My wife, tragically, isn't romantic. Neither am I. We are probably two of the most un-romantic people in the world.
I used to buy her small gifts on Valentine's Day, trying to make her happy. Pendants, rings, flowers, and chocolates. I wasn't imaginative and was naive in romantic matters. Still am, painfully, painfully, painfully so. I want to make her happy, but I don't know how. Part of this is, I think, she doesn't know how to show she is happy, and she is a cynic. I know what flowers she likes and doesn't like, but she doesn't like 'dead' flowers, those cut off to be part of a bouquet. She also doesn't like live plants because they need to be fitted into our decor, cared for, and she figures she'll just kill them. She drinks little, partly due to lifelong disposition and partially now due to diseases, and medication. She likes books, cheese, and crackers. Chocolate is also high on her list but she and I battle the sweet war, constantly trying to wean ourselves out of rewarding ourselves with little treats, perpetually coping with the habit of having a snack while we read, watch a movie or surf the net in the evening.
"It's bad for us," she says. "We need to eat healthier." Healthier means less sweets.
She also loves shoes, but I'm not quite ready to try to give her shoes for Valentine's Day. For one thing, I don't grasp all the nuances shoes offer. Some shoes certainly startle me with their absurd style or downright ugliness. That they're in stores being offered for sale amazes me but someone apparently buys them. I never see anyone ever wearing them, thank God, although I see some hellacious footwear on display in southern Oregon's mean streets, shoes and boots that prompt me to do double takes and wonder, what in the world are you thinking?
We try each year to go out to a romantic dinner, dress up, have fun, but we're with one another all the time and she sees marketing's hand everywhere. Giving her gifts always draws a contemptuous response about the holiday's growing commercialization. I don't know how to woo her. After thirty-five years of marriage and thirty-eight years of being in a relationship, I have my own cynicism account built up into a hefty balance, as well.
We're both aware of our shortcomings. We've read books and articles in the past, seeking insights and solutions, and have come to understand ourselves.
Our mutual cynicism hit new highs this week with television commercials about love and romance that ooze traecle. Meanwhile, over in Target, they're selling Valentine's Day packages. Some seem more appropriate -- a bottle of red with a few wine glasses -- but others were, literally, boxes of candy in cellophane closed with ribbons and bows. The candy was boxes of Milk Duds, Hot Tamales, M&Ms, Junior Mints and Reece's Pieces.
We were both appalled. Really? Is this what Valentine's Day is to be?
Thinking about it later, I was more disgusted, but part of my disgust fell over myself. When had I quit trying? Why? I'm a person who doesn't like to quit. I don't accept failure. You learn from your mistakes and you try again.
But I had quit trying with her. It's when you've quit trying that you've failed.
We had such a good time yesterday, spending the day in whimsical roaming, all agendas cast aside, no lists to guide us. We sailed from restaurant to restaurant. She directed me to Jaspar's, which is supposed to be the best hamburger place in the area, voted number one, a reader's favorite in 2011.
Jaspar's was a small place, really a trailer with a few tables, a counter, and the grill. Linoleum provided decor. Picnic tables out front added flavor. Boy, they had hamburgers, all sorts of combos of hamburger and steak with other meats, cheeses and condiments added, and different buns available.
"Want to eat here?" she asked.
She's a vegetarian. I perused the long chalkboard list of offerings. Nothing vegetarian. "What will you eat?"
"I'll get onion rings or something," she answered.
That wasn't good enough. "No." I turned. "Let's go find somewhere else."
We went on down the road. Wild River was on the left. We passed on it and headed to Jacksonville. First we walked through a few shops, looking and joking about things that we discovered. Pico's, where we bought our clock, had more clocks for sale, artsy, interesting, BIG clocks. "We can buy another clock," I suggested.
She snorted. "We don't need another clock. I like the clock we have. We bought it here."
"We could buy a lot of clocks and be known as the house of clocks. Every house should be known for something."
She laughed. "I don't think so."
Restaurant after restaurant was considered and rejected. Each time, she was willing to eat -- "I'll just have a salad." Why should she need to sacrifice for me to eat somewhere?
"No," I said. "Let's go somewhere else."
The Jacksonville Inn was considered but rejected as too fancy. "We're simple people," we both said, almost in unison.
Finally, after Medford, after Jacksonville, we headed to Talent and Avalon.
It was five PM. Two women sat at a table with glasses of white wine, and a man quaffed from a glass of beer at the bar. Basketball and golf were on the big screens with the sound turned off, and an eclectic blend of 80s pop hits played. My wife had a vegetarian pannini with a side salad. I had a southwestern chicken sandwich with a porter and sweet potato fries. We ate, chatted, and watched the sunset on the valley and hills.
Along the way, I thought, why can't we have more days like this? Why must we feel such tension and frustration and carry it forward and across? How do I carry this forward and across to Valentine's Day?
And I realized, I always tried giving her gifts but it's the gestures that she likes. All I need to do is find the gesture to say, Happy Valentine's Day, I love you. I have two days left to figure out.
It's a good thing I enjoy pressure.
Causes Michael Seidel Supports
Kiva, Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, Propublica.org, Doctors Without Borders, GreaterGood.com