Valentine’s Day was never a momentous day in my life. Growing up and spending my adolescence in Australia meant that as a celebratory day, it wasn’t really a big deal. It wasn’t marketed or observed in the same way that it is today. Like all teenage girls with a fascination for teenage boys, I pondered that emotionally loaded question, “Who will be my Valentine?” But apart from the occasional blank card (sent, no doubt by my best friend at the time), February 14th came and went very uneventfully. That is, until I met my husband.

I wouldn’t say that he is romantic in the traditional way; I would say that he is a master of the unexpected. Romance for him is about surprise, about being romantic when I least expect it. Most recently, he left on my bedside table the classic First Love by Ivan Turgenev, a short tale of a young man’s awakening to the complex nature of love. When I asked him what made him think of this book, he smiled in his quiet way and told me that he was always thinking of me. Few words spoken, much tenderness.

He is Australian, like me, and was not brought up to celebrate love on a given day. Over time, he has learned that Valentine’s Day is an important date in a woman’s calendar and one not to be missed. He plays along happily, he never disappoints, but the truth is that the greatest romantic moments in my life have never occurred on Valentine’s Day. This day of red roses, love hearts, and soft-centered chocolates has become a day of reflection and gratitude for me. I am both a woman in love and a woman who is loved. To be loved is one of life’s most precious gifts, and to be loved by the same man for thirty years is nothing short of miraculous. If Valentine’s Day is never anything more for me than a reminder that I am a most fortunate woman, then I will forever mark that day and cherish it.

Counting back my thirty Valentines would make a grand old tally of sentimental memorabilia, but the sum total of my romance, my own great love, is so much more than flowers, seductive dinners, and poetic words. More than the most generous of gifts, it is the sweet stolen looks, the unexpected praise, and the personal comfort that comes with familiarity. Romance—real, live, butterfly-making-spine-tingling-weak-at-the-knees-tear-blinking romance—happens when you least expect it.

And that is where Valentine’s Day can disappoint.

We know that this official day for romance is coming, just after Christmas and a little before Easter. We wait as the big stores exchange Christmas tinsel for red velvets, and then expect to be spoilt and surprised by our partners. Expectation is the enemy of surprise and has never been the friend of romance. Affairs of the heart and our fond memories of them are more often than not about the small intimacies and the revelations stumbled upon along the way. It is what we discover together and learn about each other that become the backbone of our romance and strengthen our bond of love.

Not every day can be Valentine’s Day, but how much more romantic the world would be—and how much happier we would feel—if we remembered more often to show the people we love that we are thinking of them. The simple gestures: to show affection, to be forgiving and gentle, to listen, to be generous with praise and to be passionate. These are the ways to revel in each other’s company and the way to celebrate love.

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  • Mary Beth Williams February 14, 2011 at 9:20 am

    This is a lovely lovely post, thank you– am sharing with two dear friends and my mother! Happy Valentine’s Day to you! I love all of your work and your blog!!