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Prince kiss-a-lot

Romance Is Relative

Forgo the obligatory chocolate and roses and find your own way to say “Be Mine” By Kathryn Geurin

It’s that time of year again. The last of Christmas was clearanced out in time to pack the shelves pink and red with bonbons, roses, and armies of Prince Kiss-a-Lot, the singing valentine frog. Adulthood has found me in the ranks of folks who are disgruntled by the commercialism of this international day of love. No obligatory giant heart balloon or glittered Hallmark sentiment can substitute for spontaneous and genuine thoughtfulness the rest of the year. But the truth is, I’m not entirely anti-Valentine’s Day. Growing up, my anti-greeting-card father would craft construction-paper cards for my mother and I and prop them on the kitchen table Valentine’s Day morning. While I balk at sappy drugstore cards, I have years’ worth of hand-drawn valentines from my husband tucked away in my desk. And to confess fully, I was so excited about my kindergarten Valentine’s Day—the dozens of cards that I’d carefully created for my classmates, and the dozens that I hoped to find slipped in my cardboard mailbox trimmed in doilies—that I threw up and had to stay home.

When you think about it, a centuries-old and international holiday celebrating the joy of love really isn’t such a bad thing. So why does the prospect of celebrating send so many grumbling?

In Japan, women give gifts to men on Feb. 14. On March 14, the men (hopefully) reciprocate on “White Day.” Chocolate is the traditional Valentine’s gift, but there is a significant nuance to this sweet exchange. One type of chocolate, called giri-choco, is purchased for friends, bosses and colleagues. Not receiving any chocolates can be considered embarrassing, so ladies make sure they buy giri-choco for every man they can think of. Literally translated, giri-choco means “chocolate of obligation.”

When it comes to chocolates for boyfriends, lovers or husbands, on the other hand, many Japanese girls think that it is not true love if they pick up chocolates at the store. Instead, they take the time to make honmei-choco, or sweetheart chocolate, by hand.

Who would protest a sweet confection, tenderly prepared to signify the singular treasure of a loving relationship? Yet it seems our culture has been consumed, as it so often is, with keeping up with the Joneses, with the expectation of roses or jewels or plush bears clutching pink hearts to prove and measure love—with valentines of obligation.

So, this year, try to cast aside the grumbles of commercialism and greed and obligatory gifting, and embrace Valentine’s Day as a chance to appreciate the uniqueness of your love. Love can’t be measured in things, of course, but a truly thoughtful gesture can be a reminder that you understand someone, that you listen, and that you love.

It might be as simple as forgoing the drug-store card for a handcrafted one. Return to childhood with scissors and stickers and crayons, or turn a favorite picture into a love note. Or hunt for a more creative store-bought card at unconventional places like book or art-supply stores. One of my favorite Valentine’s Day greetings, snapped up at Arlene’s Artist Materials, was not a valentine at all, but a simple blank card with a Herman Hesse quote emblazoned on the front: “If I know what love is, it is because of you.”

If jewelry tickles her fancy, skip the department stores and opt for a one-of-a-kind bangle from artisan shops like Elissa Halloran Designs, River Rocks or the Paper Sparrow. On one of the sweetest shopping trips I have ever witnessed, a male friend of mine spent nearly an hour at Elissa’s Lark Street jewelry counter, comparing dozens of necklaces in search of the one that was distinctly “her.” As he hunted, he reflected on her boldness, her femininity, her eyes, her skin, her favorite colors, the dress he couldn’t resist her in. His final selection embodied his appreciation and awareness of her with careful clarity and that kind of thoughtfulness is a gift in itself.

If you’re planning on presenting an armful of flowers, reconsider roses and opt for something more personal. Find out from her friends what blossoms make her heart melt. If you love the sweet scent of her freesia perfume, bring her a bundle of the real blooms. Did she mention once that her grandmother loved violets? Tuck a love note among dark leaves and purple petals. Did she carry daisies down the aisle 40 years ago? Surprise her with a bundle of fresh white flowers fit for your forever bride. Hunt through antique stores, dig up a vintage valentine, the same toy car he had as a child, a tiny brass bird, an antique chocolate tin to fill with fresh candies—a treasure that ties your love across the ages.

Risk trying something outside your comfort zone to show you’re willing to keep an open mind as well as an open heart. Maybe you’re not a food adventurer and he has been nagging you to try Sushi or Indian cuisine. Give it a shot; you might even like it. Pick up a new book by her favorite author, poet or artist, or a biography of an intriguing artist or politician. Read it yourself beforehand and surprise her with a thoughtful dinner discussion. Take her to the theater. Take him to see a concert by that band you’ve never loved.

Even the utilitarian can lend itself to romance. Load up a new flash drive for the workaholic with a few favorite memories, vacation pictures, a favorite song, a scanned love note penned on loose-leaf. The romantic touch, discovered at an unexpected moment, will leave plenty of room for uploading paperwork. Or, if you’re ready for your love to move to the next stage, have a copy of your apartment key cut and slip it in your medicine cabinet beside her favorite lotion and face wash, his aftershave and shampoo.

Celebrating love need not be an unfortunate obligation. It can be a chance to count your blessings and remember what you love about your partner and your partnership. If you make your celebration personal and distinct to your own brand of love, the knowledge that you listened, remembered a moment or tried something new will linger longer than any flowers.


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