Wednesday, January 27, 2016

And Steve invents a new line of Valentine's Day cards.

I was looking back through my old Valentine's Day content, and I thought this would be appropriate for those of you who're searching for just the right card, and encountering problems with what Hallmark (even at its cheeky best) has to offer. I posted it originally in 2008, but I think it stands the test of time. Hope you get a chuckle out of it.

When you go card shopping on days like this (or I should say, for days like this), you realize with ton-of-bricks clarity the extent to which the card industry evinces that same uplifting/"isn't that special!" nonsense that has thoroughly hijacked America's schools and sports programs, increasingly influences politics, and variously afflicts so many other cultural realms. The vast majority of Valentine's Day cards that are intended for spouses to give to one another insist upon selling a view of long-term married life that makes it sounds as if, even in 25 years, you've never once thought of walking out the door and just not coming back. This is especially true of cards designed for husbands to give to wives, the assumption being that we men are simply hopeless and helpless without our women, and thus eternally grateful that after all these years, they still address us by our correct names—instead of, say, just shouting "hey, moron" in our general direction. The same assumption, by the way, dominates today's TV ads as well as most sitcoms. I swear, one of these days I'm going to organize a boycott of all consumer products whose advertising makes men look like ineffectual wimps who'd somehow end up stapling their heads to the mailbox and, overall, could not long survive, if their wives didn't rescue them from their own stupidity at regular intervals. Few things infuriate me nowadays—I have mellowed from the hair-trigger temper of my youth—but that infuriates me as little else ever has.

Anyway, yeah, you can find more realistic cards (somewhat paradoxically) in the humor section of the card aisle, where it's understood that the card is meant to be facetious. These cards are instantly recognizable by the cartoon characters and other lighthearted touches on the front; they're made that way on purpose, lest the recipient get the idea that the giver might actually mean some of the satirical things the card says. If, however, you invest* in a serious card—the kind with the big red bow on the front that's encased in protective shrink-wrap (which the labeling helpfully reminds you to remove before giving)—the sentiments are almost always way over-the-top. Though you may find a token nod to a few "rough patches" you've hit along the way, those rough patches are always environmental: money problems or your son's most recent arrest for that crystal-meth lab he's got going in the basement (and you wondered what that funny smell was!). You do not find sentiments like the following:

"Sometimes I want to just stab you
and stage it to look like a home invasion
but the forensics people are so damn clever these days...."
"It's been 25 years, honey, and to this day
there are times when I still think of you while we're having sex..."
No, I kid, really (as Bill Maher likes to say). I happen to be a great believer in timeless romance and true love—certainly "for a guy," I am. But there's a huge difference between, on the one hand, being optimistic about love and "the future"—which I very much subscribe to—and, on the other hand, reflecting candidly on what one's marriage has actually been up to now. I just don't understand why we need to engage in this purposeful, winking charade wherein, for a few days each year**, we pretend to ignore the warts-and-all realities of married life. And we even codify that charade by putting the ornate sentiments down in black and white. ("From the day we met, sweetheart, every hour has been a joyful, unending....") Are you telling me, seriously, that both parties, when they receive such cards, don't know that the poems therein are putting a rosy spin on things? And doesn't that knowledge undercut the meaning of the act of card-giving? And in turn, might that not, in some subtle way, make both parties feel less secure about the relationship? Don't get me wrong. I'm not suggesting that you're supposed to give someone a downright downbeat card. Just, why must cards strain to make every single relationship sound like Romeo & Juliet? (Let's not forget what happened to them, either.)

This need to believe what we know isn't so goes way beyond cards, of course, and we seem especially vulnerable in the area of romance. We'll listen to a guy like Tony Robbins drone on and on about how to "keep the magic in your marriage"—even though we know that he himself couldn't do it. And I'm sure that Dr. Laura, today, will field dozens of calls from women seeking her expert advice on how to repair the stress fractures in their relationships, despite the fact that Schlessinger simply walked out on her first husband and then, having set her sights on a new guy, broke up his marriage in order to claim him as her own. Similarly, a lot of people still don't realize that Robin McGraw isn't the first Mrs. Dr. Phil; she had a predecessor, and that woman, Debbie, whom I interviewed at length for SHAM,*** tells some interesting stories about the pre-Oprah version of our boy, who today presents himself as the world's foremost authority on harmonious living.

