As many of you know, Jessica and I consider ourselves feminists. You may wonder: how do feminists celebrate Valentine’s Day? As two people who have the utmost respect for each other, and are also still deeply in love with each other after 18 years together, we have developed a few thoughts on the matter. Here are 8 of them, though I can’t say that all of them, or even any of them, only apply to feminists:
1. Celebrate the person you love as a whole person
As much as our culture tries to make us believe it, Valentine’s Day isn’t a celebration of flowers, chocolates, candles, fine dining, or sex. It’s about celebrating your significant other, your partner, spouse, girlfriend or boyfriend. Use those popular elements as a part of your celebration if they fit, but think first of the person you’re celebrating and what makes them feel special, and go with that. For us, this means that Jessica will most likely be receiving a can opener from me so that her hand doesn’t threaten to fall off every time she needs to open a can for dinner. A can opener and a shoulder massage.
2. Celebrate the love that you have as equals, and be yourself
Celebrating Valentine’s Day shouldn’t feel like you or your significant other has to pretend to be someone they’re not. This means that neither party should feel the need to pretend to be a character from a current popular movie that would probably put us in 50 states or turning 50 shades of red trying to be people we’re not. Neither should you expect the other to rent a tux, or get dolled up, or wear something that would embarrass them. Be yourself, and allow your significant other to be themselves too. If either of you have to change to be the person someone else wants you to be, I doubt that you’re really celebrating love. And that’s good for me, because I don’t think I could bring myself to use handcuffs or whips – not that I object to them if they are a part of what defines your relationship, but it wouldn’t fit mine.
3. Break free of cultural expectations
Why do men hold the door open for women? If you are both equally capable of doing something, why shouldn’t there be equal opportunity for both to perform the task? And if holding the door for my love is a demonstration of respect and submission, why can’t she demonstrate those same things by holding the door for me? Jessica was the first to question my chivalry early on in our relationship, and it has affected many other habits we both grew up with. Be loving, demonstrate respect, but do so within the context of your relationship, not some social construct that existed long before you were star-crossed lovers. For us this means that either one of us can plan out a special date, or take out the trash, or clean up the kitchen, or wash our bedsheets, or hold the door, and we take turns doing so – or do them together…
4. Go beyond the superficial
That special someone with whom you wish to spend special time deserves way more than a quick dinner, a box of chocolates, and then on to the real celebration between the sheets. Each of those elements may be a part of Valentine’s Day, but take the opportunity of time together to get even deeper into each other. Share deep thoughts, struggles, insights, and experiences together. Surfacy stuff is ok, but you shouldn’t stay there, not with two people who know each other more deeply than anyone else in their lives. For us, this means hot, passionate, deep, conversation, made all the more enjoyable with wine and chocolate.
5. Be cheap: our time and full attention are the best gifts we can offer
When you’re spending time with your favorite person on earth, there is no need to be extravagant. And many of us in today’s economy need to have the pressure to do something extra special (aka: expensive) removed altogether. If the money just isn’t there this year, or even if it is, remember this: Valentine’s Day is not a celebration of money. You can celebrate your significant other without much of it, or even any of it. Get the kids to bed and read poetry or interesting quotes together (the internet is chuck full of these if you’re not sure where else to look), play a board game, watch a grown up movie (for once!), take a shower together. The possibilities are endless, because the point is to spend time together. For us, this means going to the discount grocery store to get a cheap bar of chocolate, and a $3 bottle of wine if we’re lucky, sending the kids to bed, lighting a candle, and cuddling on the couch for a while.
Nothing makes an event special quite like spending time thinking about it before it happens. We should all re-learn how to anticipate an event like we used to when we were kids. Whether it’s a sleepover, birthday party, or a simple play date, our kids are constantly anticipating the next event they have coming up, and the excitement builds as the countdown brings them closer and closer to the fun. Make a homemade card, write a love letter or poem, draw a flower instead of buying flowers (or do both), plan out a meal and shop for it, decide what you’re going to wear, etc. All of those thoughts and activities that lead up to the actual celebration act as romantic preparation for the time you’ve set aside to be together, and draw you closer before the day even arrives. For us, it can also be a form of extended foreplay, as you tease your significant other with clues as to what you’re preparing.
7. Don’t pressure, and redefine expectations
Nothing ruins a special event quite like dashed expectations. Expecting sex and not getting any can easily make two lovebirds more distant as one or both of them take out their disappointment on the other. Expecting it to be different this time, where there is no obligation for sex after the generous massage or the expensive dinner, and being pressured for sex after all, yet again, leads to resentment and a lessening of romantic feelings toward the other. If the point of spending time together is simply to communicate love to the other person in whatever you decide to do, respecting and valuing them for everything that they are, it will be difficult to fail. But if it’s to impress or to undress, to collect on what’s owed to you, or to serve in order to deserve something, then your goals need to be revisited – unless you want to communicate that you’re a selfish jerk, of course. Then plow ahead! And risk losing the opportunity to experience love (and sex) at its fullest. For us, zero pressure to perform, and the simple expectation of connection are usually the best set up for a romantic romp in our bed – unless, of course, we’re joined by an adorable third wheel needing a snuggle.
8. Celebrate with the kids
For us, Valentine’s Day is no longer just for romantic lovers. It is a day set aside so we can celebrate love. And with 6 kids, there’s a lot of love to celebrate! So on Valentine’s Day, we usually spend as much time as we can celebrating the love that we have for each other within our family. This often includes heart-shaped pancakes, making valentine’s for each other, playing games together, sharing what we love about each other, and in general a whole lot of hugs and cuddles. As for Jessica and I, we can celebrate another day, or after the kids are in bed, or both! A couch date at home, and a date away from home a week or two later, when restaurants aren’t packed, plus we may score a great deal on discounted chocolate (as long as it’s fairly traded, of course). It’s a win for our family, and for us as a feminist couple.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
At the time of this post, Jeremy had 6 children, all girls, between the ages of 2 and 16, and has been happily married for 18 years.