How to Adult: Romance

I’d be surprised if you didn’t know today is Valentine’s Day. For at least a few weeks there have been some incredible advertisements for everything from life-size teddy bears to diamonds as the perfect gift for the one you love. And now today I’ve seen several social media posts of couples celebrating. That’s a beautiful thing. If this is a significant holiday for you and your soulmate that’s wonderful. I genuinely hope you enjoy it.

I worry, though, about a culture in which we fetishize big days and showy gestures as what’s truly romantic. In the United States, Valentine’s Day, weddings, and anniversaries have been made into the primary occasions for going all out to show love. It’s easy to get sucked into the idea that you don’t have to do much for your significant other more than a handful of days.

If you’re doing that you’re doing romance wrong. Yes, the big and the bold are exciting, fun, and memorable. Every couple should do that from time to time. A faraway vacation. A fancy dinner. A breathtaking gift that may have cost a lot of time or money. Fantastic.

But as any person who has been in a successful and meaningful long-term relationship knows, it’s not really about the high peaks and once in a lifetime experiences–it’s about the long arc of the relationship, expanding and deepening each and every day.

Some people talk about love like fire. At first, it’s like the strike of a match. You meet each other and a flame of attraction suddenly explodes into the world. But a match–the initial infatuation–only burns for so long. If you want the flame to last you have to nurture it into a long-burning fire. You stack kindling–the days, weeks, and months of getting to know one another and trying things together. And when the kindling steadily ignites you increase the fire patiently and thoughtfully with sizable logs. Now you’re really burning together. You have to tend it regularly.

A truly loving relationship will only grow and carry on long into the future by the constant, everyday actions you do for your significant other. It’s about being selfless and thoughtful in the little things. Preparing them dinner on a regular old weeknight. Massaging their back while you’re both sunk in the couch watching Netflix. Surprising them with a random small gesture: a card just because, a cup of coffee, picking them up at work unexpectedly, or whatever else would be most meaningful in the bond that you two uniquely share together.

Valentine’s Day, anniversaries, and similar holidays are just a few days out of 365. Your chances of a steady, hot fire are low if those are the only times that you stoke it.

So don’t get sucked into the commercialized, holidays-only construct. If you want to do big days, do the big days in your own way. And beyond that, think about small things every day that you can do to show the person you love how amazing you think they are and that you’re interested in their happiness and well-being even more than your own. Romance does not have to be about the expensive or the dramatic. Just figure out how to keep the fire burning strong and enjoy it together.

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