I’ll Love You Tomorrow | Valentine’s Day for No One

Sommelier

Valentine’s Day. My husband, The Frenchman, looks elegant in his dark suit, eggshell-colored shirt, and knotted aubergine necktie. His polished shoes shush against the carpet’s thick pile as he walks among the tables of the Incredibly Romantic Restaurant. He pulls out a plush, rust-hued chair. Soon, a muffled pop precedes a curl of vapor rising from a bottle of Dom Someone-or-Other. A meal garnished with rose petals and gold leaf, shaved truffles and jewel-toned caviar begins.

None of this, however, is for me.

Nope. I’m at home in our cluttered Manhattan apartment, eating mac-and-cheese that’s truffleless—and, let’s be honest, quite Kraft-like—while washing it down with a tumbler of milk in the company of our seven-year-old. I’m wearing my most comfortable, least glamorous sweatpants and a shapeless, spattered shirt. My husband, dressed to the nines, is at work. A sommelier, he’ll pour bubbly for canoodling couples until the Incredibly Romantic Restaurant closes. Late.

Before you play a violin of any size under my window, perhaps I ought to mention that I’ve never been particularly sentimental about this holiday. My most memorable Valentine’s Day was in fifth grade, when a girl I only sometimes played with gave me a huge box of chocolate Turtles; all I had for her was a store-bought card with a certain cynical cartoon cat on it. With few exceptions, I have no love of heart-shaped things. Plus, when The Frenchman and I got serious, it was obvious right then that his choice of career meant I’d be stag on “couples” holidays. He will never, ever get Valentine’s Day or New Year’s Eve off. I know better than to ask.

And really, that’s OK. I get a lot done while he’s at work: phone calls, e-mails, our annual tax returns. To an outsider, my evening must sound pretty pathetic, but between you and me, he’s the one to pity.

Expectations run high this night, and there’s more pressure than usual to ensure that service at the Incredibly Romantic Restaurant comes off without a hitch—or maybe I should say with a hitch, because there’s bound to be at least one marriage proposal in the offing. My husband insists he doesn’t mind the bridegrooms, but frankly, I think a square velvet box lurking beneath a silver cloche on a plate puts everyone on the spot. There are so many ways this could go wrong. Imagine a wine bucket stand overturned by a man dropping awkwardly to his knee, or, much worse, a clueless busboy delivering a diamond-studded course to the wrong table. And then there’s plain-old unrequited love, waiting to rear its ugly head in public.

Thanks, but no. I’ll take the lesser stress of plating my son’s peas in such a way that they don’t roll into the cheese sauce. And if I have to act as chef, server, and dishwasher combined, at least my dining room has one seating only.

Back in the Incredibly Romantic Restaurant, tables are turning at an accelerated rate, and although love blazes front of house, all that’s really burning are my husband’s blistered feet. The setting may be sumptuous, but several hours in, all The Frenchman wants to do is hail a cab.

Of course, I’m eager for his return. By nine o’clock I’ll have waged the toothbrush battle, read the bedtime stories, and I’ll be back in front of the computer. But waiting up is out of the question. The last reservation will arrive late, and because the table is now theirs for the rest of the night, they’ll do what the other couples before them couldn’t: they’ll prolong…every…moment. The Frenchman will need every ounce of sangfroid to not give them the boot. It’ll be three in the morning before he crosses our threshold—only to find me, the object of his affection, passed out in bed with a book in hand, drooling on the pillow. No doubt a letdown to a man who spent the past 12 hours steeped in other people’s passion.

What if things were different? What would we do if he actually had Valentine’s Day off? The truthful answer is nothing.

It’s not that we’re lacking in romance, or that we don’t enjoy a night out. In fact, we relish it. When our sitter arrives, I’ll put on lipstick, dry my hair for a change before leaving the apartment, and walk through a spritz of perfume to link arms with my husband as we head out the door. We’ll go to a jazz joint that serves barbecue with linen napkins. I won’t nag him about wearing a tie on his day off, and he’ll forgive me for gawking like a rube at the illuminated city, so seldom am I out past dark these days. Like other couples, we hold hands across the table. Perhaps more than others, we appreciate the wine glasses filled by someone else.

Although we don’t need an excuse to make date night happen, we have two anniversaries: one marks our American civil union in January, the other our fancy church wedding in France at the end of June. Those days are unique to us. Plus, with two shots at it each year, there’s really no pressure to get it all just right. So by mutual assent, we skip the en masse Hallmark celebration of love pre-printed on the calendar.

Given our schedules, it might take a while before we get around to toasting our romance, but with a pair of momentous occasions to mark, plus 362 other days of the year to choose from, it’ll happen. On February 14, you can count ours—happily—as a reservation for zero.

