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.