Something New

IMG_1130When 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.

Valentine Love

IMG_1130Since Valentine’s Day falls on a Sunday this year, my husband and I decided to go out for a nice dinner on Saturday night instead.  Sadly, it seemed as if everyone else had the same idea, because when we arrived at our favorite restaurant for our seven o’clock reservation, the place was packed.  The host asked if we minded waiting in the bar for a few minutes until our table was ready, which was fine with us.  But after a while, it became apparent that the “few minutes” was a very optimistic prediction, and as the hunger pangs set in, we started surveying the restaurant to see if we could spot an open table that the staff might have missed.

There weren’t any empty tables, but there were several tables occupied by young couples who had finished their meals and paid their bills, but were still lingering, gazing deeply into each other’s eyes, holding hands, and in general totally oblivious to the fact that there were hungry people waiting to be seated.  We tried giving a few of them the stink eye as a subtle hint that it was time to move on, but they were too wrapped up in each other to notice.  Eventually, we were seated at a nice corner table that gave us a good view of the dining room, and happily settled in, working our way steadily through the bread basket as we waited for our food to arrive.

Between bites, we studied the diners at the tables around us, especially the young couples who had obviously made a special effort for a romantic dinner.  They were quite dressed up, with the young men in ties and the young women in short dresses and high heels. They leaned in close to talk, smiled and flirted a lot, and stretched their meal out as long as possible by ordering appetizers, coffee and dessert.  Watching them brought back memories of how we used to celebrate Valentine’s Day, all those years ago when we were young.

At our table, the conversation was much less intimate, and contained phrases such as, “do you think the waitress will bring more bread?” and “we’d better hit the ATM on our way home,” none of which were uttered while holding hands or gazing deeply into each other’s eyes.   These days, if my husband is gazing deeply into my eyes at a restaurant, it’s because I’ve asked him to see if I’ve got an eyelash stuck in on of them.  And we don’t hold hands across the table, because that would mean we’d have to put our utensils down.

True, we had made the effort to look nice, but we were also mindful of the wind chill when we selected our outfits.  My husband had on three layers of shirts, but no tie.  I no longer wear a dress when the temperature is under 35, so I had on a nice pair of slacks and a turtleneck sweater.  My one concession to romance was to forgo my usual knee socks in favor of control-top panty hose, which I hoped would both look dressy and take five pounds off of my figure.

But don’t think I’m complaining.  We had a lovely evening out, just in our own, somewhat quiet, middle-aged way.  We don’t need to stare at each other while we’re eating dinner.  When you’ve been married for thirty five years, you know what your spouse looks like and there’s no need to keep checking.  We may not flirt in public any more, but we both knew we were sitting across the table from the one and only person we wanted to share in our Valentine’s dinner.

And when we were done with our meal, we promptly paid our bill and left, opening the table for the next couple who wanted to enjoy a nice Valentine’s dinner.  I’m thinking that next year, we should choose a restaurant that caters exclusively to people who are middle-aged and older.  The clientele may not look as good, but we won’t have to wait so long for a table, either.