The point, again, is that relationships aren't neat or easy. Marriage isn't easy. Fidelity isn't easy. Life isn't easy.

Why do we need to pretend it is?
* And I do mean invest. Sheesh. What happened to the 79-cent card?
** Mother's Day, birthdays, wedding anniversaries, etc.
*** See pp. 72ff, if you have the book.


Anonymous said...

Why do we need to pretend it's easy?
I'm not sure we NEED to but let's say you're right. We do.
Maybe we need to pretend it's easy because for most of the days of the year, we're dealing with leaking faucets, running out of money before we run out of month, health issues in the immediate or extended family, challenges at work or at school, raising kids that do not turn out to be JD's or worse, adult criminals... you know... the daily life that makes everything that much less special.
If we take one stinkin' day to say -"yeah, yeah, yeah...but you know what, honey? It's mostly all good, isn't it?" I'm for that. And you don't need a card to say that.

RevRon's Rants said...

Perhaps... just perhaps, it might be a good thing just to express the uplift one gets from a relationship, without being required to qualify that feeling by including references to those traits that are not so uplifting.

When you tell your loved one that you find her beautiful, do you annotate the compliment by adding qualifiers, such as, "in spite of the fact that your butt has blossomed significantly over the years?" When you tell her that you cherish her support, are you also required to address how infuriating are some of her other traits?

Honesty is wonderful, and a necessary element in any real relationship. However, there are times it's better just to address the things that draw us together, and to leave the discussion of our partners' warts to their own appropriate time. That is, unless we just enjoy sleeping on the couch... or being constantly confronted with our own flaws whenever we seek comfort.

Anonymous said...

I feel sorry for your wife.

Steve Salerno said...

That makes two of us, Anon. I've never hid from that fact. I never did deserve her.

Anonymous said...

I'm with Rev on this one. Can't a person just express genuine appreciation and love without qualifiers?

Anonymous said...

My husband got lucky. It's his mother's birthday so I give him a pass on all the romantic stuff. I don't want him thinking about his mother when he is being romantic with me. Valentine's Day has always creeped him out.

Anonymous said...

Isn't the difficulty of marriage what makes it beautiful? That you still find something amazing in the other person. Sure my husband may not always squeeze the toothpaste right and still leaves the toilet seat up (there is nothing like a warm bottom touching cold porcelain at 3 am), but I still see he is a wonderful person. I get warm remembering the fact he takes care of me when I get ill or has always been my biggest fan. He believed in me when I didn't believe in myself. I think he still sees the beauty in me too. I don't like the fact that Valentine's Day has been marketed to cherish people one day a year. Maybe we should count our blessings that we did find someone that we could love and love us back. Isn't that a miracle in itself?

Anonymous said...

Imagine your marriage is on the rocks, that your spouse has been unfaithful in the past, but somehow the two of you managed to find the grace to work it out. You think there's Valentine's card for that?

Hell no.

Any mention of marital problems in a card is always reduced to something like "it wasn't always easy." And that's just trite enough that it can't come across as anything but insincere.

I might be looking at it from a different angle, but I know where you're coming from.

Anonymous said...

For what it worth I think the comment from the person who feels sorry for your wife is totally uncalled for and you shouldn't have given that person the satisfaction. If that's not "ad hominem" what is? People should not make assumptions about your personal life based on the ideas you bring forth on the blog, which is just that, a place for exploring ideas. I comment often and I certainly wouldn't want people to assume everything that occurs to me in my head has some direct bearing on the way I live my life!

Steve Salerno said...

Anon, I think you make a good point about the difference between "thinking things out" and actually living your life a certain way, but I do want to say that the rules of engagement are a bit different when people are addressing me, as opposed to each other on the blog. I have always given commenters more latitude in attacking me than I would give them in attacking each other. I feel as if the willingness to tolerate a certain amount of personal invective "goes with the territory" of having a blog in my own name, with a strong point of view.

sassy sasha said...

i had no idea about the things you say here about dr. laura and dr. phil and the rest. how hilarious is that?!

Matt Dick said...

it might be a good thing just to express the uplift one gets from a relationship, without being required to qualify that feeling by including references to those traits that are not so uplifting.

This is the correct sentiment as near as I can tell.

Dr. Laura has an awful lot to answer for, but she could turn a wise phrase from time to time. One piece of real wisdom from her was "Not all truth must be spoken."

