Valentine’s Day is hands-down my favorite holiday. I generally get a lot of side-eyed looks and snarky comments about it being an overly commercialized holiday, marketed to take advantage of consumers’ pocketbooks, whenever I make that admittance, but I don’t care, I still love it. Gifts are my love language. I love to give gifts even more than I love to receive gifts, so a holiday entirely dedicated to reminding the people around you that they are appreciated is my ideal.
As much as I love Valentine’s Day, I don’t really consider it a romantic holiday, and Corey doesn’t make romantic gestures or grandiose overtures on Feb. 14, preferring to sporadically surprise me with small treats and trinkets throughout the year.
Big gestures are often not nearly as important to solidifying relationships as the small ones, and I would wager that most people count items that have very little monetary value among their most treasured possessions. I can personally attest that I am just as delighted with the Kit Kats Corey pulls out of his jacket pockets as I am with the more expensive items (generally electronics, because he is the epitome of a tech nerd) that he hides behind his back, to take me unaware.
In fact, the most treasured gift I ever received from my partner cost him little more than $20 and a few hours of his time. Around four years ago, he meandered through our door with a ToughBook–a heavy duty, briefcase-like laptop that is the most aesthetically unappealing electronic known to man. It definitely wouldn’t generate very many social media likes, but it does beget quite a few laughs when I pull it out in front of other people.
I walked in on him hunched over a table scattered with tiny tools and spare parts, and automatically channeled my inner fish-wife to rhetorically question his decision to bring another computer into our home. We have a hard rule in the O’Dell house that Corey isn’t allowed to bring home any kind of electronic without getting rid of one first. And by hard rule, I mean that he completely disregards me and continues to fill our house with used computer towers and various discarded electronics because they are, “still useful, and he can use them for parts.” I tend to mutter the word “hoarder” when he makes his case for why they should stay.
“They were getting rid of a bunch of stuff at one of the job sites I was on this afternoon and I got this for $20,” Corey enthusiastically reported.
“Why! Why would you buy another computer,” I responded in what could only be described as an unflattering whine.
“For you. I am going to fix it, and install a new operating system. I saw it and thought it would be perfect for you to write on. Check it out, it’s really durable and you'll be able to carry it around without worrying about breaking it,” he replied with a sheepish laugh. (I may have a habit of breaking electronics that hurts my husband’s heart and irritates him to no end.)
His response elicited a rare moment in our relationship in which I didn't make a quick comeback and instead just stood there in stunned silence. From that moment on, my $20 ToughBook became one of my most prized possessions for reasons that have very little to do with the object itself. Like most treasured items, it is the sentiment that is meaningful and the physical gift merely a tangent reminder.
Only a few months prior to the ToughBook, the two of us had sat at the counter of Park-N-Eat on a rare afternoon out without the little minions, who were both still in diapers at that time. Our burgers grew cold as our conversation became ever-more heated; the date had taken a disastrous turn after I confessed to him that I had decided to start taking my writing more seriously. I can’t recall much of the actual conversation other than it ended along the lines of him making a comment about writers having a legacy of ending up drunken and impoverished, and me, in full blown caricature of my defiant stubbornness, retorting that I would use my first paycheck to buy him a burger. (Which was a pretty bold statement at that time, long before I had a single word published. And it’s also the reason why the fact that a framed article with my byline on it now hangs within view of our seats that night delights me to no end. And him too.) We both left angry and hurt by each other in ways that I imagine we will continue to unravel throughout our marriage.
Yet, now that I have years of clarity between myself and that date, I wouldn’t change it. It’s funny how we have this habit of glorifying the good moments when it is often the bad ones that bring us the most growth and strength. Had I not felt the heartbreak of having my partner not believe in me, I also wouldn’t have experienced the beauty in him building me a laptop to pursue my writing, in witnessing him supporting me even when he didn’t yet believe in me.
In that moment of stunned silence, I was overwhelmed with this aspect of the nature of love–the ability to love someone through your own doubts, anger and hurt. With a $20 purchase he was able to convey a life lesson that I am eternally grateful for and every time I look at my ToughBook it takes me back to that moment.
In fact, that time-alluding element is why I am a fan of Valentine’s Day–because given thoughtfully, gifts have an alchemistic property that allows them to act as portals, continuously bringing the intentions of their giver into the present moment. Gifts are not materialistic, but invaluable tokens of connection that are often needed by the people we care about in ways that we will likely never fully understand.
So, while it may be a materialistic, consumer-driven holiday to some, I for one am grateful for Valentine’s Day’s reminder to take time to appreciate the people around me. And while I agree, that the ideal would be to do that throughout the year, we tend to get so mired in our daily routines that we neglect to make time to let other people know we care. But that is a disservice to the people we love because life is hard and unpredictable and we shouldn’t underestimate the power a simple gift can wield.