This special day is supposed to be romantic, sexy and fun. That’s right, it comes with a whole set of expectations – here are some suggestions of how to make those expectations work for you and not against you.
I feel the pressure of Valentine’s Day. The occasion comes with a whole set of expectations. If you’re in a relationship it looks something like: buy a card, maybe a gift too; go on a date. If you’re a guy, you also buy flowers. But are these the right flowers? Is it a big enough bunch to convey the abundance and glory of my love? Is this the right card? The right caption? Does the restaurant have the right ambiance? Is the food sexy enough? Is food sexy? Am I spending an amount of money that says ‘I love you’…I should probably spend more…
But there’s also a less known, less visible expectations around Valentine’s Day (and Christmas and Thanksgiving too) lurking below the surface like dangerous rocks waiting to scupper us: how we’re supposed to feel. Seen, desirable, desiring, romantic, complete, surrendering, chivalrous, lustful, thoughtful, sexy, generous, available, and ultimately complete and satisfied in each other and our perfect relationship. The night is expected to end in sex – after all, it’s the most romantic day of the year.
These expectations, if they’re not met, can leave us feeling like the day/we/I was a failure.
But hang on a moment. These expectations were created for us, as a foregone conclusion of prefabricated activities and gestures that we aren’t really choosing.
So between the logistics, preparation and the expectations of the day itself, the stakes are really high. And you might have noticed this about life, that where there are high stakes, there are often feelings of stress and anxiety. And stress and anxiety often aren’t sexy and romantic looks. They can be expressed in anger, resentment, retreat, posturing, hyper-excitement. And none of these provide the groundwork for a connected, romantic experience.
I’m glad there’s a day where we’re encouraged to focus on expressing love and nurturing our important relationships (they thrive on attention). I can easily get caught up in the Valentine’s Day to-do list whilst losing sight of what it’s really about. The cards and gifts and flowers and events are symbols and substitutes of our attention for each other, our care, our emotions. All of these can be thoughtful, and touching and meaningful. But they aren’t our actual attention, our actual care or our actual feelings – although they provide opportunities for connection, the cards and gifts and flowers are not the thing in themselves. And to get corny and #dadjoke on you for a moment, what if we gave our presence instead of, or as well as, our presents?
And if I’m present to myself, and to you, we will probably find ourselves more deeply connected. By present, most of all I mean curious about your experience and available to really listen to your response and still be curious.
We might even ask each other how we truly feel about Valentine’s Day. You might notice I’m a bit stressed and ask me about it, and I’d tell you that it took me 20 minutes to choose between two bunches of flowers because I was worried about getting the ‘wrong’ ones. I can do without that stress, I say.
You look away, and I know that means you’re upset. I feel my anxiety coming on, and when I get anxious, I get defensive. I’m about to say ‘what’s the big deal?’ in that judgmental tone I do so well. But I remember to stay curious and ask you gently ‘what’s up?’
You explain that when I said I could do without the stress, you think I’m saying the relationship and therefore you are not worth it to me. Now I’m glad I asked you, and I relax a bit because I know how much I want to be in this relationship with you, and I know how to quickly reassure you.
And so a moment later we’re smiling at the irony of how stressful on a relationship a day focused on romance can be. If we keep going with our curiosity and presence, we might even conjure all those hoped-for juicy Valentine’s Day feelings.
So, reader, this is my offer to you, and to myself: let’s introduce more choice into this Valentine’s Day situation that’s so loaded with expectations; let’s be and stay curious about my experience and yours; let’s let go of our foregone conclusion about how the day should go, how it should feel, and how it should end; let’s use our expectations of Valentine’s Day as a way to connect with each other.
How do we do this? If you’re in a couple at any stage of a relationship from dating to years in, here are eight suggested questions and prompts to explore with each other:
1. Do we even want to celebrate Valentine’s Day this year? Really. You might not even want to and that’s ok
2. Share with each other what you feel when you think about Valentine’s Day. Excited? Nervous? Pressured?
3. What about Valentine’s Day is causing that emotion from #2? Maybe you feel excited because you love this special opportunity to express your feelings. Or you feel nervous because this relationship is new and this is your first Valentine’s Day and it feels like a big deal
4. Go deeper (I dare you!). For instance, what about expressing your feelings towards your partner is exciting for you? What about this first Valentine’s Day together feels like a big deal to you?
5. How do you want to feel on Valentine’s Day? Worshiped? Sexy? Daring? Chill? Extravagant?
6. How can your preferred experience from #5 be achieved? Have a no-bad-ideas brainstorming session and see what activities deliver the experience you both want and can agree on – Dinner? Netflix? Burlesque show? Volunteering at the Shelter? Or is something out of the box like going paintballing or hot air ballooning because maybe a card and dinner won’t whip up the exhilaration you’re wanting. What experiences can you agree on to create for one another?
7. If you choose to celebrate Valentine’s Day, share how it’s going in real-time as you move through the experience. Don’t get locked into the expectations (either your own expectations or society’s) of your choice. After all, Valentine’s Day is really about connecting in the moment. Don’t leave it to the cards and gifts and gestures to do all the work, really share what’s happening for you right now.
8. Have a no-fail agreement. Even if the restaurant is too noisy, rather than categorize the experience as a fail, connect over it; if the gift you received isn’t something you love, get curious with each other about your experiences and expectations of buying it and receiving it
Have you read the original anthology that was the catalyst for The Good Men Project? Buy here: The Good Men Project: Real Stories from the Front Lines of Modern Manhood
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