In my mind, Valentine’s Day is simply the precursor to sales on chocolate and pretty pink foil-covered things, both of which I have a soft spot for. At least they have been for the past 21 years of my life ― I have never been in a long-term relationship until now, never considered the prospect of romance as a part of the equation when it came to February plans. No, February 14th was simply a week and two days before my mom’s birthday, a month and three until my own birthday on St. Patrick’s day. It was a day where I could bathe in romantic comedy plots and not worry about how they were conditioning me, cut pink hearts out of construction paper and cover everything I owned in glitter. Sometimes my mom would send me a package full of candy, which I would consume at a disgusting rate.
Every year, this day was a moment of flux in the winter wind, watching couples walk from bar to restaurant to their apartments and wondering whether I’d ever have what they did, genuinely not believing that I ever would. But what I’ve found, weirdly enough, is that Valentine’s Day this year doesn’t feel any different. Sure, it’s an excuse for me to be even more mushy with my partner than I usually am, but beyond that, I am completely the same.
The reason this feels so strange to me is that I am truly, deeply a romantic in every sense of the word. I thought that the second I had my first Valentine, all of the candy and roses would make sense, that I would feel romantic and warm inside and like all was right with the world. I would sit at a white tablecloth with a candle lit, smile and watch my imaginary partner smile back. But when I texted my real one this morning to ask what we were doing this Friday night, the date we planned was identical to many we’ve had before.
We agreed not to buy each other presents or expect them, both relieved not to shell out money on a student budget. For someone who loves cheesy romance so much, I was almost surprised at myself for being so happy just spending time with my partner without any of the glitter that the movies tell us to expect. I am in love, but not rom-com meet-cute love, not Hallmark love, not heart-candy love. Real love is something completely removed from all of that.
In the almost six months since my partner and I have been together, we’ve been through a lot. But from his trials in grad school and finding a job to mutual health scares and interviews and times where I didn’t leave the library for 10 hour periods, love was there the whole time. I never had that moment people talk about where all love songs start to make sense, and even watching movies like “Notting Hill” together has us talk more about the paparazzi in Britain and Julia Roberts’s teeth than our own relationship. Strangely, I feel the most love for him not in our greatest romantic gestures, not in the presents that we surprise each other with occasionally, but in the smallest, sometimes grossest, moments between us.
When we’re brushing our teeth together in the morning, I feel it the most. Or when I do my skincare at night and I spray him surprisingly with my facial mist, when we walk hand-in-hand and I have to wipe my clammy fingers on my jeans before returning to his coat pocket. When I accidentally fall off the bed at night, when he bumps his head on our shitty Ann Arbor ceiling above the stairs, when he sends me random pictures of weird-looking frogs because he knows I think they’re cute, I feel it.
I believed for a very long time that I would never have a successful relationship ― I am a fiercely independent person, and always have been. I am also a romantic who thinks she is in love with everything and anything she sees. I have never been shy about saying those three words. But real love doesn’t only show up for one day in February, it does when you’re least expecting it, as cliche as that sounds. It comes when you love someone enough to let them live parallel to you, not intertwined with each other. My first real Valentine’s Day doesn’t only live within 24 hours ― the most beautiful thing is realizing that it doesn’t have to end.