Before I met my husband, I looked at Valentine’s Day as a Hallmark-sponsored money grab. In fact, I railed against it. While my friends invested heavily in the cringe—gifting their romantic partners boxes of chocolates or stuffed bears with heart eyes—I went out of my way to do the opposite, never spending a dime on the schmaltz.
No, this wasn’t related to the fact that I wasn’t in a relationship (I was at various times that overlapped with the holiday), I’ve just always loathed the disingenuous nature of Valentine’s Day gestures. Instead of it feeling like a day inspired by love, it felt like a day inspired by materialism—and cheap (and cheesy) crap that had but a single destiny: the garbage pail.
Then, I met my spouse. I’ll never forget the moment during our early dating days when he revealed that his favorite holiday was, gasp, Valentine’s Day. His reasoning: What’s not to love about a day that is all about, well, love? Of course he didn’t think we should only express love one day a year, but in his opinion, February 14 was a chance to demonstrate to people (a romantic partner, a sibling, your kids) what they mean to you in a way that—if you embrace it—feels grand and over the top.
I wasn’t convinced. I still thought of Valentine’s Day as forced romance. I couldn’t see past the merch and dollar signs.
But my husband, year after year, continued to knock it out of the park. One year, he booked a table at a fancy New York City restaurant and revealed that we were seated at *the* very same table where Barack and Michelle Obama had dined during their own date night in NYC during their White House days. Another year, he surprised me with tickets to Hamilton, but with a twist: My mom was to be my date. (He had coordinated her train trip into the city.)
There were more low-key efforts as well: Meals made from scratch, movie nights in (or out), our apartment decorated with pink and red balloons.
That’s when I noticed a funny thing happening: I was beginning to embrace the holiday, too. I wore a pink dress out to dinner one year, I DIYed a box that included print-outs of all the emails (plus some heart-shaped confetti) from our first year of dating, I covered our home with construction paper hearts, each one listing a quality I adored about him. I’ve even started mentioning in January (January!) that we might want to start thinking about a sitter for February 14.
But here’s the real reason for my shift: His love of Valentine’s Day was never prescriptive. He never expected me to go all in on the schmaltz that annoyed me, the parts that felt materialistic or dumb. Instead, he embraced the holiday by owning the cheesiness in a way that’s creative, almost campy. Ultimately, I found that contagious.