She's a hypocrite, but this is wisdom.


Steve Salerno said...

Matt, my problem with lines such as you quote, from Dr. Laura, is that they represent a rationalization of deceit--even if it's passive deceit--that's the beginning of a descent down a long and slippery slope. Consider that the argument, "What they don't know won't hurt them," has been used to obscure just about every conceivable sin over the passing millennia, from "simple" adultery to the waging of far-off wars for reasons unspoken.

Elizabeth said...

Oh, Steve. Wait till I stop laughing.

OK, now.

I'm with you here. The way marriage is portrayed on American TV is, well, puzzling. Indeed, the husbands are bumbling and incompetent fools and the wives cunning and insufferable shrews. Take "'Til Death," for example, where the couple's married life is a non-ending mortal combat. After 5 minutes of watching this sad and painful spectacle, we viewers pray that the promise of the title is fulfilled ASAP. One wonders 1. why did these people get married?, and 2. what is the divorce rate among TV writers?

But seriously now: yes, the card business is drenched with a gooey syrup of unreality. Where is the Valentine card that says, "Honey, I'm glad I haven't killed you after all"?

Let's face it: as you so eloquently say yourself, marriage ain't no picnic. Even Bill Graham's wife, when asked if she ever thought about a divorce during her long marriage to her holy reverend hubby, said, "Divorce? No. Murder, often."

Marriage brings the best and worst in us. What is not often discussed, though, is that after the initial glory of romance and being in love, the worst has to be seen, experienced and acknowledged before the best can start revealing itself. And that takes time and patience. Sometimes just blind faith, or even only a suspension of total discouragement, is needed to allow time do its work.

Because it will, if you let it. It'll break you down and strip your of your illusions, individually and as a couple, and in the process take away all the unnecessary things you thought you needed for your marriage and for your life. Like the idea that marriage should fulfill you or that your spouse should make you happy. Or that marriage is about you and your needs and your spouse and his needs. Or that you and your spouse should be "compatible" (whatever that means, according to the latest expert on the subject).

All that, along with your hubris, self-righteousness, impatience and egoism, will become fuel for the fire which will leave you defenseless against your own and your spouse's fragility and imperfection.

Only then you can begin noticing what remains. And if you let the fire do its job thoroughly enough, it will reveal compassion, forgiveness and kindness. And you will cherish and behold what remains.

OK, so how about a card for what remains. For an unobscured possibility of love, for better and for worse, and for real this time and again. Just hold the syrup, please. (And words may not be needed, either.)

Steven Sashen said...

Hey, I'm all for an opportunity to tell my wife my favorite things about her and about being with her... I definitely don't do it as often as I think about doing it.

But there's a difference between sugar and saccharine. And there's a difference between spontaneous and practically-mandated. And there's a difference between personal and public... and any Hallmark-holiday is, basically, public.

It's not easy to be genuine on demand. And I don't think it's as delicious as the real deal.

I'm all for your new card line and here's submission for you:

Sweetheart, on this day
I'm reminded of everything
I love about you...
And I keep it inside me, to cherish...

And because if I told you, you would find a way to use it against me in some never-ending argument where, just like your mother, you refuse to budge an INCH, even when you know you're wrong.

p.s. YES, I did think that actress was HOT! Why did you even bother asking?

Steve Salerno said...

Steven, that absolutely made my day. Maybe even my week. Thanks for expending so much of your best work on my blog.

mikecane2008 said...

OMG. Your two "cards" earned a link on my blog.

WTF were you doing there, Steve? For a minute, I thought I was reading Warren Ellis!

(BTW, I wish Blogger would gets its OpenID act together. It seems I will no longer be "mike cane" but the name of my blog: mikecane2008! For anyone confused, we be the same.)

Anonymous said...

I fail to see the humor in all of this. What is so funny about knowing that you will come to resent the one you love and adore and vice versa? That you will loathe each other's idiosyncrasies which were once so endearing? That, at best, you will lose all desire for each other and, at worst, rely on others for sexual fulfillment?

Anger, frustration, disappointment, arguing...if I wanted that I'd live with my parents. Why start a whole new chapter of hell with a new person and see all the beauty and magic of the relationship stripped away with time? And how can we create sitcoms based on this and laugh about it? These are not rhetorical questions.

