By Aly Walansky
Valentine’s Day seems to create more distress for couples and singles than any other holiday. For singles it is an in-your-face reminder of their solitary status with hearts and cupids as far as the eye can see. For couples there is often a rift, if not a chasm, between the partners’ desires and expectations. One partner, often the female, may feel that it is the most important day of the year, or at least in the top five, and should be celebrated with elaborate rituals and gifts.
On the other hand, says Barbara Hayes, MS, MFT, the male partner may feel, with some justification, that it is a day that historically signifies little and is not in the same league as birthdays, anniversaries, or religious celebrations.
The holiday was apparently inaugurated in a 1382 poem by Geoffrey Chaucer to commemorate the anniversary of the engagement of England’s King Richard II to Anne of Bohemia, both fourteen years old. Even if you find that a charming beginning for a holiday, Chaucer actually got the date wrong since their agreement of marriage was dated May 2.
Needless to say, this gender-based difference of opinion about the day’s significance can be a recipe for disaster.
“I know of cases where the female partner has ended a long-term relationship because of events involving Valentine’s Day!” shares Hayes. One middle-aged woman left her partner of several years because he asked if they could celebrate the holiday a day early due to pressing obligations concerning his family business. He had even planned a lovely dinner and had already procured a suitable present. Hayes was taken aback when she heard this story. “I thought that I might be out of touch with “normal” female sentiments since this situation would not even generate a small blip on my partner-transgression radar. So I asked a group of younger women what they thought. All of their responses were similar: “That’s ridiculous!” or “You’re kidding!”
From the very young to those of my (middle) age, there seem to be a lot of women who are more pragmatic and down-to-earth than the hopelessly-romantic, advertisement-driven (oxymoron intended) media would like us to believe.
As grown-ups, we can choose what meaning we assign to events; we are not stuck having to think or feel the way that our parents, our friends, or the media dictate. It takes considerable thought, energy, and time in order to reframe our disappointment or dissatisfaction with the situation, but it can be well worth it. One way to change your view of this or any situation is to ask yourself scaling questions, which are one of the tools that therapists use when helping clients put their thoughts and feelings in a more appropriate perspective.
For almost any woman considering a long-term commitment, qualities like being a strong and stable emotional, financial, physical, and social partner would easily earn five to ten points on a ten-point scale of desirable traits in a partner. These are the big issues that make or break a long-term relationship during difficult times. The minor misunderstandings that get blown out of proportion should pale in comparison to having someone who: is financially responsible; is there for you in times of crisis (health problems, death of family or friends, etc); is a warm, attentive, and respectful companion; is committed to you; and lets you know he cares about you in his own ways. (Unfortunately, studies indicate that men show affection and caring in ways that don’t always work well for women. Men feel close to their partners when they watch television with them, for example. Men show caring by doing or fixing things for women. They express their feelings of closeness sexually!!) In ten or twenty years, you will remember if he comforted you at your mother’s funeral, but a tiff over Valentine’s Day will seem trivial.
If you have very strong, specific desires for your Valentine’s celebration, tell him!, Hayes advises. Studies also show that not only are guys bad at reading minds (kind of like the rest of us), they are also not as good as women at picking up facial or verbal clues — no surprise there! If he has good reasons why he can’t accommodate your wishes even after you express them directly, realize that it should not be a deal-breaker as long as he meets your needs in truly important ways. A less-than-perfect Valentine’s Day is at most a two or three on serious scales of desirable traits. Try to focus on all of the other things he does that make you feel good about the guy. Pay attention to his signals that he loves and cares for you. (He let you control the remote for the evening! He fixed the garbage disposal – yay!)
For singles who feel sad on this day, think of all of the bad Valentine’s Days that you have had with Mr. So-Wrong and all of the poor women who are having them now. Pamper yourself by staying home and luxuriating in silly soap operas, or taking a long bubble bath, or by doing any of the things that you never did because your ex didn’t want to do. Remind yourself that the next relationship you get into will be with someone kind, caring, and considerate because you are committed to never again settling for Mr. Will-Do-for-Now. Then smile!! Research also shows that smiling sends a signal to your brain that you feel happy, which causes you to smile some more, which causes you to feel even happier, and so the cycle perpetuates itself!
So for women everywhere, have a very Happy Valentine’s Day (or “Chaucer’s Poem Day” for the historically accurate)!!!