About Allison Parker

Allison Parker is the managing editor for Leite's Culinaria, as well as a developmental editor with more than 15 years' experience in literary and academic publishing. Sharpening pencils and knives side by side in the kitchen, she now fuses her editorial and writing life with an abiding love of things culinary.

Comments
Comments
  1. Gina Frangello says:

    Valentine’s Day is SO much pressure out at restaurants, yes! Just thinking of all those couples with their rocket-high expectations would be enough to make me crave mac-n-cheese and solitude.

    We try to go out the weekend before Valentine’s Day, so that we can have a date but avoid the crowds and inflated prices of the actual holiday–although more and more, restaurants are catching on to that trend and starting Valentine’s Day “early,” so you still can’t truly avoid it unless you stay home.

    Lovely piece, Allison!

    • Allison Parker says:

      Thanks, Gina! You’re right about Valentine’s Day creeping earlier and earlier. And of course, when the 14th falls on a weeknight, there are automatically those weekends before and after. The holiday, from a restaurant widow’s perspective, seems to last two weeks. Plus, there’s “Restaurant Week” before that (at least here in NYC). So, I pretty much don’t see The Frenchman all month. As I say above, though: we get around to celebrating. And it’s better that way. Here’s to you and your love.

  2. Susan says:

    I have a wonderful cache of children’s Valentine cards from the 1930’s and ’40s that my husband and I gave to each other on V-day for the past 20-some years. The last fun-shaped, colorful Valentine card he chose for me (given with a box of See’s candy to share) was Humpty Dumpty shattered into a million pieces with the chaos of horses and King’s men hurriedly trying to gather up and put together all his pieces. As his face piece gazed lovingly up at a demure girl, Dumpty said, while sitting prettily on the wall, “It shatters me to think we might never get together.” Pretty mushy for a kid, which is why it never made the kid-cut as a giveaway. What were the card writers thinking? Now, I’m glad whomever’s Mom saved those old cards so I could buy ‘em and give ‘em out! It’s about the only reason I like the holiday!

    • Renee Schettler Rossi, LC Editor-in-Chief says:

      How precious, Susan! We can just picture that card. Although I bet you have hundreds more like that, each with their own story. Such a terrific memory maker…

    • Allison Parker says:

      Susan, thanks so much for sharing. Vintage valentines are lovely. Plus I admit to not a small nostalgia for See’s candy as well. When I was in Los Angeles (actually, that’s where my memorable 5th grade Valentine’s Day took place), I was enamored of their square lollipops that had such a rich flavor and melted into something thick and luscious in your mouth. For me, in my 1980s childhood, they were my idea of sophisticated candy.

      Thanks so much for commenting here! Happy (almost) Valentine’s Day to you and your husband.

  3. Karen says:

    Oh Susan and Allison! See’s Candy takes me back to the days in Salt Lake City. I remember Valentine’s Day and See’s Candy. One of the best things about living there was the fact that every time you went into the candy shop they were sampling some kind or another and we were always invited to join in! And trust me, it was a sure winner way to get a balky husband to go on a trip to the mall…
    Karen

  4. Rick Casner says:

    A nice tale, nicely written. No offense to ritual, but I’ve always looked at going out on the ‘Right’ night as being a little much. Like mass New Years Eve celebrations or fans wearing team jerseys on game days. Lynn & I almost always have ‘Our’ celebration dinners on days other than the official ones. Seems to make it more truly ‘Ours’ and I know the kitchen’s less rattled.

    • Allison Parker says:

      Thank you so much, Rick. I really appreciate that you took the time to leave a comment and say that you liked this piece. Hope you and Lynn enjoy a nice, very personal celebration… whenever you choose!

      As for the rest, don’t get me started on The Frenchman’s opinions of “obligatory” New Year’s Eve celebrations. But… I confess to pulling out the team shirts on occasion, especially when it comes to baseball. I can be a dorky fan that way, too.

      • Rick Casner says:

        Meant to mention….your name for your husband ‘The Frenchman’ is wonderful. evocative, provocative etc.

        • Allison Parker says:

          Thanks, or perhaps I ought to say Merci. I did have some encouragement on this decision, though, so I’ll be sure to pass on your compliment to the boss around here (you can guess who that is). The name, with all its evocative/provocative associations does fit my husband quite well. He’ll be the first to say it… though he’ll be careful to clarify that he’s not just French but from the Southwest.

  5. LittlestCrazy says:

    My boyfriend and I met on a Valentine’s Day pub crawl, and this Valentine’s Day will mark our two year anniversary. Last year we saw a play at Community Theater. To celebrate this year, we’ll be hiking to the tide pools on the island of St. Croix (where we live). We try to do something nontraditional. I like to think of it as “taking the holiday back from Hallmark.” Even so, I don’t complain when he brings me flowers!

