What Really Matters

The other night my husband shook me awake. 

I just heard a thump on the roof.
I want you to go sleep in one of the other rooms. Please.

I am a light sleeper and the only thing I’d heard above the noise of our air purifier was my name. I do not sleep easily and I hate sleeping anywhere other than my own bed, so I groaned and glared but the four of us—Rob, me and our two dogs—left our warm king-size bed to sleep separately in smaller beds in other rooms.

The next morning I heard it—the kind of sound I’d imagine Santa making as he landed his sleigh on the roof. I ran upstairs to check things out. Nothing had come through, but I suddenly understood my husband’s concern for our safety. In the light of day, I could see that nothing was wrong—most likely the movement of accumulated snow and ice. But still.

When I was a girl, Valentine’s Day was a big deal. Schools in my time, unlike my daughters’, did not require students to pass out Valentines to everyone, so each year I’d compare the cards I received to the kids in my class to figure out who didn’t like me. Each year there were one or two classmates I did not receive Valentines from. It never occurred to me that they might have been misplaced, forgotten or that the student may not have passed out any cards at all.

During my first marriage, my husband was expected to present me with a box of chocolates and a card. We would make a dinner reservation weeks in advance, get a sitter and consider it a proper celebration of love. We went through the motions and exchanged the symbols but, over time, they weren’t enough. Motions and symbols never are.

Now, in my second marriage, I find I don’t care so much about Valentine’s Day. Yet Rob and I still go through the motions and exchange the symbols. Rob brings me a card and flowers. I buy the chocolates. We usually go out to dinner. At least until this year, when Valentine’s Day seems to have crept up on us.

My husband and I each own our own business and, with our daughters grown, don’t have the hard stops to work we used to have. Add that to the fact that Rob has started teaching, my business is growing and we’re both busy helping our parents with current life transitions and it doesn’t leave time for much else. We often acknowledge each other’s acceptance of the life we lead. Yet, as I thought about Valentine’s Day this week, I began to wonder—are we taking our marriage for granted?

Friday nights, my husband works in one of his two galleries. I wait up for him, usually reading. Last night he brought me chocolate covered strawberries—an early Valentine’s gift, he called it. We ate them in bed and talked about our respective evenings.

This morning he greeted me with coffee and a hug. He looked troubled. “It’s Valentine’s Day,” he said. “What would you like to do?” I thought about how –just yesterday—I purchased a few small gifts that I know will surprise him. Not because it was expected but because I knew how much he would appreciate them. I thought about the year, early in our marriage, when we surprised each other with books. Here we were again, both wanting to move past the expected.

I told him that what I would really like is for us to be able to set everything else aside and spend some real time together.

“Let’s cook a lovely dinner together,” I suggested. “I will shop. Don’t bring me flowers tonight- save them for a night I wouldn’t expect them.”

Because, in the end, while I do enjoy the symbols, what really matters to me is that my husband loves me for who I am, that he knows I need coffee before conversation and that he will never let the roof cave in on us.