I love, love.
From that warm, soft feeling of being truly home, to that passionate kiss, to that mutual understanding between people who just care about one another so darn much. And by the way, I’m not just talking the love between romantic partners, but also that between long-time friends, family members, and well, even between animals and humans (sigh, how I love animals).
Love will probably remain one of the most sought after, enigmatic, misunderstood and revered emotions/experiences, but those qualities only seem to make it more fascinating.
Anyway, I could go on and on describing love and the many facets it can take, but I’ve been sensing something different about love lately, particularly with respect to the impending Valentine’s holiday.
I’m an utter romantic. I’ve written Dan a multitude of love letters (sometimes love poems or love cartoons, even), I feel warm and gushy when I watch the scene in the gazebo between the Captain and Maria in the Sound of Music where they finally confess their feelings to each other (Julie Andrews and Christoper Plummer version), I shower affection on my closest friends, and I’ve been known to get lost in Wordsworth, a languid waltz, and of course, my own daydreams.
However, with all that being said, I’m coming to realize that I was raised to associate love with gift giving. Not exactly the idea of buying someone’s affection, but definitely the idea that physical items = an expression of emotion.
This idea is likely somewhat cultural. We’re all familiar with mass marketing and consumerism and how the Walgreens down the street starts setting up the Christmas merchandise days after Halloween. We’re bombarded with images of opulence in Entertainment News, and it seems like engagement rings are growing by the karats these days. But beyond the American interpretation of gift giving, my family also communicates emotion through objects – in fact I think I received at least one piece of jewelry to mark almost every life event (i.e., first communion, graduation, etc.) I’ve gone through.
So when I met Dan, I became a bit confused. “Spending time with you,” he said, “is the greatest gift, and that’s all I ever want.”
Hmm, this through me for a loop. He was saying and expressing the things I’d always longed to hear from a partner, but for some reason my brain could…not…compute. Time? Experiences? These are gifts in and of themselves? But what about that handmade watch or that specially tailored suit? Aren’t those gifts?
And I wondered if maybe it was a test or a trick. Maybe he was just being nice and doing the whole “oh you shouldn’t have” while thinking “I’m so glad she did.”
Plus, it wasn’t an issue of cost – I could afford to get him nice things from time to time, and I really enjoyed seeing something in a store and thinking “I bet Dan would like this” and picking it up for him on a whim. I felt like I was both expressing how I felt about him, communicating that I thought of him, but also, I was fulfilling a need (buying him something he might like to have but wouldn’t buy, or providing a can opener because his old one was really rusty, etc.).
But he kept saying “I just want to spend time with you,” and the “gifts” I was giving him, were piling up in my living room.
And thus began countless conversations between us on the topic of material “stuff.”
Initially this led me to investigate Gary Chapman’s Love Languages. At first I simply thought that Dan and I were just communicating on different wavelengths – I was a “gift giver” he was a “quality timer.”
But not exactly, because when we’ve been separated for periods of time (when I was traveling, or our work schedules limited us to seeing each other only on weekends, etc.), I’d feel myself going crazy with the lack of quality time. And, I realized that I wasn’t craving gifts from him, either. Don’t get me wrong, Dan often brings me food that he knows I’ll enjoy (often desserts, which are delicious), or will even pick me up something more utilitarian, and I have appreciated every “thing” he has given me, but what I most wanted, too, was not brownies and a container of dishwasher soap, but time with him.
I found that I also valued quality time across the other significant relationships in my life. I remembered disagreements with my parents over them wanting to buy me expensive Christmas gifts, while I just wanted some of my Mom’s delightful Christmas cookies. I realized how having in person conversations with my closest friends, many of whom no longer live in geographic proximity, has brought me so much joy – because I leave each of those encounters feeling filled to the brim with love and understanding.
And I reflected more on my own relationship to material items. In the last seven years, I have moved nine times – with more than half of those moves being across state-lines, and even across the country. In looking around my apartment and office, I have really whittled down my personal possessions, and on countless occasions I’ve found myself perusing the shelves at Target thinking “that’s a great (insert household item or piece of furniture or keepsake) but I just don’t need it, and I definitely don’t want to move it.” I even began taking digital photos of memorabilia (ticket stubs, airline tickets, brochures, etc.) so that I could compile all my mementos on my hard drive in an effort to eliminate the piles of accumulated trinkets in my life. But even there, the memorabilia was about remembering experiences and events. And who am I kidding, I constantly photograph everything from a sushi dinner at a restaurant to Dan walking along a hiking trail.
I really care about life events and adventures, but not because they are associated with a necklace or a dress. I care about them because I value people and our shared experiences. Clearly Dan had reached this conclusion well before me.
So with Valentine’s Day approaching (as well as the anniversary of our first date, whoot!), I asked Dan about gift giving and celebrating us.
He, not surprisingly, reiterated, “I just want to spend time with you.”
My initial thoughts, also not surprising, were, “but isn’t there something special I can get for you? Something that you’d really like to have but wouldn’t buy for yourself?” And in my head were visions of those handmade watches and tailored suits, surrounded by copious amounts of fruits and vegetables (Dan prefers fruits and veg to chocolates – that’s okay, more cocoa-y goodness for me!).
But he said, “no, not really.” He suggested a pair of dance shoes he’s been eying if I “really wanted to get him something.”
So I stepped back for a bit and I thought about it. I’d be happy to get Dan a pair of dance shoes, heck, I’d run to the store right now and pick them up so he could use them for our classes later tonight. But do dance shoes really communicate how I feel about Dan? How I feel about our relationship? Not really. Dan needs dance shoes, and I’m glad to help fulfill that need if I can, but I don’t want to mark yet another occasion with a physical item that doesn’t get at the heart of the matter (no pun intended), which is – how much I love, respect, and appreciate this man and our relationship. (By the way, I’m not saying that dance shoes can’t be an expression of love, it just doesn’t fit me/us in this circumstance.)
So this Valentine’s Day(/anniversary), I asked Dan if we could try a new restaurant for dinner (nothing too ostentatious, just good food), exchange cards, and hang out together. We’re going to give it a go. Afterall, I’m just me and while I could give him gold cufflinks and we could dine and dance in the Rainbow Room at the top of the GE building, which would all be fun, I’m excited not to have to worry about picking out the perfect gift and making sure my mascara doesn’t run into the Fillet Mignon at a fancy restaurant.
I’m just happy to be loved and in love.
Beyond Dan, I hope you all know how much I love and appreciate you, too.
To all the family and friends who have made my journey on this Earth more rewarding simply by their presence and the experiences and lessons we’ve learned together, thank you, and much love.
To all of you who read my musings regularly, semi-regularly, or once in a blue moon, thank you with love from the bottom of my heart.
A very Happy Valentine’s Day to you!