It’s February 14, in case you haven’t checked your calendar lately. Today, with love and passion in the air, the daters among us will give each other gifts, send each other cards, and go out for a romantic dinner, and the jewelers, florists, candy shops, restaurants, and Hallmark stores will turn a few handsprings at the surge in sales.
But what of those of us who have long since moved past the dating phase and have been happily married for years? With our metabolisms slowing, we’ve made each other promise not to bring home that enormous, heart-shaped box of sinfully rich chocolates. Because we’re in the perennial savings mode another piece of jewelry doesn’t seem like a smart move. And a card stamped with some generic, manufactured sentiment doesn’t really seem to fill the bill, either . . . because a stilted, sappy poem can’t fully capture the depth of feeling generated by years of happiness, love, and devotion. That leaves flowers and a nice dinner at a fine restaurant as the preferred option, for a delicate floral bouquet and a good meal and chance to spend some time together and talk about our world together is always welcome.
Valentine’s Day has its cheesy, commercialized elements, of course, but it’s also a helpful reminder of the huge difference a single person can make in your life. And even in an ever-changing world, both those who are searching for that person, and those of us who are lucky enough to have found them, can remember that once again.
We all have our views on what constitutes romance. On Seinfeld, Kramer once expounded on the “timeless art of seduction” — only to find that his awkward efforts were misunderstood by just about everyone who saw them.
So, who’s to say what constitutes romance in Russia? A volatile mix of vodka, poor dental hygiene, and absolute, frenzied desperation would explain why someone yearning for companionship might pose in a cheap, poorly made mermaid’s costume, in the trunk of a car, in a rain puddle in the middle of street, or on a heap of trash, and post the picture on a Russian dating website. And what else but high-octane alcohol and hopelessness might cause a person to think that a fox head cap might be the key to unlocking the hearts of the opposite sex?
So, judge not. If you were trapped in a soulless, mind-numbing existence on the outskirts of Moscow, you might be tempted to post an evocative pose with a banana or a see through spider web hat, or a photo that makes it look like you are ready to disembowel the next poor, lonely wretch who is willing to be alone in a room with you.
Should all couples hold hands? Kish’s sister Heidi believes that holding hands is crucial to a lasting romantic relationship. Kish and I respectfully disagree. We think it’s nice to see young couples with fingers intertwined and seniors doddering along with hands linked, but don’t expect us to do it.
My disaffinity for holding hands stems from biology and experience. The unfortunate reality is that my hands sweat in any hand-holding scenario. When I was in high school and tried to hold hands with a girl, I felt my hands getting damp, which made me self-conscious, which made my hands sweat all the more. When I noticed my kind-hearted date trying to surreptitiously wipe off her oily palms on napkins, coat sleeves, curtains, and at every other opportunity, I realized that holding hands probably wasn’t going to increase my chances at meaningful romance.
The experience came from a high school first date that involved a long drive to an event. My date grabbed my hand as we left and I drove left-handed, becoming increasingly uncomfortable because my right hand was locked into position. Once you’ve started holding hands, you can’t really retreat without making it seem like a kind of rebuke. So we drove along, chatting superficially, while I directed every ounce of self-awareness at my immobilized right hand. What you are supposed to do in such a long-term hand-holding scenario? Tickle the girl’s palm? Do “this is the church, this is the steeple” to keep your wrist muscles from spasming?
So, I’ve long ago sworn off hand-holding, and fortunately the love of my life isn’t a hand-holder, either. Sometimes she’ll hold my arm as we walk along, and that suits us just fine.
I was born as the Golden Age of Train Travel in America was ending, and railroads were being eclipsed by airplanes and the interstate highway system. As I grew up, the passenger rail system was shriveling, many grand downtown stations were being torn down, and cities like Columbus were being left with no rail service at all.
Still, there has always been something evocative about trains. When I traveled through Europe after college, I enjoyed the train experience — the jostling and rocking, the whistles and bells, the clickety-clack of steel wheels on steel track, and the aging smell of the cars. I enjoyed the chance encounters with complete strangers that a communal travel system offered. It was stimulating and added to the feeling that I was really getting exposure to the cultures and people of the countries I was visiting.
I enjoy driving, but there is a lost romance to train travel that the interstate highway system just can’t match.
Here in Nashville, the backdrop to the registration desk in the spectacular lobby of the Union Station Hotel is an old train schedule. Just look at the names! The Dixie Flyer! The South Wind! The Hummingbird! The Azalean! The Florida Arrow! The Pan American! Who wouldn’t want to board one of those trains, as porters hustled by and stacks of luggage were loaded, as steam huffed from the engine and warning whistles screamed, in search of adventure?
It’s gratifying to see modern technology used to make the world a better place, and any advances in chocolate candy preparation will be welcomed by the billions of chocoholics found world-wide. Still, I think there’s something both narcissistic and creepy about candy representations of an actual human face. If you were dating someone, would you want them to give you a box full of their face in chocolate? Wouldn’t it feel kind of grotesque to be eating their face — or, if the roles were reversed, to know that they were eating your face?
There’s a fine line between romance and weirdness, and I think this advance crosses it. If someone gave me a box of their chocolate faces for Valentine’s Day, I’d worry that stalking is probably right around the corner.