Sitting in a dark room, I rocked back and forth to the sound of ocean waves streaming out of a white noise machine. My 9-month-old son was cradled in one arm as I scrolled through my social media feed with my free hand. Hot tears burned my eyes as I saw photo after photo of my married friends dressed to the nines and smiling up from dinner tables scattered with rose petals. I longed for that type of celebration. It was Feb. 14, and I was spending Valentine’s Day apart from my husband.
Before I got married four and a half years ago at 25, I thought marriage meant I would never have to miss out on celebrating Valentine’s Day. A husband would be a permanent solution for the loneliness that can accompany spending this infamous couple’s holiday alone. He would forever be my date on Feb. 14; I would enjoy glorious evenings out with him year after year, wearing red lipstick and high heels while enjoying Champagne and a steak dinner. What I definitely did not expect was to be married, yet spend Valentine’s Day alone.
My husband is one of the hardest working people I’ve ever met. He also loves his job. While unconventional to some, he spends almost every night serving top-notch food to guests at one of the highest ranking steakhouses in the country. He is required to work every Valentine's Day, which always brings us a nice sum of cash, but has often left me alone with our kids spending that night sulking and experiencing immense amounts of FOMO.
Early on in our marriage, I made constant remarks to my husband about his inability to take off work for Valentine’s Day and expressed how upset I was to miss out on something that I used to look forward to. As it turns out, I saw the day very differently than he did. While I hoped for a romantic night out, he saw Valentine's Day as an opportunity to make extra money for our family. Even though I wasn’t disappointed in him, my attitude caused much disdain, hurt feelings, and even arguments. To say that it was rough would be an understatement.
I was jealous of the time he was taking to make other people feel special on a day that I thought was supposed to be reserved for couples to do that for each other. While he was taking care of other people, I was home alone. I also wondered what people would think about our relationship if they didn’t see me posting online about what grand gestures we were making for each other on Valentine’s Day.
My expectations did not meet my reality and I was at a complete loss as to how to feel better about the situation for years. Although I did not realize it for quite some time, I needed to grieve what I thought Valentine’s Day was in order to be at peace. I spent those early Valentine’s Days that we were together riddled with rage because of my unrealistic expectations going unmet. Soon after the rage subsided, tears would stream down my face as I felt the guilt of my unappreciative attitude toward my husband’s hard work. The feelings crept back up year after year. The anticipation of the negative feelings I had during Valentine’s season caused an ominous undertone to creep up as soon as the calendar turned to February.
To keep my emotions about the day in check, I have taken a few actionable steps throughout the years to reframe Valentine’s Day. I now make sure that I don't leave myself with too much downtime on Valentine’s Day. This could mean doing a special project with my kids or leaving myself a bit of work to do to help distract myself if I start getting caught up in my old expectations. I also try not to check social media much, if at all. I've learned that what other people may or may not think about me isn't anything I should be concerned about. I remind myself that I know that I have a happy marriage and that we've taken time to celebrate each other throughout the year, making sure we know that the other is loved immensely. At the top of my to-do list on Valentine’s Day is also a hot bath complete with my favorite essential oils. It’s a relaxing treat to myself and trick that helps to give me something to look forward to at the end of the day.
Repeating mantras is another helpful way I’ve learned to cope when anxiety strikes. The most helpful mantra I’ve found for this situation: “I am not alone.” Knowing that I am not the only married person who has a spouse working on Valentine’s Day is comforting. Countless professions require a presence on holidays — hospital workers, military, firefighters, police officers, dispatchers, news broadcasters, plant operators, and yes, most anyone in the restaurant industry. These people don’t love their significant other any less than those who are off work on Valentine’s Day. In fact, I would argue that spending their holiday earning a living is one of the most loving things someone can do for their spouse.
I also have to remind myself that my husband is doing a job that helps other people celebrate their love for each other. If it were not for him, the couples that he serves on Valentine’s Day might not have as memorable of a celebration. I am thankful that he has such a heart for service and can take a situation where I saw only negative for so long and turn it into a positive experience.
It would be a lie to say that I don't still get the occasional twinge of sadness if I happen to see photos splashed across social media of fabulous dinners out as I sit at home, missing my husband on Valentine’s Day. But now, I just tuck the kids into bed, draw myself a bath, grab a good book, and remind myself that once the clock strikes midnight, the day is done and I have 364 other days of the year to pick from to celebrate our love.