I sat at table 54, holding hands with my sweetheart, the lights above us low and purple. The maestro entered the stage in a salmon-colored jacket with a neon collar. He placed his palms together and bowed to the audience, twice. He raised two fingers in the air as if saluting a friend across the street. Maybe a nod to the balcony. He sat at the bench, flicking the microphone away from him. The purple lights bloomed into a sexy magenta, and he placed his fingers on the keys. Even the waiters held their breath. Closing his eyes, the entertainer struck the familiar chords of a familiar song. Our wedding song.
As his fingers flitted across the keys, I squeezed my husband’s hand and peeked out of the corner of my eyes at him. I was in the moment. Taken back almost 22 years ago to a church gymnasium with a dated sound system and very few decorations. We pinched our pennies just enough to afford the tables and chairs with white tablecloths for our guests. All our pictures on the display tables still boasted the gummy remains of clearance stickers in the bottom corner. We didn’t hire a band or a DJ. Instead, we created our own playlist of songs and jimmy-rigged a microphone to a hand-me-down speaker borrowed from our living room.
I had rented a dress that fit me just enough that it didn’t need alterations. Keith had rented a tux using a fake British accent. Friends and family served each other a dish of ice cream in the July heat. Apparently, we ran out of ice cream midway through the reception. I didn’t realize the line of well-wishers snaked out the doors and wrapped around the building. Some of our youngest siblings played tag in the halls and were escorted home early. I didn’t know. I was busy swaying to our song and whispering in my new husband’s ear. I pulled Keith close, the scent of Eternity on the lapel that was not his own. My lipstick smudged against his shoulder when he leaned down to hug me tighter. My surroundings never would have made a magazine cover. But I guarantee everyone in that room knew that we were in love.
As much as I admit I loved my husband on that day, I’ve loved him every day since, even more. It sounds cheesy, I know. Maybe it is. I look at this man and I still see the handsome goofball I married, but I also see my partner through all the toughest times of my life. My cheerleader. My best friend. We’ve tackled some of the most heart-wrenching challenges a couple can face, and we’re still standing, well, sitting, together, squeezing each other’s hands to a beat that we both know so well.
We weren’t the only ones. All around us, wine glasses clinked, and fingers laced together, remembering their own special moments. Chairs drew closer together. Gray haired husbands put their arms around their frail wives, winking at them, and kissing their foreheads. One gentleman offered his jacket to the woman next to him. The woman across from me reached for her husband’s palm and placed it on her belly—their third child shortly on its way. Couples together for decades and brand-new couples basked in the songs that sparked the spark. After the finale, everyone stood, patiently holding a purse or a jacket for their partners as they waited out in the lobby.
It saddened me to think back to the beginning of the month, when I read a thread on Twitter asking, “How do you feel about Valentine’s Day?” This erupted into a snarky conversation about the weirdness of combining romance and celebrating one of the most well-known mobster massacres in history (St. Valentine’s Day). Surprisingly, most of the people commenting were against Valentine’s Day… but not against receiving a bouquet of chicken nuggets (random, I know).
“Shouldn’t you express love to your sweetheart every day?” They argued. “Why should February 14 be different?”
“It’s so commercialized!” They whined, “It’s no longer about expressing love. It’s about buying enough stuff to prove your love.”
The most vulnerable said, “It makes me feel lonely, left out, unsettled about my relationship status. I try to ignore it.”
While I partially agree with some of their points, and a bouquet of chicken nuggets sounds intriguing (given the right sauce pairing!), I HEARTILY support a day to focus on love (see what I did there?).
Is it just because I got to go to a fancy concert this year?
Not at all. It’s not about the concert. That's not the only way I feel loved. Showing love is Keith waiting patiently for me to walk a block ever-so-carefully in uncomfortable shoes to the fancy concert doors. It means waking up to the kiddos bouncing on our bed the morning after and smiling sleepily at each other. Messy hair and all. It’s walking laps around the park and never running out of things to talk about. It means taking over baseball practice to give me a little quiet time. Showing love means paying the bills and loading the dishwasher, working side by side. And yes! This doesn’t just happen on Valentine’s Day.
Valentine’s Day stretches beyond my relationship with my spouse into a family effort. Showing love means buying Gatorade or making cookies as a special treat for my boys. Letting mom watch the Olympics when you’re so tired of skiing you can hardly stand it. Showing love means throwing a Superbowl party when no one else is invited and making homemade salsa for the one person you know will eat it. It’s playing a game of “restaurant” with the little boys, displaying their artwork from school as a centerpiece on the table and letting them decorate the kitchen with glow bracelets. It’s picking up the teenager late at night when you’d rather sleep. Love can be inconvenient. It’s messy. It requires us to try again tomorrow. But it’s beautiful.
So, while the cynical side of Twitter might protest Valentine’s Day in years to come, I think TRUE love in action brings out the best in us, whether we spend money or not.
(And I’m totally treating my boys to a chicken nugget bouquet next year! Genius!)