“You’re so cute,” John said, his blue eyes twinkling. I wiped ropa vieja off the front of my blouse, leaving a tomato sauce blob on pink satin. “It kinda looks like Cuba,” I remarked.
After twenty-six years of marriage, this was our first Valentine’s Day date. For the record, it wasn’t my idea.
Growing up, Valentine’s Day meant heart-shaped pancakes, construction paper doilies, candy hearts, and comparing loot at class parties. By the time I hit my teens, February 14 was my favorite holiday. In my mind, the day symbolized all the love in my life–God, family, friends, heroes and even pets. I didn’t want to waste such a wonder-filled day on something as fleeting as dating. So I never did.
That was fine by John. After we married, we celebrated with home-grown azaleas and chocolate, with relatives and friends, but never with romance.
Last Valentine’s Day, our grown children urged us to forgo our usual ritual of watching I Love Lucy videos, and make reservations at the famous waterfront Columbia restaurant overlooking Tampa Bay at sunset. It seemed silly to me; but it was the perfect opportunity to break out that designer purse I got for my birthday. I even picked up some shoes at Walmart to match. I wore pink satin, because that seemed Valentine-y, and I ordered ropa vieja because I knew how to pronounce it. (That’s right. I still don’t speak Spanish.)
I’m no rube. I know what fork to use. On any other day, I would have floated into the restaurant, taken in the spectacular view and enjoyed every moment. But on February 14th, as the maître d’ escorted us to our table, I felt like all eyes were on us—and not in a good way. I could almost hear Anthony Hopkins hissing, “You know what you look like to me with your expensive bag and your cheap shoes?”
In the same way, I checked out other couples. I wondered about each one—how long they’d been together, if they had children, if they were having fun. I scanned ring fingers for wedding bands. One guy looked like the guy in the Old Spice commercials. You know, the man your man could smell like. I gave John a look at that nod. He glanced over, then burst out, “I’m on a horse!” Very discrete.
After dinner, we walked along the pier and took pictures. What should have been a lovely night seemed so forced. Aside from the stain of Cuba, the evening ran smoothly. It just wasn’t. . . real.
I can’t put on romance like pink satin. Romance shows itself spontaneously, like when my husband smiles at my klutzy blunders. Like when he plays my favorite music as we ride in the car. When he cleans up the line of dead ants stuck to the wall with hairspray—even after he wins a cut-throat game of Uno that says he doesn’t have to.
Maybe I just need to give it time. Should we try dating again this year? What do you think of Valentine’s Day dating? I don’t see how it could ever beat I Love Lucy.