I’ll never forget my first Valentine’s Day with my husband.
We were newly married and pregnant, and finishing up our last semesters of college. We were everything a cliched young couple in love was supposed to be — completely broke, living in a run-down, 100-year-old apartment where I’m pretty certain drug deals went down almost every night, and still smitten enough to rush home and play house together every night.
Valentine’s Day happened to fall not even two months after we were married, and after what was a pretty stressful season of wedding planning and some subsequent traveling I had to do for work, I was looking forward to spending some quality time relaxing at home with my husband.
I wanted our first official holiday together as a married couple to be perfect — and not only that, but it was a holiday completed focused on love?
It was meant to be.
I spent the entire day blowing off my classes at school, waddling my pregnant self around campus, and blowing up the computer lab crafting cutesy cards and decorations for our meager apartment. Because my husband is a woodworker, I decided to surprise him with a subscription to a woodworking magazine, and I printed out a huge card with the “surprise” inside of it.
Next up, I moved to my favorite home away from home:
Up and down the aisles I soared on my Valentine’s Day high, recklessly throwing chocolates and heart garlands and scented candles galore in my cart (and then carefully returning them back to the shelves because I couldn’t actually afford them).
When at long last, I found a $1.99 chocolate in the shape of a hammer, I laughed giddily to myself. It was perfect! He would love it! I’m such a good wife with a theme for Valentine’s Day!
I added my chocolate hammer to my cart and splurged on some “organic” red, white, and pink confetti and then headed over to the picture department, where I found, joy of joys, that the pictures from our honeymoon were finally ready to be picked up.
This day just couldn’t get any better!
I got home and ripped open the packaging to our honeymoon pictures only to find that they were strangely, all exposed in pink tones — not a single one turned out without a pink hue to it. No matter, I thought to myself. I’ll just incorporate the pictures in my adorable Valentine’s Day theme!
The rest of the afternoon was spent with me, happily cliche, barefoot and pregnant in my kitchen, cooking up a pasta dinner that I’m sure really didn’t taste that great, brownies, and carefully setting our table for two with my cards, confetti, and honeymoon pictures placed strategically about. I even set out the two pink-frosted wine glasses that I had picked up at a garage sale, thrilled to finally find a use for them, even if I couldn’t drink wine.
I look back on my newly married self from my perch of wizened wife of six years and can’t help but fondly shake my head at her. Oh, Chaunie, what were you thinking?
Because when finally, after what seemed like hours, my new husband arrived home to our apartment, I sprung on him like the “taste” of brownies I had devoured earlier. I dragged him into the kitchen and threw my arms out wide, displaying the fruits of my labor with a grand flourish.
I forced him to sit down and pointed all the pictures, the confetti, the hammer, his card with his present in it.
Look! Isn’t this cute? It’s a hammer, haha! Our honeymoon pictures are all pink, get it, for Valentine’s Day!?
Eventually, my excited babble died on my lips and I realized that my husband was looking most uncomfortable sitting there crammed at my confetti-filled table. My stomach fell as I wondered what I had done wrong. The hammer? Too cheesy? But it’s still chocolate! The pictures? Was he mad they weren’t developed properly?
After a few awkward moments of silence and my husband smiling half-heartedly for the picture that I made him pose for, holding up his card defeatedly, the truth came out:
My husband of not even two months had forgotten it was Valentine’s Day.
While I was spending the entire day wrapped up in creating the perfect day of love for us, he had gone along on his merry way, whistling from class to work to class and back home, unsuspectingly, where he would crush his wife’s heart and let flow a torrent of hormonal pregnant tears.
I was crushed.
Of course I was disappointed, and I felt a little bit silly for putting so much work into a day that he clearly didn’t even care about. And on top of that, I had a hard time believing he had truly forgotten about the day. How did he go along all day on a college campus teeming with couples and flower deliveries and all the tables selling chocolates in complete oblivion? Wasn’t he supposed to want to shower me with love, affection, and overpriced flowers?
But what I realized that night meant a lot more than if my husband had brought home a heart-shaped box of chocolates that I would most likely have consumed in one sitting.
That night, I inadvertently stumbled upon what was perhaps the most important lesson of my young marriage.
That marriage is full of expectations and disappointments. Misunderstandings and misgivings. Small hurts and slights and on a day that I hinged our budding marriage, it all came crashing to a standstill.
The truth is, that first Valentine’s Day in our marriage could have been a lot of things. It could have been the perfect, romantic evening that I pictured — but it wasn’t.
Instead, it was real. And it showed me what I would need to go on as a wife to this man I had pledged my life, for better or worse, to.
To realize that my husband is not me.
He doesn’t care about my decorations for holidays, he doesn’t get giddy to find chocolate shaped in a hammer. He honestly doesn’t notice when the stores start to change seasons and the ads pile on the pushes for “romantic” gifts for your wife. He plods along in his days, doing the things he does best and working hard to support us and our family, but he doesn’t get excited about the small things like I do.
If I had planned on a marriage filled with cutesy demonstrations of love and my husband falling over in admiration for my perfectly set table, apparently I had another thing coming.
I realized that as long as we were married, my husband and I would show our love in completely different ways.
For me, shopping at Target and planning an elaborate meal and setting the perfect table were ways that perfectly expressed my love. It made me so happy to plan a special evening for us — but when it comes right down to it, it was more about what made me happy than what made him happy.
Our first Valentine’s may have been a disappointment, but what I learned about our marriage was more important than a cheesy card or box of mediocre chocolate.
I could try to force my husband to be something that he is not, or I could be disappointed when he didn’t appreciate what I am.
Or I could could choose to love him just the way he is, letting him love me in ways that are meaningful to him, not just manufactured, and I could keep on doing the things that let me feel loved and love. Sure, I could decorate all I wanted for Valentine’s Day or St. Patrick’s Day or National Sandwich Day, but when it comes right down to it, those things don’t always mean as much to him as they do to me. He knows I do it out of love, just like I know he will cook dinner quietly for me out of love, or rub my feet whenever I ask him to. The true romance is about understanding what makes each other tick — and recognizing true love when it is offered.
And if the man can’t appreciate a fine piece of chocolate shaped like a hammer?
Well then, that’s just more for me.