On the morning of Valentine’s Day, the light at sunrise was intensely beautiful. I was so taken with the light, I grabbed my camera before heading out with the dogs. It had snowed during the night, not much, just a light dusting. But the snow in the morning light glistened. The trees almost sparkled in their finery. The light became iridescent. I wanted to capture the effect of the sunrise on the frozen world. Such a wonderful start to a day commemorating romance.
I was not in a particularly romantic mood. In fact, I was a bit sad. After I took some photos, I loaded my little old beagle into the truck. He needed to have some teeth pulled (15) and a cancerous tumor removed. I was worried. He had had a number of teeth pulled already. He had a suspicious tumor removed (that was benign). Yet he was fairly healthy for an old dog, often running four miles with the other dogs. I didn’t want to lose him. For many years, the beagle has been my hiking and running companion. He trots by my side, sniffing and chuffing. Until he was ten, I could let him hike off leash because he always stayed close. But one day while checking out a new place, he got disoriented in the brush and couldn’t find his way back to me or the car. Now I keep him leashed. To be honest, the beagle can be annoying. More than once I have found him on the kitchen counter, foraging for crumbs, stealing bread. Then there was the time he ate the dark chocolate that I had bought for a student project. And he’s ornery.
But he’s my dog. Dogs may be demanding, but they are always faithful. They love their people unconditionally. They forgive ill-tempered snapping. They are not embarrassed by bad people behavior. My dogs want to be my friend no matter what I wear, what I say, what I do. If only husbands and boyfriends were more like dogs. So I felt bad dropping him off at the vet’s but it was for his own good.
When I returned, I found a card and a chocolate heart sitting on my laptop. Husbands are way more romantic and sentimental than dogs. Walking into the office and seeing that red envelope boosted my spirits. A dog may know when I am sad and sit on my feet, trying to comfort me but the words from a loved one can be more uplifting. Yet relationships with people are much more complicated. We want so much more from each other. We bristle at offenses. We get mired in series of miscommunications. We want devotion and love on our terms. Change, an unexpected crisis, a minor set-back—all can stress a relationship. A minor offense can transmute into a monstrous transgression. We may want every day to be Valentine’s Day in our relationships but the reality is that so much hope and anticipation is placed on this one day, disappointment can lead to secret grievances. So like our dogs who forgive all our transgressions (and assume that they are the ones at fault), we need to be tolerant of others’ quirks.
For a long time we celebrated Valentine’s Day at home, drinking champagne and eating caviar. We would watch Casablanca and eat chocolates. First our children went to bed early, then they left the house. We reveled in our alone time. A few years ago, we decided to join the thousands of other couples dining out. The first time was a disaster—the restaurant was disorganized, understaffed and unappetizing. Last year we had fun at a restaurant that was organized and well-staffed but while the food was good, we wanted something more.
This year we decided to go to a very small restaurant with an innovative chef. When we arrived, we found their foyer crowded. A couple was fighting. Another couple was complaining that they had given their charge card twenty minutes ago, but had never gotten the card back or their credit slip. No one was at the bar. The tiny restaurant was crowded; extra tables were squeezed in. At first the slow service was all right. We had time to enjoy our cocktails and talk privately. It felt intimate. But when our desert failed to come out from the kitchen after thirty minutes, we each reacted differently.
One expects one’s partner to share one’s feelings, to react the same way. Of course, one’s partner is an individual, not an appendage. So our romantic evening dissipated, blowing away like powdery snow in the wind. After thirty-six Valentine Days, one little moment of discord will not break the bonds that tie us together. I still remember our first one, coming home from classes and finding the matching fancy goldfish swimming in an oversized brandy snifter on my dorm desk. I was in love then and I am in love now. We have years of passion and friendship peppered with moments of discord. This is what makes a marriage.
My little beagle is home. He has sixteen teeth left. He has a scar that makes him look tough. He growled at me when I tried to give him pain medication this morning. He’s as feisty as ever. The morning light was not as pretty this morning when I walked up the driveway, watching the dogs and holding my husband’s hand. Last night we had a second romantic dinner—champagne and lobster tails. We ate in front of the television, watching Nashville, a popular evening soap opera that we had recorded. We’re just an old married couple, happy to still be together.