When I was a child, Valentine’s Day meant school parties and special family dinners that featured heart-shaped gelatin molds and my very own box of chocolates. When I hit the awkward teen-age years, the holiday was mostly a painful reminder of the boyfriend I didn’t have. Then I found true love, and for the past forty-something years, Valentine’s Day was celebrated with flowers, chocolates and dinner at a nice restaurant, all of which I enjoyed very much.
But tastes change as we age, and in recent years both my husband and I began to tire of the crowds at the restaurants on February 14. While the roses he brought me were beautiful, we couldn’t help feeling a bit scammed by the fact that their prices doubled (or even tripled) around Valentine’s Day. And I have definitely reached the age where eating a huge box of chocolates is not a good idea, either in terms of health or being able to fit into my pants.
So this year, my husband and I decided to celebrate Valentine’s Day by babysitting our grandson so our daughter and son-in-law could enjoy an evening out. Like all parents with full-time jobs and young children, they could use more “couple time” and we love nothing more than being with our grandson. Which why I spent this year’s Valentine’s evening snuggling with a two-year old while reading him bedtime stories. And loving every minute of it.
I’ve come to believe that one of the secrets to living a happy life is the ability to let go of traditions, expectations, and even relationships that no longer work. When our traditions stop giving us joy, it’s time to find new ones. When familiar thought-patterns keep us nursing old grudges and reinforce negative self-images, it’s time to look for new perspectives. And when people we were once close to make it clear that they are no longer interested in spending time with us or including us in their gatherings, then it’s time to accept that and focus our time and energy on those who do value our company.
It’s not a matter of turning our back on the past and all of the happy memories we have. It simply means that we understand that all of us change, and that the things that once worked for us may not be such a good fit anymore. More importantly, it means that we’re recognizing that there are new possibilities just waiting to be explored that just might make us every bit as happy as what we are leaving behind. We just have to be brave enough to try them.
There was a time when I thought the best possible Valentine’s Day celebrations involved lots of flowers, cards, chocolates, and dinner at a fancy restaurant. I couldn’t have imagined wanting to spend the evening eating store-bought macaroni and cheese, salad from a bag and reheated chicken nuggets, followed by bathing a toddler and then reading him the exact same book six times in a row before he finally fell asleep. Yet that is exactly how I celebrated this year. And you know what? It was one of the nicest Valentine’s Days I’ve had in years.