“A lot of men feel pressured by Valentine’s Day. They don’t like being expected to do something romantic for their wife or girlfriend on an arbitrary date on the calendar. They flinch when their mate drops hints in early February about what flowers or candy she prefers.”
These are the words of Professor William Doherty, one of the world’s most recognised academic authorities on marriage and family. He was one of the many authors of a document Dads4Kids published called “21 Reasons Why Marriage Matters.”
My wife and I met Dr Doherty at a marriage seminar in Sydney. Bill, as he prefers to be known, is a really good bloke. I for one definitely relate to his engaging article called, “Just Do It: Men and Valentine’s Day” in Psychology Today Australia. I will let him continue.
“More sociologically inclined men critique the commercialism of the day or argue that Valentine’s Day in our culture is for new couples who need to affirm their special relationship; secure couples like us don’t need it. None of this works, of course. Most women, even if they intellectually agree with these arguments against Valentine’s Day, wish their guy would do something special for them on February 14.
Not wanting to be controlled by a schedule or by their partner’s expectations, many men, especially husbands, either do something token on Valentine’s Day (a last-minute card or candy), or they are conscientious objectors to the whole thing. I used to veer back and forth between tokenism and high-minded abstention. The year I took my wife to Subway on February 14 was the low point.
Eventually I realised that the cost of minimising Valentine’s Day — the disappointment and the missed opportunity to connect — is greater than the benefits of maintaining my freedom to be spontaneously romantic on my own timetable.
I now mark the date on my calendar and book a reservation at one of our favourite romantic restaurants well in advance. I look forward to a special evening with my wife. She has moved from an accepting wife who never complained about my low-key approach to Valentine’s Day (although she did tease me about the Subway incident) to a wife who seems pleased that her mate takes advantage of Valentine’s Day to honour our romance of more than 40 years.
In the larger picture, cultural rituals like Valentine’s Day structure opportunities to do good things that we could do any day, but usually do not. You can honour your mother 365 days a year, but it’s not so bad to have one day when we all remember to do something special for her. You could have family reunions any time of the year, but Christmas Eve or Passover are handy opportunities because they come with cultural or religious expectations.
Maybe there’s nothing wrong with a little forced spontaneity to show a little romantic love once a year.
This is the second time I’ve written about Valentines’ Day. The first was ten years ago when I was writing my book Take Back Your Marriage: Sticking Together in a World That Pulls Us Apart.
Here’s what I wrote then: “If you really like Valentine’s Day, and it is an important ritual to you and your mate, go for it. Do it up big as a special occasion ritual. I know a man who makes a Valentine’s reservation months in advance for a favourite romantic restaurant. Another couple go away for a weekend near Valentine’s Day. When I hear these things, I feel a little envious of people who don’t let the superficiality of the day get in their way. Maybe I will come around some day.”
I guess I’ve come around.”
Like Bill Doherty, I too have come around, and I hope you do too. In the early years of my marriage, I did not bother to celebrate Valentine’s Day.
That was a mistake.
My wife is very pragmatic and she, like Bill’s wife, did not seem to bother about Valentine’s Day and, like me, criticised the crass commercialism of the day.
The nail in the coffin for me was watching Shrek rescue the Princess from the dragon. Shrek is the ultimate pragmatic dragon-slayer. Get in and get out is his motto.
This is not the same for the Princess. Fiona has long waited for this romantic moment of being rescued from the dragon. Watch it below.
If you don’t want to learn from Professor Bill Doherty, you need to learn from Shrek that indeed, women savour the romance of the moment.
You can see that I am a big advocate for men creating romantic moments to celebrate Valentine’s Day. Yes, your wife might say don’t bother, but all the more reason to seize the moment as any good knight should.
What are you waiting for? Start planning now.
It is never too late to try.
Yours for Learning from Shrek,
First published at Dads4Kids.