On Valentine’s Day – time to celebrate the marathon, not just the sprint
As my wife is well aware, I’m no fan of Valentine’s Day, though I fully understand the need of certain sectors of the economy to make a little money in these austerity-blighted times. She says she’s no keener than me on the annual love ritual.
I’m not sure though. Does she secretly yearn for the single red rose, the box of chocolates and the declaration – courtesy of Hallmark Cards – of undying love? If so, I’m afraid she’s been disappointed for most of our 30-odd years of marriage. But not in other ways, hopefully. And every year, I trot out the same corny mantra that every day with her is Valentine’s Day. She, to her great credit, pays me the courtesy of laughing. Or smacks me over the head.
And anyway, Valentine’s is about young love and sweet infatuation, isn’t it? Surely those of us who have been married for a while can come up with something far more meaningful – namely the celebration of an enduring union.
Yes, I know – that’s what wedding anniversaries are supposed to be all about. A year-round commercial opportunity, one could argue, and God forgive the hapless spouse who forgets the day.
But the difference between Valentine’s and anniversaries is that the former is a communal event, and the latter is something to be celebrated one-on-one. Unless the anniversary is one of those landmarks – a 25th or a 50th perhaps – nobody apart from the happy couple, not even their offspring, pays much attention unless they’re prompted. At least that’s largely been our experience.
So I sometimes wonder why we don’t have a day when we celebrate long marriages, complete with its own patron saint. Of endurance, or survival. Or maybe lost causes. If so, then everyone whose marriages last longer than the seductive blink of an eye would be able to celebrate together, just as young lovers do on Valentine’s. What would be the symbol? A cactus perhaps, or a new pair of slippers from Marks and Spencer.
I first got this idea when I acted as the warm-up man for an evening with John Gray, the author of Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus. He was talking about relationships, so I had to come up with some wheeze that transformed the audience into something more than recently re-animated corpses. Personally, I’ve always thought of myself as a native of Uranus (silly joke, I know) but lots of people in Bahrain had read Gray’s books and appeared to have bought into the theory, and there were about five hundred people at the gig.
So I asked everyone to stand up – always a good way to banish the lassitude. I then asked those who had been married for five years to sit down. That left half still standing. I repeated the exercise to eliminate those who had less than ten years under their belts. And so on until we reached thirty years. By that time there was a tiny handful of couples still on their feet. I then told the survivors to leave the room, since they didn’t need Grey’s help, before inviting everyone else to give the Darby and Joans a big round of applause. It went down a treat, and everyone was smiling when I introduced the great man.
The point is, these people were celebrating the success of their marriages as a group, and they had a lot of fun recognising the achievements of others who had stayed the course.
So what we need to do is co-opt the saint and name the day. We can thereby publicly appreciate the quieter joys of being together with another person. The ups and the downs. Their annoying habits. Our phenomenal reserves of patience and forbearance. Perhaps even the coming divorce, which could be made easier by the recognition that all those years were not wasted.
If this is a stupid suggestion from an undemonstrative Englishman, so be it. But I reckon that spending a day celebrating the denial of a living to divorce lawyers and providing a fresh injection of business to restaurants and cactus growers far outweighs the risk of overburdening our local hospitals with the consequences of over-exuberant mass celebrations of marital survival.
And it’s easy to fall in love, but far harder to stay with the same person for ten, twenty or thirty years. That’s worth celebrating, perhaps on a summer’s day rather than in the middle of (in Britain at least) a cold and miserable winter.
As for me, on this Valentine’s Day I and my loved one are in different countries. As has always been the case when we’re apart, I look forward to seeing her again. And I’m sure it’s the same for her.
It’s a feeling that’s far more precious than a bunch of flowers and a bottle of Prosecco. And I shall hold on to that thought as I brace myself for the inevitable questions about all the things I was supposed to do (but didn’t) while she was away. Only kidding dearest – can’t wait to have you back.