Ahh, love is in the air. Or at least, for so many women, it had better be come Feb. 14. Let's face it — Valentine's Day strikes fear into the hearts of guys everywhere because it's so often about "getting it right" for us gals. Or else!
The origins of St. Valentine's Day are shrouded in legend. My favorite is that Valentine was a third-century Roman priest. Supposedly, Emperor Claudius II outlawed marriage for young men, wanting them to focus on being valiant soldiers instead. The ultimate romantic, Valentine continued to perform marriages in secret. Talk about being willing to die for love. He did — the story goes that Claudius had him executed.
But whatever the outsized legends behind it, little compares with the oversized expectations for romance that Valentine's Day produces in modern times.
According to the National Greeting Card Association, some 1 billion Valentine's cards will be bought again this year. About 85 percent of them will be bought by — you guessed it — gals. I know, I know, women buy most greeting cards. But for a couple's holiday, this seems particularly lopsided.
Anyway, I admit it. I am a Valentine's Day rebel. It seems so contrived. And more than a little shallow.
I myself will actually be separated from my own dear beau on Feb. 14 because of my travel schedule. I confess I'm actually rather relieved. Maybe it's because for me the show of romance, especially when it's a "must perform," can seem so vapid. Come on. Producing cards and flowers and candy on an appointed day is pretty easy.
What about where Cupid meets the ultimate road test of love? Today there's so much fanfare surrounding "romantic love," and so little regarding the ultimate declaration of true love in the commitment of marriage. I suppose it's no accident that modern couples often go to increasing extremes to put on elaborate weddings. Often, it seems, without putting anywhere near that same amount of effort into their marriage itself. Call me a cynic, but I wouldn't be surprised if there were a significant correlation between the amount of hoopla that surrounds the nuptials and the couple's likelihood of divorce.
I'm a little more like a dear friend of mine. Married 20 years with several children, she says her husband has probably told her no more than 20 times during all that time that he loves her. They don't even notice Valentine's Day. She doesn't care. He works hard to provide for his family, and is actively engaged in their couple and family life. As she put it: "He shows me every day that he loves me by being committed to this family and me."
She recently told him that she felt she hit the lottery when she married him. He loved it.
Forget Valentine's Day. That's romance.
But in general our culture will praise the boyfriend who goes to extreme measures for the "perfect" Valentine's Day celebration more than it will praise the long-term faithful and engaged husband and dad.
We've twisted priorities.
Look, if people want to make a big show of things on Feb. 14, be my guest. For some women and, yes, a few guys, that's significant to them. I just think we'd be wise to focus most on the big picture.
Sure, I love being courted. But my own definition of romance in a relationship is to know, over time, that there is a growing connection between us and a deep and abiding care for each other as we consider marriage. In marriage, it would be to know that we are committed for life.
That's true love.
I know, I know: We're only talking one day here. Why not just go with the cupids and the chocolate, and lighten up. Maybe I am a rebel without a cause. It's just that for me, I don't engage in Valentine's Day frenzy because when it comes to romance, I value substance over style.
Betsy Hart is the author of "It Takes a Parent: How the Culture of Pushover Parenting is Hurting our Kids — And What to do About It," Putnam Books.