Valentine’s Day. For those who are romancing, it is a day for declaring love and devotion and for showering one’s beloved with sentimental gifts, candy, and cards. For those of us who are not in the thralls of new love, all those hearts and cupids can make us nostalgic or mildly, maybe even wildly, resentful. It’s like watching somebody else’s party and not being invited. It’s like peering through the window of a candy store where someone else is getting the candy. It’s like not being chosen for the team.
Here’s the problem: The way our culture generally celebrates Valentine’s Day has made the characteristics of the new-in-love into a standard for everyone. New love is gooey and sentimental and overdone. It’s a wonderful, intoxicating time that everyone should be blessed to have at least once in life. There’s nothing like it for silliness, happiness, and wonder. But new-in-love isn’t (and shouldn’t be) forever. New-in-love is just that – new. It’s the beginning of a process of loving that, given commitment and time, evolves into other phases that are just as interesting, just as precious, and just as worthy of acknowledgement.
A New Kind Of Card Gallery
If it were up to me, the card gallery in the local supermarket would not be an endless aisle of romantic sentimentality for the month before Valentine’s Day. Instead, it would be divided into sections that would honor the many kinds and stages of love. Imagine browsing through choices like these:
New-in-Love: The cards say: “You’re wonderful. You’re perfect. You’re just like me.”
This is the infatuation stage. I remember when my 20-something daughter, all agog with new love, declared that she was sure that she and her boyfriend were the same person in a former life. No, she doesn’t believe in some strange reincarnation theory. She was just amazed and delighted to find someone with whom she shared so many things.
New love focuses on how we’re alike. New love looks for the endless fascinating coincidences and similarities that reassure us that this person, unlike any other, can understand and be understood. New love isn’t blind; it’s just selective in what it sees. And what it sees most are the ways that the beloved is a flattering mirror.
The Second Stage – Embracing Differences: The cards say: “You’re not who I thought you were, but it’s even more interesting this way.”
No relationship can sustain blind intoxication forever. After a few months of being gaga, reality begins to assert itself. With reality inevitably comes some disappointments:
“You mean you don’t like sushi? Football? Dancing?”
“But I’m sure you don’t really believe that (because it’s not what I believe).”
For some people, this stage becomes a reason to bail out. For them, the emotional high of new-in-love is like an addiction. Once their feet hit the ground, they hit the road. It’s a shame. They’ll never find a life partner. Life partners only come out of learning to love our differences. It’s our differences that enrich us. It’s differences that increase the couple’s range of emotions, interests, understanding, and activity. It’s embracing those differences that makes a couple strong.
Moving to “We”: The cards say: “We’re the best.”
This is when healthy couples move from “I”-ness to “we”-ness. This is the making of a partnership, the time when we find that the whole really is more than the sum of two parts. Being together makes us feel that we can handle the challenges of life. Being together makes us feel safe. Being together is what counts. This is the stage when couples make a commitment to themselves and their dreams. Many move in together. Still more marry. In healthy couples, the next year or two is about making decisions and compromises about how they will be together, what each of their roles will be, and what they can expect of each other. This new “culture of two” is the foundation for a family.