Once upon a time, long ago, in high school, my boyfriend and I tried going out to eat for Valentine’s Day. He picked me up and brought me to a restaurant, where we didn’t have reservations. We really didn’t know any better. I remember the hostess being incredulous that we dared to show up on Valentine’s Day without reservations, and despite seating us right away, we felt looked down on all evening– too young to be taken seriously, too immature to be worth the server’s time on this apparently busy night. We left that dinner feeling shamed and embarrassed, and we learned quickly that going out to restaurants on that day wasn’t our ideal way to celebrate.
Now, a solid 15 years later, I’m married to that boyfriend, and how we celebrate Valentine’s Day has evolved as life has changed.
Once we decided to avoid restaurants on that date, we started a tradition of cooking a special meal at home: a delicious steak dinner with twice baked potatoes, steamed asparagus, and homemade hollandaise sauce. To up the ante, we’d eat in our rarely-used dining room instead of the kitchen, where we’d break out the wedding china and cloth napkins. Fancy, right?
But as we had kids and exhaustion settled heavily on us with each passing year, the dinners got a little simpler. First, we stopped the hollandaise sauce. Then the asparagus got replaced with frozen, microwavable broccoli. The twice-baked potatoes became baked potatoes, and then the baked potatoes became frozen, microwavable mashed potatoes (see a theme here?). Last year, I suggested we leave the china in the cabinet and just use our regular dinnerware so we wouldn’t have to wash it by hand. The dining room table, in what is now more or less a playroom, is completely covered with markers, Lego bricks, Play Doh, and other items, so we ate at our regular kitchen table with the daily clutter shoved to the side.
When each of our children were newborns, we used paper plates and plastic cutlery almost exclusively, to cut down on at least one chore. The goal was to not stress ourselves out over something that had an easy solution. That’s kind of what our current Valentine’s dinners remind me of now. They have become less about pushing ourselves to enjoy something fancy and more about just enjoying each other’s company. We put the kids to bed a little early and eat dinner a little later, but it’s quality time together, and it doesn’t need to be extravagant. It just needs to be us.
We stopped giving each other cards and gifts a long time ago (even before kids!). Sometimes there are flowers, sometimes there aren’t. Sometimes we put in a little extra effort to make a dessert, and sometimes I’m just double fisting M&Ms (like any other night). We put in more effort for other occasions, like our anniversary, and we do try to get out to a restaurant once a month for a date night. But Valentine’s Day has really become an annual exercise in taking a moment to slow down at home and intentionally be with each other, no stress involved. For me, that’s exactly how I want to celebrate.