Yesterday was Valentine's Day, that Hallmark-perpetuated day of roses, chocolates and mushy greeting cards that gives a nice uptick to the mid-February economy. Sounds kind of cynical, doesn't it?
But no! I went whole-hog yesterday with a $6.99 greeting card (Hallmark, nothing but the best), a dozen roses, a warm cinnamon bun from the bakery, and date night by a roaring fireplace at a favorite "country French" restaurant nearby. All good, voluntary, enjoyable and meaningful.
One thing I can never do is buy one of those sappy "I know I don't tell you often enough how beautiful, sweet, loving you are..." Valentine cards. Because it wouldn't be true. I tell her all the time. Every day in fact. And honestly.
It's also important to show her (or him, whichever the case may be) with more than words.
Show with little things, every day. Make the bed, at least on a day off. Put your dirty dishes in the dishwasher, not in the sink. If the clothes dryer is beeping, get up before she does to go empty it. Catch her off guard with a full-body-press hug, and maybe a squeeze or two. Perhaps not stereotypical guy stuff, but all easy and cost nothing.
Beyond that, choose your battles. Always gauge how really important your side in a conversation or disagreement is to you, relative to how important their side may be to them. Know when to dig in your heels and when to let go. If you can do the latter more than 50% of the time, you're doing well... and probably haven't given up much in the bargain.
That "conflict evaluation process" always involves listening, another underutilized man-habit. I saw something the other day on Twitter that said, "Listen to understand, not to reply." Wow. Six words to live by.
Listen to understand, not to reply."
You may be wondering who the heck I am to be dispensing relationship advice. I have no qualification other than being married for 40 years, to the same woman no less. I was taken out of circulation 45 years ago this June, at the age of 18. Married at 23. That's a long time.
Much of that success (yes, it is success these days) is due to showing, choosing wisely, and listening to understand. At least I try.
I often marvel at how the "heart" works in matters of love and relationships. Our hearts seem to have an infinite, instantaneous and automatic capacity to expand and embrace when babies and puppies come along.
But at the same time we tend to put up walls around us that keep non-family others at arm's length or at a "comfortable" distance, with fairly strict criteria for letting anyone through. That's too bad.
I recorded a podcast with Dave Wilber just a few days after Jerry Coldiron died last Thanksgiving, and I've gone back and listened to it several times since. I learn more about myself, and about friendship, and relationships, and indeed about love, each time I do.
Jerry was my best friend. I looked forward to spending time with him and Susan at our summer place, or getting together at GIS, at their "Casa de Coldiron" down in Boca Raton after Orlando shows, or on the phone in between.
We understood each other. Appreciated and learned from each other. We had many raucous, laughable episodes, but many moments of quiet conversation as well. Those are the things that great, loving relationships are made of, whether with a spouse or, if one is lucky, a long-time best friend.
One thing Patty and I learned when we moved to Vermont ten years ago -- in our early 50s without benefit of kids in school or on sports teams -- is that making friends is difficult. Some new acquaintances that we thought would become friends didn't happen, for one reason or another. Others did. But we quickly realized that friends who are meant to be will be, and can't be forced.
We have rescued two dogs within the past year, and often marvel at how much we have grown to love them over the relatively brief time they have been with us. And they came along in addition to Rosie, our ten-year old Golden Retriever (the last in a line of four). We have grown very quickly into one big, happy pack.
When deciding to add a third dog this past December, we acknowledged that we have room in our home(s), a little room in our vehicle, and certainly room in our hearts. So we went for it, and our hearts auto-expanded to accommodate yet another.
Too bad deep, meaningful friendships and loving relationships don't happen as easily. But recognize them when you have them, and work at them.
Another late friend of mine, Canadian superintendent Gordon Witteveen, used to tell me, "If you don't work at relationships, they soon go away."
Gordon called me frequently from Toronto. Jerry called me frequently from Florida. I'm ashamed to say they called me more often than I called them. Now I don't have the opportunity to correct that shortcoming.
So make the call. Buy the flowers. Have a date night. And do it from the heart, because you want to. Both hearts will be better off for it.