I think I see Valentine’s Day this way because of the way it portrayed to me by my own parents. Growing up, neither of my parents were never very romantic with one another. (It’s always made me insanely curious to know what they must have been like while they were dating — I’m almost 100% sure it was the opposite.) Throughout high school, every time Valentine’s Day rolled around, my dad would leave for work and peck my mom on the cheek — if he remembered what day it was. “Oh great, the one time a year I get any affection,” my mom would retort, thrusting his boxed lunch at him. Sometimes he’d already be getting into the car when either my sister or I would remind him what day it was. Already in work-mode, he’d tell us, somewhat begrudgingly, to get Mom so he could deliver the peck while he was halfway in the car. Then as the day would end, my sister or I would call him to ask if he had gotten anything for her before dashing off to the store to buy some overpriced flowers and a card that he could sign in the garage.
In my head, as I got older and learned that love can be showed in other ways than holding down a job or paying the mortgage (no small feats!), I told myself I’d try my best to find that balance between the love I was shown at home through my parents and the love I knew existed through the media and my White friends — that outward, unprovoked physical demonstration of love. I thought it would be cool if one day I could be still so in love with someone after years of child-rearing and housekeeping that I’d still want to show everyone around me just that — we were still in love. I wanted to make my kids feel just a little bit uncomfortable about how much their parents liked each other and teach them that being affectionate both physically and verbally is natural and healthy.
Then, as I got even older, I learned more about love from my own experiences. That love can make no sense and feel great, but it can also not make sense and feel really awful. It can be a fickle and unreciprocated. It can feel weird and empty. It can disappear. I slackened my expectations of myself and resolved to just try my best never to get divorced.
My dad’s way of showing his love for my mom is and probably always will be through provisions — paying utility bills, for doctor’s visits, car repairs, vacations. And probably because we’re an Asian family, of the progeny that’s never placed a high value on hugs, kisses or audible ILYs, I knew well that other displays of love could be expected, but really, what’s more more important than having a partner who can provide for you?
I don’t blame my parents for showing me marital love the way the only way they know how. They’ve taught me what consistency, companionship, stability and living a moralistic life can look like. They’ve also nurtured one of the best families I’ve ever known (totally biased, of course). I have a lot to learn from their relationship, even if I’d made some tweaks of my own.
For first time in a long time, I went out on Valentine’s Day evening and walked around some of Hong Kong’s busiest districts, seeing young and old with giant bouquets and silly grins spread across their faces. I loved that I was in Hong Kong, in Asia, amongst people who are too quickly typecasted as “submissive”, “emotionless”, “non-demonstrative” — sometimes even “prudish” or “not sexy”. Not tonight. It was fun and cute and heartwarming in a way my overly cynical self would have gagged at a few years ago. I hope I never go back to cringing visible acts of love and happiness (unless it really deserves to be cringed at).
I wanted to share some stories on love that I found in the week leading up to Valentine’s Day. Most of them I read forgetting that Valentine’s Day was at the end of this week — I merely came across them as expressions the type of affection, gratitude and appreciation we should strive toward everyday. I like being reminded of how to better love people, whether it’s romantically or in the interest of being a better human being.
week month time I can… I plan to post a few interesting reads I find worth sharing with others. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do. Cheers to being in love and learning how to love better.
Photo: Nicholas Nixon
“A Lot of Love (and a Little Out of Control)” – An intimate series of portraits entitled “Bebe and I”, chronicling the love between photographer Nicholas Nixon and his wife, Bebe.
“Remembering a Folk Art Visionary” – My visit to Calipatria was very hot and very stuffy but memorable because you don’t find art like this everyday. If you ever find yourself in Southern California, I hiiighly recommend a visit to this unique section of Slab City! Even if you don’t believe in God, it’s a good place to think about universal love. RIP Mr. Knight and long live folk art!
“Can Marriage Cure Poverty?” – Less about love and romance than marriage, politics and poverty. Still, a read that ought to make us think about our reasons for getting married and pressuring others to do the same.
Washington Post journalist Ezra Klein writing on getting married (to NYT’s Annie Lowrey, author of the aforementioned article). It’s (super) sweet.
“Seduced By A Gift That Broke The Rules” – This one is a year old but I come back to it from time to time because it’s hilarious, heartwarming and makes me wonder if I have Asperger’s.
“Before the Web, Hearts Grew Silent” – Another warm and fuzzy from NYT’s Modern Love column. It’s about long distance love, life before Facebook and real-life reckless adoration. So good.
Top image: my own, taken in San Diego after visiting Salvation Mountain.