Valentine’s Day is this week and my inbox and social media feeds are inundated with all things love-related. It reminds me that I’m not a huge fan of Valentine’s Day—on principle. One day a year, roses, chocolates and dinner are all ridiculously over-priced to make a declaration or expression that I believe should be a commonplace thing among good relationships.
I’m the first to admit I’m a hopeless romantic. Like many women my age, I was raised on a healthy diet of fairy tales, princesses and true love’s kiss.
Unfortunately, none of those hopelessly romantic notions were any help to me when my first marriage crumbled. I was woefully unprepared for fairy tales that didn’t end with “Happily Ever After.”
Now, with a few more years of life experience under my belt and 18 years into a great marriage, I’m still a romantic, but maybe hopeless isn’t the right word to use. Instead, I’m more like a realistic romantic. If it’s not a thing yet, then I’m making it a thing here.
And, this realistic romantic is exceedingly practical too, which is why the Valentine’s marketing machine makes my blood boil.
I suspect if you asked the long-married people in your life what the secret is to their successful marriage, romantic notions wouldn’t be among the top items they list. You’d probably hear things like sacrifice, selflessness, putting the other first, compassion, empathy, patience, good communication… and yes, romance too, but it’s probably not the top thing.
It’s very likely those long-married people in your life are realistic romantics too. They know all the features of a good romance, but recognize that life, as we live it, is definitely not a Hallmark movie.
There’s a reason wedding vows cover the gamut… rich and poor, better and worse, sick and healthy, love and cherish. If life and marriage were easy things to navigate, there probably wouldn’t be a need for these specific pairings.
While my second marriage has been a cloud of marshmallow happy fluff compared to my first, it certainly hasn’t been without its challenges. We’ve had some hard years (teenagers and toddlers in the house at the same time!),and haven’t always seen eye-to-eye (is there such a thing as too much soccer?).
But there’s a general willingness to listen, to sacrifice, to serve the other and to admit we’re wrong when we’re wrong. (Which—believe it or not—is VERY difficult for two people of German ancestry!)
The past six months have been among the least AND the most romantic of our marriage. When I embarked on cancer treatment in September, neither of us knew what it would look like, but we certainly had all the worst-case scenarios covered in our minds.
And though the worst-case scenario hasn’t materialized, there have definitely been impacts to me and, subsequently, to our marriage. To say I haven’t been myself lately is a bit of an understatement.
The chemo, the nausea, the headaches, the hair loss, the weight gain, the lethargy, the chemo-induced menopause, the long-term drugs, the allergic reactions, the painful eczema, and general skin-crawling sensation have basically made me feel like the most unlovable person in a hundred mile radius.
But can I tell you something? Throughout all of this and in spite of my general level of perpetually crabby, I have been loved steadily by my husband, who knows who I am even when I’m unrecognizable.
He has held my hand and matched me step for step during these past six months, never once wavering or complaining that this journey was not what he signed up for when we married 18 years ago. That, my friends, is realistic romance.
The very image of love
As cliché as it may have been, we purposefully chose the “Love verses” from 1 Corinthians as our wedding passage, because this pair of realistic romantics already knew that love is so much more than a quickening heartbeat, the warm-all-over feeling of his hand holding yours, candlelit dinners and long walks on the beach.
~1 Corinthians 13:1-8
“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.
If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient.
Love is kind.
It does not envy.
It does not boast.
It is not proud.
It is not rude.
It is not self-seeking.
It is not easily angered.
It keeps no record of wrongs.
Love does not rejoice in evil but rejoices with the truth.
It always protects.
Love never fails.”
This is the very picture of love.
When you hold this passage up like a mirror, what is the reflection you see there? Are these the characteristics that you bring to your relationships—not just with your partner, but with your kids, your family members, your close friends?
Like any good thing in life, what we get out of our relationships is usually directly correlated to what we put into them. So, this Valentine’s Day, I encourage you to try on these Love characteristics with the people in your life.
But also, hear me out: Because I am not even close to a marriage expert (unless the number of marriages you have had counts—then maybe I have a bit of an edge?) I’m not suggesting that you throw all romantic gestures out the window this Valentine’s Day. Instead, perhaps consider how you can love your people as a reflection of the love Christ established for us in these verses—unconditionally, sacrificially. Realistically. (And on budget!)
And also this: make every day Valentine’s Day!
*If you’re interested to do some further reading on Realistic Romance (I told you I was making it a thing!), I came across a blog post by author Ann Voskamp several years ago that moved me deeply. I couldn’t find the post anywhere in the archives on her website, but I did find a repost of it online here.
In her post, The Real Truth About “Boring” Men—and the Women Who Live With Them, she writes,
“Romance isn’t measured by how viral your proposal goes. The Internet age may try to sell you something different, but don’t ever forget that viral is closely associated with sickness – so don’t ever make being viral your goal. Because get this, kids — how a man proposes isn’t what makes him romantic. It’s how a man purposes to lay down his life that makes him romantic.”
Seriously, it’s one of the best pieces on marriage I have ever read. It should be required reading for every young couple even thinking about tying the knot!
As always, I’m so grateful to you for taking time out of your day to read these musings. The truth is, I appreciate you more than you know. I cherish your patience, your comments and your feedback, and because I am my own worst critic, I am grateful for your encouragement along the way.
If you want to receive my posts directly to your inbox, I’d love it if you’d subscribe. There’s a box in the sidebar where you can input your info. Based on my previous track record, I don’t promise that my posts will be consistent, or inconsistent but, at the very least, I hope you’ll find encouragement here.
Thanks for stopping by,
*The beautiful image accompanying this post is by Debby Hudson on Unsplash.com