What defines a romantic gesture is as distinctive as any relationship. Sweeping gestures of love may be important to some couples, but everyday kindnesses might be the language of affection for others.
This Valentine's Day, amid a pandemic, many people are putting more stock in celebrating the simple pleasures of being with someone they love. Here's a glimpse into what makes some feel most connected — and how to turn long-standing tradition on its head.
Elio Gonzalez, 63
“I know it’s traditional, but I used to give my wife a dozen roses for every year we were married. Red, as you know, means love, and I love her dearly. The second year, she got two dozen. The third year, she got three dozen. And they had to be in black vases. This went on for 27, 28 years. It took a couple of vans to deliver them. You could barely see her in her office—the flowers were all over her desk, on top of the credenza. There were so many at one point that she started to give some away to the girls at work. But it was $800 or $900 that went up in smoke in a matter of days because they didn’t last so long. We got into some harder times with money and she said, ‘We could go stay somewhere for half of this.’ So I stopped. I think I had more fun with that than she did.”
Teresa Younkin, 52
"My husband and I have been super, super intentional about our relationship. We both love adventure and creating new ‘first’ memories together. So to keep off the ‘COVID 15’ [pounds], we are cycling 100 miles for Valentine's Day this year. Our Peloton of two is like our marriage. Sometimes you lead by helping your partner avoid obstacles in their path, sometimes you're screaming encouragement from behind ('Babe, you can make it!'), and sometimes you ride side by side and enjoy each other's company. To us, that's what romance is."
Christopher Knoll, 62
"Having survived a Charlie Brown childhood of Valentine disappointments, I have felt driven as an adult to create a “perfect” Valentine's Day experience. Of course, this entailed giving gifts of cards, jewelry, flowers, chocolate — once even some chocolate flowers — along with romantic dinners and movies. But in recent years, I have discovered that there is indeed a better way to celebrate Valentine's Day. First, I acknowledge the fact that this one day is truly no more special or romantic than any other day spent in the company of the person who shares her love with me. Romance is the light in the eyes that reveals the heart. I typically do the cooking and my wife bakes — awesome teamwork in a small kitchen. We spend some time laughing at each other's bad jokes and contemplating the life we've built together."
Pam Sherman, 58
Writer and leadership consultant
Rochester, New York
"My husband and I have been together for 37 years. This year, through the pandemic, we've learned that the greatest gift we both received was time. On March 12, we went from traveling every single week for work to not traveling at all — and that has been a huge gift. I feel now more than ever that I understand the meaning of the word ‘cherish’ when I lie next to my husband. For Valentine's Day, which I've always disdained as a made-up holiday, my favorite gift has always been doing nothing, in defiance of expectations. Not fighting for a restaurant reservation. No $5 cards. Instead, we give each other the gift of doing whatever the other one wants. This year, for me, this means changing any light bulbs that need changing. And for him, it will be sitting together and watching ‘his’ TV shows — lots of episodes of Chopped.
Dave Tolliver, 50
Romance to me means that at any given time, in the moment, you'll do whatever it takes to make the other person feel good. If a person doesn't feel good about themselves, how can they make you happy? For Valentine's Day, I wish that I could allow my wife to retire and do whatever she wants. And then we'd go on a trip. We'd go to a nude beach and walk around and jump out of a plane and just conquer every fear we have.
Peter Lawson Jones, 68
Attorney, consultant, actor, playwright, former elected official
Shaker Heights, Ohio
My definition of what's romantic has evolved over time, based on my age and circumstances, and it has evolved during the course of my marriage of 35 years. Certainly at one stage of life, love is much more intensely physical and sexual. Though sensual touch remains important, once you become a caregiver and more demands are placed on you, romantic expression changes — though it can become even sturdier and more robust. That my wife and I share a similar but not perfectly synchronized worldview keeps things interesting and has allowed our relationship to endure. On Valentine's Day this year, we might very well celebrate by grabbing our masks and heading to the movies to watch Judas and the Black Messiah. After all, we've both enjoyed the benefit of the check I received for performing in the film—and the residuals headed my way in the future.