Ah, February! Advertisers have had a chance to catch their collective breath after the festive season, and once again they bombard us all with Things To Buy That Prove Your Love. At Christmastime the pressure is on to spring engagement rings on prospective spouses, but Valentine’s Day is the real show-stopper. Mr. or Ms. Dating-But-Not-Ready feels the squeeze with every jeweler’s commercial, chocolate-box advertisement, and greeting card push. Meanwhile, people who aren’t feeling the hearts-and-flowers love might find themselves eye-rolling so hard that there’s a danger of eyeballs popping out and skittering across floors all over the country. Heck, I’m with the love of my life and even I feel the eye-roll-strain right now, every time I turn on the TV.
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Whether we like it or not, February is the month of “Love: The Hard Sell.” Single? We don’t even want to know you! Dating? Buy an enormous engagement ring or else! Married? You’d better pick up chocolates and the biggest, sappiest card you can find, plus the gemstone jewelry of his or her dreams. Oh and by the way, if you don’t whisk your beloved away to a sunny private beach somewhere that costs $1,000.00 a night then your love is clearly a sham. We, the advertisers, have decreed it!
If I sound cynical, it’s because I am. Not about love; I think that love is super. What I don’t think is so great is using love as an income-generator.
Lately I’ve been seeing a commercial for a Tiffany ring the size of my fist (slight exaggeration). I’ve just looked it up online. The ring – a square-cut diamond on a plain band – costs just shy of $68,000.00. That is not a typo. Okay so if you’re a total cheapskate and only want to go for the one-carat version, it can be yours for a pittance at just under $15,000.00. But how will your sweetheart know that you really love her if you don’t choose the ring from the commercial, which of course is the biggest rock they offer? Because it’s not just the well-known blue Tiffany box with the white ribbon that matters, you know. That ring had better be able to bring down the International Space Station when the sun shines on it just right. If it doesn’t, you are obviously a hard-hearted cur without any concept of true love!
What, is that not the message they’re going for? Huh. It’s the one I get, from that ad. Maybe I’m not their target audience. In fact, I am certain that I’m not.
Note 1: For the record, I like chocolate and jewelry as much as anyone else, but don’t push me, Ad Man. I like these things on my own terms, thanks.
Note 2: For most of my adult life I was single and thus worthless, according to the Ad Man. For about 351 days a year I was perfectly happy being single, but jeez, that first half of February sure was an emotional downer. Thanks for that, advertisers!
So what is true love, and how is it shown? It’s different for everyone, I’m sure. My husband proposed to me within two hours of meeting ‘in real life’ for the first time, on bended knee and without a ring. Did I send him packing? Oh hell no. I accepted with joy because what he was offering to me was his heart, love, loyalty and himself. Is there any better gift? We went ring-shopping a while later and I do have a beautiful ring which I treasure, but it wasn’t the ring that proved Sem’s love for me. It was in every word he spoke, each glance and touch and gesture. It was in the plans we’d made and the hopes we’d dreamed on, and most of all it was in the unshakeable certainty we felt so deeply about each other.
When we were still living an ocean apart we wrote each other long letters which occasionally included that type of particularly passionate prose that someone on the outside looking in might blanch at, saying, “Oh gross, no one really feels love THAT intensely.” But we lived and breathed those declarations of love, and maybe felt them all the more deeply because of the enormous distance between us. I still have our emails, and I cherish them.
When we still relied on the postal services to deliver our presents, my Sem sent some beautiful things to me: a hand-crafted aquamarine bracelet and a gold heart locket, among other pieces. But he also sent me a toy pirate set (plastic cutlass, hook, eye-patch…) and a remote-controlled toy Smart Car, both gifts prompted by private jokes between us at the time. I was delighted with the gifts he sent, of whatever value. I sent him poetry recordings I’d found, read by the poets themselves in the long ago, and books I knew he would treasure. And I once sent him colorful pebbles from a beach I’d road-tripped to, just to give him something that I’d held in my hands so that he could somehow share the day with me (albeit on a time delay). For both of us as recipients it was always the thought that lay behind the gift that was the most treasured aspect, not the amount spent.
Sem still sometimes presents me with unexpected gifts and it always floors me. Partly because before Sem, I’d been in a long relationship in which the gift-giving had been almost completely one-sided (oh to have those thousands of dollars I spent back in my own bank account!). But also because it touches my heart that when Sem notices something online that he thinks I’d like, he just buys it then and there rather than waiting for a certain day on the calendar. It also often leaves me at a loss, because Sem is hard to buy for, meaning that I am – if he tallied these things, which thankfully he does not – always at a deficit, in the gift-giving stakes. I try to make up for it in other ways by smoothing his often-difficult path through life, and doing whatever I can to make things better, nicer and easier for him whenever possible. It’s not the same as giving a gift, but I hope it counts for something. Knowing him as I do, I’m certain that it does.
Illness has taken its toll on romance but our love continues to deepen and grow. The good thing is that neither of us yearns for romance in the hearts-and-flowers sense. In fact, I think Sem knows that if he were to scatter rose petals throughout the apartment I would likely think “oh great, now I’m going to have to pick all those up, thanks,” rather than become dewy-eyed with swooning love. And this week when we were in the store walking past the large pink and red display of Valentine’s Day cards I said to him, “My Valentine’s gift to you is that you don’t have to get me a card.” He laughed and said his gift to me would be the same. I don’t think we’ve ever given each other anniversary cards, either (generally we forget the date – oops!). We’re more likely to scribble love notes on a notepad or chalkboard, any day of the year. I love that so much.
Too often there’s a smugness that is attached to the giant engagement ring, or the look-at-our-perfect-life stage-set of rose petals, candles, champagne and jewelry boxes that get posted on social media (or advertised on TV). I’m sure there’s absolutely nothing wrong with those things, if that’s what brings a couple happiness. It’s when lavish expenditure is held up as the standard for “real love” that I get annoyed, especially because the hard sell seems to be designed to guilt people into capitulating just to prove something. For me the proof is in the daily acts of love, gestures or tokens both big and small. It’s the fact that Sem will stop what he’s doing and make me a cup of coffee if I’ve slept in later than he has on a Sunday morning, or that I’ll divvy up his handfuls of meds ahead of time so that he doesn’t have to go through the endless boxes every day, himself. It’s Sem reading aloud to me from ‘The Lord of the Rings’, a gift of effort and time, or that when I’m out I’ll make sure to bring back a newspaper and a croissant for him. It’s knowing what will make the other happy, and both of us trying to do these things often.
None of it makes me feel smug about us or how we love each other, and I hope it does not come across that way. It makes me feel grateful and loved in a way I never thought I would experience. I’m constantly astonished by it. The best, the absolute greatest thing that Sem can (and does) say to me is that he has never known anything like this, either, and that his is a life transformed, because we found each other. It’s the same for me. We have our struggles and sometimes we get very angry with each other, like any couple can. But no matter what has happened during each day, every night we say to each other, “Thank you for today,” and we mean it.
Tiffany & Co. can keep their $68,000.00 ring, Godiva can keep their chocolates, and Hallmark can keep their cards. I’ll be over here, not putting price tags on love or feeling like we somehow fall short if we don’t, no matter what the Ad Man says. Because we are all worthy of love, and we don’t need to spend money to prove it.