The perfect man...on sale

Friday is my usual grocery day, so yesterday I took advantage of a one-day respite between snowstorms to stock up on provisions for the week. The grocery store parking lot was more crowded than usual, with enormous snow piles taking up a whole row of parking spaces. As I approached the store, a handful of college guys in sweatshirts and slouchy jeans poured out of a car and sauntered in ahead of me, making a bee-line for a colorful display of flowers, chocolates, and heart-shaped balloons. Obviously their girlfriends have trained them well.

A singing spot of color

In the produce section, an employee stood by a display of boxed strawberries and a chocolate fountain, a throng of women waiting in line to select the berries they’d dip. All over the store, lone men steered shopping carts laden with ingredients for a romantic meal, the pasta, salad, and garlic bread in their carts clearly indicating that Valentine’s Day is Dad’s turn to cook.

Icicles on a gray day

What I didn’t see at the grocery store yesterday were panicked people hoarding milk, eggs, and bread in advance of today’s snowstorm, as sometimes happens earlier in the season. This is the ninth snowstorm we’ve had this year: I know because we’ve kept a tally of “snow events” on our refrigerator, another mark added every time we get more than a broom-sweeping’s worth of snow. After eight snowstorms, we pretty much know the drill: we know to hunker down during the storm, dig out as soon as it stops, and return to usual the next day. After eight snowstorms, you might say that Mother Nature has us well-trained.

Stairway with Valentine's balloons

This morning I did the math and realized it’s been six months to the day since J and I got married in San Diego. When we picked August 14 as our wedding date, we didn’t realize it was Pakistani Independence Day (a fact one of J’s coworkers promptly pointed out to us), and we didn’t consciously calculate that our half-anniversary would fall on Valentine’s Day. August 14, 2010 was simply a Saturday that worked for us, and now that will be our anniversary date for better or worse, ’til death do us part.

Valentine's cakes and cookies

In the past six months, J and I have celebrated one Christmas, two birthdays, and now our first Valentine’s Day as a married couple, and I’m still surprised at the novelty of shopping for a “husband” greeting card for each of these occasions. When J and I were dating, I’d always gravitate toward cute or humorous cards rather than the stereotypically romantic (read: mushy) “hearts and flowers” ones…and I always tripped over the term “boyfriend” and even “fiance,” both of which sounded terribly age-inappropriate. My 20-something students have boyfriends and fiances, so it always felt odd to use the same term for my sweetheart that they’d use for theirs.

Now that J and I are married, I find myself chuckling whenever I peruse the greeting cards specifically geared toward “husbands.” The first time I was married, “wife” wasn’t a term I felt comfortable with. I didn’t feel like I fit the job description of a “wife,” whatever that was, so the term always felt like an ill-fitting coat: big, boxy, and bothersome. Now this second time around, I no longer feel like “wife” is a job I have to “do”: it’s simply one way of describing one aspect of who I am. Either I’ve grown into that previously ill-fitting coat, or I’ve realized that “wife,” like a scarf, is a garment that drapes itself to whatever shape you’d like: you can wear it this way or that, depending on your style or fancy.

Valentine's balloons

As much as I’ve settled into the role of “wife,” I’ve realized over these past six months that J was pretty much born to be a husband. J is one of those quintessential “nice guys” who simply likes being domesticated. Given the choice between going out and staying in, J will always choose the latter: even when we go to hockey games or other “man’s man” events, J’s the guy who’s quiet, sober, and respectful while the rowdies around us are swearing, spilling beer, and otherwise raising hell. J’s the kind of guy who thrives on predictability rather than spontaneity, so we’ve quickly settled into a “boring married routine” that fits like an old shoe: nothing snazzy or stylish, but something comfortably familiar.

And so the day before Valentine’s Day, the closest J and I came to celebrating was to rearrange our usual Sunday schedule so we could watch an afternoon Celtics game on TV, eating takeout sandwiches from the deli where we normally have brunch…and then promptly falling asleep in front of the TV, tired from having gotten up early so J could have a morning conference call with a colleague across the world. Last night, when J and I exchanged Valentine’s Day cards a day early, I had to chuckle at the unintentional appropriateness of the card I’d chosen, which showed a cartoon couple napping on a couch in front of a TV, the caption reading, “A kiss is just a kiss, and a sigh is just a sigh…but a loud snore means you’re happily married.”

True romance

Perhaps you’ve heard the old joke about what women really want from the men in their lives. What every woman secretly fantasizes about, the old joke claims, is to be with two men at the same time: one to cook, and one to clean. Finding a man who shares his feelings or puts down the toilet seat is merely icing on the (wedding?) cake.

What women want?

I’ve never been a huge fan of Valentine’s Day. Yes, it’s nice to take an annual opportunity to do something special for your loved one(s), but a day devoted to the commercial shilling of hearts, chocolate, and roses always seemed a bit tacky to me. When I lived in an all-women’s dorm during my senior year of college, I was dismayed by the sheer amount of misery one simple day could cause. Girls without boyfriends felt dejected, and girls with boyfriends felt a strange need to flaunt whatever their sweetie had gotten them, leading to a huge competition where Boyfriend A’s chocolates paled alongside Boyfriend B’s long-stemmed roses, which were outdone in turn by Boyfriend C’s diamond earrings. Otherwise demur girls turned downright vindictive, it seemed, knowing that the worth of their relationship would be judged (by a jury of their peers, of course) on the basis of what their boyfriend bought. Heaven help those creative and/or impoverished college guys who tried to get away with writing a poem, painting a picture, or singing a song to express their affection: those non-commercial gifts just couldn’t compete in the annual round of Whose Boyfriend Is the Best.

For my Valentine

Tonight, J and I have nothing special planned for Valentine’s Day. Thursday is my usual night for making the weekly drive from Keene to Newton for the weekend, so Reggie and I will arrive at J’s house later tonight just in time for dinner, just as we always do. Instead of eating out, we’ll eat in, Thursday being soup and salad night: something light and easy as we settle into the downside of another work week. When you have a man who cooks and cleans, there’s no need to go out for wining and dining: at this point, heaven sounds like another Thursday night on J’s couch watching Whatever’s On over a couple glasses of wine.

Early tonight, J emailed to ask when I’d be arriving for what he’s termed my “multi-staged” Valentine’s Day gift, adding that he’d told a female friend what he’d gotten me, and she responded, “While it isn’t your ‘traditional’ gift, it could be fun.” Right about now, a man who cooks, cleans, and dreams up nontraditional gifts sounds just right, those college games of Whose Boyfriend Is the Best notwithstanding.

The box on the left is my gift for J, which isn’t exactly a traditional Valentine’s Day gift, either, although it’s gaily masquerading as one. I’ll let you know what it is tomorrow, after J’s unwrapped it…