WARNING: You should read this only if you're absolutely sure you have nothing better to do. This is my belated Valentine's Day philosophical gift to you. The warning.
It’s nice to have survived another Valentine’s Day. And I wanted to take a moment to reflect on my history with this holiday.
Let me first ask something. Ladies, have you ever been given a Valentine’s gift that was poorly thought out, inappropriate, or in any way disappointing?
Guys: Have you ever given such a gift?
I’ve had my share of Valentine disasters. And we philosophers like to find wisdom in catastrophe. I woke up recently reflecting on it all. I’ve had plenty of time to think during my lengthy house arrest since the day in question. You’d think I’d know better after 42 Valentine’s Days with the same person.
There’s nothing scary about Halloween. It’s Valentine’s Day that’s scary. You see all the men in our local grocery store the day before in utter panic trying to pick out the right card or bunch of flowers. They’ve got their Game Faces on, but you can almost smell the fear.
My wife likes to tell her friends that she knows when it’s early February each year because right after the groundhog does his thing, I start walking around the house saying what a made up holiday Valentine’s Day is, and how it’s just a crass money grab. And how, you know, I like to show my love and affection every day, not just one day of the year. I’ve got all the standard guy stuff well rehearsed.
I mean, I got my daughter and granddaughter two-dozen roses this year and it was like, Ok there goes the college fund. They should draw Cupid’s arrow going right through your Master Card.
But when my wife and I were first dating I hatched a plan. I’d get her presents for Valentine’s Day whose price doesn’t double or triple for the occasion. But I’d have a really romantic heart-red theme—the color red—and that’s the primary Valentine color. So I’d always get her something red. I'd be golden.
Early in our marriage, she was driving a Volkswagen beetle, and I had seen a couple of those cars on the side of the road with engine fires, smoke coming out of the hoods. So I thought, wow, I can show love for my wife in a deep way with a very special red present. So I got her the extremely loving gift of a … red fire extinguisher. Well, that put out the fire in a way I had not actually anticipated.
So, Ok, it’s a gift you hope you never have to use, like a defibrillator. Maybe that was the problem. So the next year I got her something more hopefully useful, a red Swiss army knife. It was a nice knife. But I was the one who ended up sleeping in a tent and whittling. I’m just kidding. She was simply puzzled.
And I’m not the worst at this—not by a long shot. A banker in town told me that, I think it was for his first Valentine’s Day with his wife, he went to a top department store in town and got her, in his words, “The very best frying pan they had—top of the line” and when he presented it, she started crying. He said it took him a while to realize they weren’t tears of joy.
One of my other good friends just told me that he had realized he’d better explain his first Valentine’s Gift to his wife. So these were his words: “But we’ve really NEEDED a vacuum cleaner.” I’m not making this up.
In case you’re wondering what I got my wife this year, I once again thought I had something unique: Red Hummus and a red and white kitchen spatula. Yeah. I know. But now I get away with stuff like this, because she looks forward to being able to tell her friends, who are suitably horrified. In some strange, transformational alchemy, the worst my gifts are, the better the story is, and that ends up being the gift. But we do have to wash it down with some really good French champagne. I’ve at least learned SOMETHING.
I ended up this year actually looking good compared to one friend, a CPA at our church, God bless him, who’s maybe even more frugal than I am. You want him managing your money but probably not giving you a gift. He waits until there’s a sale at the Dollar Store.
At church Sunday, my wife asked him whether he had risen to the occasion for the special day. Did he get his wife something nice? His first words were “Well there’s this tray she has for serving me breakfast in bed.” And I knew this was going nowhere good. He said, “One of the legs on the tray had broken. So I got her a new tray.”
Many of us should feel lucky to still be walking and talking—and in a relationship that actually survives such choices. And I think there’s a philosophical lesson or two here for the taking, buried within my well-intended failures and the missteps of nearly my entire gender. But maybe I should leave it to you to draw your own conclusions.