Do you feel the pressure of Valentine’s Day? I feel the pressure. The occasion comes with a whole set of expectations. If you’re in a relationship it looks something like: buy a card; go on a date; if you’re a guy, you buy flowers; dinner. But are these the right flowers? Is it a big enough bunch to convey the extent of my love? Is this the right card? The right message? Does the restaurant have the right ambiance? Is the food sexy enough? Is food sexy? Am I dressed right? Am I spending an amount of money that says ‘I love you to the moon and back’? ...I should probably spend more...
But there are also less known, less predictable expectations around Valentines Day (and Christmas and Thanksgiving too) and that’s how we’re supposed to feel. Seen, desirable, desiring, romantic, complete, surrendering, chivalrous, lustful, thoughtful, sexy, generous and ultimately complete and satisfied in each other and our perfect relationship. The night is expected to end in sex - after all, it’s the most romantic day of the year.
So between the logistics and the experience of the day itself, the stakes are fucking high. And where there are high stakes, there are usually feelings of stress and anxiety. And stress and anxiety can be expressed in anger, resentment, retreat, posturing, compliance. And none of these qualities provide the groundwork for a romantic experience.
I’m glad there’s a day where we’re encouraged to focus on our important relationships - they thrive on attention. I can easily get caught up in the Valentine’s Day to-do list whilst losing sight of what it’s really about. The cards and gifts and flowers are symbols and substitutes of our attention for each other, our care, our emotions. They can be thoughtful, and touching and meaningful. But they aren’t our actual attention, our actual care or our actual feelings. The cards and gifts and flowers are not the thing in themselves. And to get corny and #dadjoke on you for a moment, what if we gave our presence instead of, or as well as, our presents?
And if I’m present to myself, and to you, we will probably find ourselves more deeply connected. By present, most of all I mean curious about your experience and available to really listen to your response, and still be curious.
We might even ask each other how we truly feel about Valentine’s Day. You might notice I’m a bit stressed and ask me about it, and I’d tell you that it took me 20 minutes to choose between two bunches of flowers because I was worried about getting the ‘wrong’ ones. I can do without that stress, I say. You look away, and I know that means you’re upset. I feel my anxiety coming on, and when I get anxious, I get defensive. I’m about to say ‘what’s the big deal?’ in that judgemental tone I do so well.
But I remember to stay curious and ask you gently ‘what’s up? You tell me that when I said I could do without the stress, you think I’m saying the relationship, and therefore you, are not worth it to me. I’m glad I asked you, and I relax a bit, because I know how much I want to be in this relationship with you, and I know how to quickly reassure you.
A moment later we’re smiling at the irony of how stressful on a relationships and love a day focused on relationships can be. If we keep going with our curiosity and presence, we might conjure all those hoped-for juicy feelings
So, this is my challenge to you, and to myself. To bring presence, to stay curious about my experience and yours, to not have a foregone conclusion about how the day should go, how it should feel, or how it should end. Instead we’ll put our focus on staying connected.