To be honest, I was never a big fan of Valentine’s Day; and not because it served as “Singles Awareness Day” for me, but because I thought that every day should be a day to celebrate love. Instead, the holiday is an over-commercialized time to go out to expensive dinners and spend money on flowers and chocolate. I’d be quick to remind people that the day is technically a feast day celebrating the martyrdom of St. Valentine. (You think the color red symbolizes romantic love? Think the blood of the martyrs, my friend!)
As time went on, I slowly recognized the need for specific moments of celebration. After all, birthdays are moments to celebrate one’s life; wedding anniversaries celebrate a marriage; and Easter celebrates the new life of Christ’s resurrection. These things are important to treasure year round, but holidays mark a special moment of intentional recognition. Valentine’s Day does not have to be commercial — you don’t need to give in to the traditional expectations surrounding it; the day can offer an opportunity to recognize the gift of love, which can be taken for granted at other times.
Here’s an idea for Valentine’s Day: Pretend it’s your first date. It’s a great way to recall how you fell in love. Sarah and I have tried this before. I wanted to remember the excitement and magic of that getting-to-know-you stage. So, we asked each other “early date” kinds of questions: “What was it like moving to a new city in the middle of high school?” “What’s your relationship like with your siblings?” “What do you like doing in your free time?”
I was surprised how many new things I learned about Sarah. And I realized that there were things I hadn’t shared with her. It was a lot of fun, too! Our real first few dates involved deeper questions and conversation than I had expected. We talked about our experience of ministry, our philosophy and worldview, and the deeper questions of existence. Needless to say, we never learned the answers to some of those “surface level” questions characteristic of most first dates. Our pretend first date made me realize that Sarah and I are still discovering things about each other. I found such delight in the small details of Sarah’s life that others may find unimportant. For me, remembering the initial feeling of falling in love was so much greater than a box of chocolates.
Recently, the Modern Love column in The New York Times featured an essay about a study done in the ’90s that tried to make people fall in love. The bottom line was that people can start to fall for each other by asking questions that gradually grow in intimacy. Intimacy forms through quality time and a shared vulnerability — a soulful honesty. One of the more intimate questions from the study, for example, was “When did you last cry in front of another person? By yourself?” Perhaps questions like these should be asked more often.
After meeting Sarah I quickly discovered that spending quality time together is very important to her. This is why a pretend date was so perfect an idea. While a gift of flowers might be nice, it is when I spend quality time with her and listen to her attentively that she feels the most loved. Sometimes I wish we could re-live our first date over and over again. I wish we could re-live our wedding day. Why? They’re moments of quality time and intimacy. Like Valentine’s Day, they are special moments that celebrate the gift of falling more and more in love.
I remember one Valentine’s Day evening wandering through the mall, and as I passed both the jewelry store and Victoria’s Secret, there was a long line of men waiting to snatch up their last-minute gifts, the gifts that marketers say they’re supposed to give. We ought to make Valentine’s Day our own. If the day is going to be an intentional celebration of love, intimacy and friendship, any gift exchanged should be special to the person receiving it — whether it’s flowers, an affirming word of love, or a pretend first date.