    • David Leite says:

      LittlestCrazy, you have stolen my heart with “taking the holiday back from Hallmark.”

    • Renee Schettler Rossi, LC Editor-in-Chief says:

      Love your nontraditional, nonconformist approach, LittlestCrazy. I’m with you. And yes, yes, yes, why complain when a man brings us flowers? Whatever the reason.

    • Allison Parker says:

      Yes, yes, yes, and yes to anniversaries, tide pools, seizing the day… and of course flowers! Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing something personal with us. Happy island celebration to you and your love.

  6. Loved your article. After working 12 years in the restaurant business, the last place I want to be on Valentine’s Day is in a restaurant – as you said, not because I don’t enjoy an evening out. The large tables have been removed to put in more deuces and 4-tops, and every waiter has twice the number of tables they normally do, plus the kitchen is slammed. No thanks! My first Valentine’s Day with my husband was also the first time I made him dinner – when to his surprise and relief, I said that I didn’t want to go out. He still says it is the best dinner he every had!

    • Allison Parker says:

      Deborah, Thanks so much for leaving a comment to let me know that the article resonated with you. I’m so glad. Clearly, you can really relate to all of it, especially from The Frenchman’s perspective. Lord what you all endure so that others can have their “must do” night out.

      I find it funny and charming that your husband was surprised and relieved that you didn’t want to go out. And wonderful that your first dinner made for him at home was on Valentine’s Day. That’s something to celebrate, clearly.

      You may want to keep it as your own couple’s secret, but I’d love to know if you remember what you made for him… and if you ever repeat those dishes.

      Thanks again for stopping by!

      • Hi Allison – I think he was surprised because being a “city” girl he thought I might be expecting him to have a fabulous restaurant booked for us – and he didn’t want to let me down, as he was unfamiliar with the city at that point in our courtship.

        I do remember what I made as it was only 2 years ago. We had only been dating for a couple of months, so I was still used to cooking for only one. I chose a tried and true (easy) favorite–Chicken Marbella from Silver Palate, a mix of wild rice/brown rice and asparagus roasted with a tiny bit of olive oil and a touch of fresh grated parmesan–only I was so nervous that I forgot to serve the asparagus, as it was in the broiler and “out of sight, out of mind.” We discovered the asparagus when we were cooking the chocolate souffles for dessert and the smell of the asparagus started to fill the kitchen! We still laugh about it to this day!

        • Allison Parker says:

          That is hilarious about the asparagus! And clearly you had better things to look at than those once-green stalks. Out of sight, out of mind indeed. Thanks so much for sharing this with us.

  7. I loved every word of this post. So very refreshing to see someone outline their out of the ordinary situation and relish in it.

    • Allison Parker says:

      Thanks so much, Christine, for taking the time to read my piece. I’m so glad you enjoyed it. I do try, whenever possible, to delight in the unusual circumstances in life—even if they’re mine and occasionally frustrating. I really appreciate your comment.

  8. Jamie says:

    And my French husband, the most romantic of souls, is a true cynic when it comes to Valentine’s Day. He hates it and every single year as the hearts begin popping up in boutique windows and all over French tv, he turns on me, waving his arms, and stoutly declares his total disdain for this faux holiday that the French have sadly and inexplicably adopted from the Americans. I’m not sure if he blames the gullibility of the French or the clever marketing prowess of American admen, but hate Valentine’s Day he does. Yet, year after year, he goes out of his way to do something for me, leaving me a small, sentimental token of his love, some small gesture, a bouquet of tulips or a pile of cooking magazines, just to make me smile because he knows I have a weak spot for this silly, commerical holiday. Ah, that’s love. And he does the same all throughout the year as well. Lovely, wonderful story…. you have me smiling.

    • Allison Parker says:

      Jamie, you’ve given me the gift of a smile in return with your clin d’oeil toward French husbands. Their genuine protests about Valentine’s Day ironically make those little gestures that they perform in spite of themselves way more romantic than if they were actually on board with the holiday. Your husband, the Feb 14 cynic, sounds incredibly sweet. Thanks for taking the time to read this post and for commenting. I really appreciate it. I’ll be sure to raise a glass à votre amour on Monday.

  9. The One says:

    Allison,

    What a wonderful piece!

    The One

    • Allison Parker says:

      The One! I’m sure we must have some kindred tales to share, being the “significant” in the life of a food-industry man. So glad you liked the piece. Thanks for taking time to let me know. (That sort of kindness is of course what makes you The One in the first place.) Happy Valentine’s Day.

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