Valentine’s Day is coming up, and in case you aren’t feeling the love, I have some things (actually a lot of things) to share.
Last year, before the pandemic, I was at my grandmother Peggy’s 83rd birthday party at a long table in the back of our local Bonefish Grille. There were three of her friends, all retired and in their 70s, along with some members of my family. Two of the women didn’t have partners who could attend such a celebration and the other one is a caregiver for her husband who has Parkinson’s. I don’t think any of them thought their “golden years” would be quite like this. They were all dressed up to help celebrate my grandmother and brought gifts and laughter along with them. For all they have collectively been through, they are full of so much life and joy. They laugh way more than I do when I’m with my friends my age (I think we take ourselves a little too seriously). They all said many times how lucky my mom, grandmother, and I are to have each other in the same town. It isn’t a given that the people you love the most and the people who love you the most are all a 20-minute drive from your house.
Somehow in the course of the conversation, I said, “I really love Valentine’s Day.” I love every single cliche — Andrew Lanier, if you’re reading this, take action now — from flowers to chocolate, champagne, perfume, love letters, poetry, strawberries dipped in chocolate, jewelry, candlelit dinners... did I miss anything? Oh, lingerie, and before you worry I am about to drop a link to something saucy, I want to say I am not a fan of fancy panties. I prefer the full-coverage nude version. I am just practical like that — anyone else with me? But back to the discussion on Valentine’s Day.
What one of the women said in response cut right to my bone.
Linda, the beautiful and well-traveled woman who never married, responded to my declaration, “Of course you love it because you have someone to love… You have a Valentine… a sweetheart.” The word “sweetheart” hit me in the center of my chest because that’s what Andrew calls me. Not all the time, but enough for my mom to have noticed it years ago and for her to remind me how fortunate I am to have a husband who calls me that. It is so easy for us to overlook the person who is right beside us. As I sat there stuffing my face with Bang Bang Shrimp and listening to the conversation, I felt so insensitive for bringing up Valentine’s Day. For opening a wound that was pretty painful, even for beautiful and accomplished women. Maybe they didn’t care about Valentine’s Day itself, but they certainly would love to be called “sweetheart” or have a companion. To be someone’s “person” is a very lovely thing indeed.
If you have a Valentine, would you please just take a moment and be thankful for them? There are so many women who’d love to be in your shoes, who would be thrilled with a single red rose or a simple card saying they are beautiful or even a stuffed teddy bear that had no real purpose except to sit on a shelf, collect dust, and yet be a daily reminder that she is loved. Cared for. Remembered. Not forgotten.
Here is my challenge to everyone reading: What if you shared some love with someone who doesn’t have a Valentine this year, someone who might enjoy feeling seen and cared for? I will be fussing over my mom and grandmother, and might even run a little gift by their neighbors’ homes (safely, of course). What will take me $30 and an hour of my time will have a significant impact. So what if you also choose a woman or two whom you might be able to delight with a little thoughtfulness?
It doesn’t have to happen on Valentine’s Day, nor does it need to be anything expensive or fancy. In this situation, especially after so many months of social distancing and quarantining, the thought alone will count exponentially. Perhaps you could focus on your babysitter or an office intern who is on the heels of a painful breakup. Maybe your own mom, grandmother, aunt, sister, or neighbor could use a kind gesture. If someone comes to mind while reading this, I hope you’ll take action. Do something — worst case scenario: text, email, send a card today before you forget. If you don’t tell this person you care, she won’t know, and she might really need to know someone cares for her. Maybe you could run a few things by a nursing home if you can't think of anyone in your life. We are never too old to want to be loved!
Once you’ve paid it forward with some love, you might be asked by someone what you’d like to get or do for Valentine’s Day. If you’ve played it off like you don’t care but really want something special to happen, you need to ask for it. Ask for exactly what you want. Nobody can read minds, so let’s set up our lovers for success!
In my letter where I say exactly what I want to Andrew (see below), I reference that my love language is gifts — and those of us with this preference get such a bad rap. We are not materialistic, I promise. We demand something much harder than just “stuff.” We want gifts infused with meaning. Layers upon layers of meaning. The article linked above explains it pretty well if you’re puzzled by us gift lovers. I guarantee, when you read it, you’ll learn something if you have one of these people in your life or if you are one of them.
And while I am on this circuitous tangent, I want to share how this relates to CliftonStrengths. When I first found out one of my top three strengths is “individualization”, I was bummed because I thought it was bad. I’m unsure why I thought that since the entire purpose of CliftonStrengths is to find strengths, but nevertheless I did. When I read about individualization, however, I realized it is heavily tied to my love language of gifts. So this strength may shed a little light on someone who LOVES to also give gifts and make people feel super-special. This is part of why I love birthdays so dang much. Is there any better day to make sure someone knows you are glad they are born? I think not!
Alright, let’s get back on track. Here’s my letter to Andrew...
Dear Andrew, Thank you for being so willing to indulge my love (or obsession?) with holidays and my challenging “love language of gifts.” You know I love all the cliches, so no need to hold back ;-) Most of all, I’d love another one of those sweet notes you wrote me. FYI, I loved that note so much, I printed it out and put it on my computer monitor at the office. I have already returned to those words many times. People say I am a good writer, but you are a great writer. I know you like for me to tell you if I want a gift, and this year, I’d really love flowers (big surprise; I’ll send the link) and that love note. And I don’t think you have to tell me what you want this year :-) But if you were thinking you wanted to go the direction of jelly beans or conversation hearts instead, LMK. I love you and your big ‘ol sweet tooth.
A few of you have reached out for advice, mostly about career moves, and what I tell you has been generally the same. I am repeating advice my friend Vanessa told me: “Ask for exactly what you want.” From your personal love life to holidays to negotiations with your boss or a client, you have to be clear. It took me a long time to learn this because I thought it would be selfish or a prideful thing to do. In the same way it’s strategic to build self-care practices — and not selfish — it’s smart to communicate your desired outcome exactly as you’d like it. Please note, very few things in life or love are going to be 100% on target with that desired outcome, but the chances are MUCH higher if you communicate what that target looks like in the first place.
Example: “Honey, I want some flowers for Valentine’s Day.”
Uh-oh, this could mean so many things. Did you mean one red rose, a bouquet from a florist that is delivered at work, a subscription- or mail-based service that comes to your house, a paper flower that “never dies,” rose petals thrown all over places they might stain (don’t ask how I know), or a baby orchid/cactus/paperwhite from Trader Joe’s? You can see how this leaves the door wide open. If you truly would love any of those, then I say, bring on the surprise. But if you are like me and once got a houseplant, delivered by a florist, in a woven basket with a bow on the front like it was going to a funeral instead of the big flower arrangement you were expecting, then please be clear, for heaven’s sake. Now I know we all have a budget, but even within a budget, you can give direction. If you are lucky enough to have someone asking you what you’d love, please say exactly what you want.