Valentine’s Day Part II: Being Romantic

By Poison Ivy,

So, was I too harsh on women in my rant against Valentine’s Day? Oh, probably. We’re not all spoiled princesses. Far from it. Many of us don’t want lavish gifts. We just wish the men in our lives would show a little open affection occasionally. That’s because many of us are married to or involved with men who have been socialized into believing that saying “I love you” or giving romantic gifts or making romantic gestures is entirely “girl stuff” they don’t have to do.

But romance is not girl stuff. It’s not just what women want. It’s what a love relationship should have at the core. Romance is adventure. Romance is surprise. Romance is also passion, tenderness, and a bunch of other good things too numerous to mention.

In romantic fiction, when the hero gives the heroine flowers, she often says that no one has ever given her flowers before. Thus this gift tells her she is special to him. In real life, there are many women who have never received a gift of flowers. It’s such a simple gift, too. You call or visit the florist, describe the style of arrangement you want or get them to choose for you, decide how much you want to pay, give your sweetheart’s contact info, and the rest is taken care of. They can be delivered the same day. Sometimes within an hour or two. (But not on Valentine’s Day. It’s their busiest day of the year, so don’t walk in last minute and expect delivery by lunchtime.) Plus, you can do all this on the internet without even leaving your computer.

Yet, still, some women have never received a romantic gift of flowers. Now, here I have to boast. I am married to Mr. Romance. Over the years, he has sent me or brought me so many flowers that I cannot even remember them all. But I do remember the love with which they were given. Were these flowers received on Valentine’s Day? Nope. They arrived at random moments, always a surprise. Like one day when I was working in a large downtown office. The receptionist called me to the front desk, where a magnificent arrangement of extremely exotic flowers awaited me. I took them back to my office, fielding admiring comments all the way. Everybody kept asking me what the occasion was. And the delightful truth—there was no occasion—was that he sent them just to say “I love you!” You can’t get much more romantic than that. He had sent me a public avowal of love, with a private note on the attached card that I would keep the rest of my life.

This kind of surprising romantic gesture is exactly what most women are looking for—a sign that the man values their relationship as much as she does and is willing to let the world know. It doesn’t have to be flowers, of course. It can be anything. One time, he sent me a singing telegram! Honestly, I didn’t know where to look as the young actor belted out a song personalized with my name in it, in front of me and my co-workers. I was embarrassed. I was pleased. I never afterwards had to think “Why doesn’t he ever do anything romantic?”

But while many women wait in vain for romantic gestures, if you are the lucky recipient of them, you have to be equally creative. That put some pressure on me, because I wasn’t much of a gift-giver. I had to learn to be one, to respond appropriately to the level of attention my sweetheart was giving our relationship. And I’ll admit it, it took me a while. I coasted, enjoying the gifts without bothering to respond to the same degree. Then, after another of my trite gifts on official holidays was received, I saw the disappointment I was really giving. My lover thought about me so much that he dreamed up unusual and wonderful gifts. Didn’t he deserve the same amount of thought and care from me?

Thus I began to understand how difficult it is for men who have never given romantic gifts to think about doing so. And then to follow through and actually do it. And then to keep doing it over a number of years, because obviously one gift of this type is not enough for a lifetime. It is not easy to think in a new pattern. Only loving someone can make you willing to improve, to “be a better man” as Jack Nicholson’s character says in the movie “As Good As It Gets.” But becoming a better person in this one area of your life is not impossible. It merely requires making an effort.

A lot of men hope that they don’t have to make an effort to show love. When it doesn’t come naturally to them, they want to skip it. What they don’t realize is that they ought to grow enough to make such gestures. Because the women they love are worth it. And the women need it. On the receiving side, I was lucky, because I received so many tokens of love that I never wondered if my man would ever do something nice just for me. He also constantly told me that he loved me. That goes a long way to making a relationship secure. But I had to learn to be a giver.

Some men never learn this lesson of love. No matter how many thoughtful, loving gifts their loved ones surprise them with, these men do not respond with a matching level of thought or care. Some men are arrogant and think they do not have to. Others are bewildered and don’t know how. Others are embarrassed. Yes, embarrassed. Oh, they’re willing enough to have sex, even to marry. But that can always be excused to other men as testosterone. These men don’t want to openly admit that they need this woman in their lives. That they appreciate her.

For these men, Valentine’s Day is a gift. The inarticulate, uncreative man is showered with gift ideas from which to choose for Valentine’s Day. He is constantly reminded by the media so he won’t forget the day. He also is given a pass at being considered goopy and girly romantic because it’s a national gift-giving day and everybody is doing it. It’s a social ritual. He doesn’t have to stand out from the crowd on this day. There will be no undue attention paid to his gift outside his intimate relationships. Thus, no macho buddy can accuse him of being girly. He can’t even accuse himself.

And on the women’s side, Valentine’s Day is a gift, too. Because some of us accept reality and know that the men who love us are not demonstrative in a romance hero manner, and never will be. But still, they love us. And they show it with Valentine’s Day gifts of all sorts. Once a year might not be ideal, but it’s enough.

Oh, and as for me. Well, I surprised my guy one time by taking us on a balloon ride. Not bad for a beginner, huh?