Elizabeth said...

Not to take over Steve's role, but I'd like to respond to Anon here.

Anon, you're right that this is not funny. This is real. This is what happens when people live with each other for a long time. And it has to happen, and, get this, it is a good thing (though you may disagree).

That's not to say that the charm and romance have to evaporate -- not at all. But the main point here was that the unrealistic view of marriage as the happy-ever-after does nobody good. And that view is perpetuated in the American culture by all kinds of interested parties that benefit from it, including the greeting card business, self-help gurus, and, most outrageously, in my opinion, by the whole wedding industry, which is simply obscene.

(Yes, sitcoms are full of venom and I think it is a separate, though related, issue to discuss.)

I, for one, am talking about the reality of marriage specifically, where the illusions will fall away -- as they must if you are going to get to the place where you can see what love really is. For many of us (I'd say for most) this makes it possible to embrace each other, fallible and frail, with compassion and devotion that gives without asking for rewards. This is love as I understand it. Getting there is a long-term process, even if you start with tons of feeling "in love," mutual desire and good will. Many marriages do not last long enough to experience this growth -- but those that do know what I'm talking about (I hope).

Marriage is a never a union of eternal bliss or a jar for the Valentine Day's honey. At a risk of being preachy (god help me), I'd say that it is a school, where both of you are to learn and develop. Marriage is larger than the sum of its parts and the spouses' individual needs.

The words, "For better and for worse, in sickness and in health, till death do us part," have gravity that is rarely appreciated and respected today. There is a reason for this oath and it needs to be taken seriously, because only if you are faithful to its promise, your marriage has a chance to fulfill its purpose which transcends your and your spouse's individual lives.

Don't mean to go all spiritual here, but it is precisely this dimension that's underappreciated or discounted altogether in today's approach to marriage.

Not sure if it makes sense, though I suspect it does to people of certain age and experience. (And just to make clear, I'm not advocating enduring abuse or total neglect in marriage.)

BTW, I've been married for 22 years, to the same guy. My parents have been married for 60 years now and watching them, I often wondered why. I know now. Hope I (we) can keep learning from their example.

Anonymous said...

Who says one cannot fall in love again with our mates? A lot of psychology experts almost take it as unavoidable that good marriages will grow into companionship and romance will fall away. For the most part, passionate romance cannot be kept up due to its affect on our brains, but that is not to say we cannot experience it within our marriages at various times. There is actual evidence of what are called "romantic marriages" that last life times. The children of these marriages often say they felt left out of their parents' lives to some extent, but that is a different post for a different blog. I have a good marriage, but I never saw one and never had a map. I pretty much had to find my own way and I know others like me who have done this. I often wonder about how this lack of romance is almost an accepted stage of long marriages. I think people are only limited by their imaginations and creativity when it comes to romance and marriage longevity.

Anonymous said...

Anon and Steve, the whole point and beauty of marriage is the perseverance through the difficult times. No marriage that doesn't have its trials can possibly be as full and rich in the end as a marriage that suffers occasional adversity. I know this for myself, and I also know couples who came very close to calling it quits and are now "in love" again and closer than ever. One couple that falls into that category is a couple I know that survived infidelity. As for those idiosyncrasies that drive you crazy, they're also the things that you love about the person at some deeper level, and would miss LIKE HELL if they were gone! Take it from one who knows!

Anonymous said...

It is SHAMFUL that you write about people you don't know personally AS IF you know the true details of their lives. This is simply gossip of the worst kind: attempting to sully somebody's reputation and minimize their contributions by snarky assumptions. It is sad that people will take anything like this as actual fact.

Steve Salerno said...

Well, wait now, Anon. I assume you're referring to my final paragraph about Robbins, McGraw and Schlessinger. While it's true that I wasn't there when the assorted episodes to which I allude were taking place, I don't think you can dispute the "actual fact" of it. Can you? Robbins abandoned his wife of long standing under circumstances that remain somewhat cloudy; Dr. Laura exchanged one hubby for another under circumstances that are clearly pretty murky (and that's even leaving aside all those photos of her that flooded the Web); and Dr. Phil indisputably had a first wife named Debbie, who has made a number of allegations against him on the record, which he has never really refuted. So how is this "gossip"? And where do these folks come off acting holier-than-thou?

Anonymous said...

When I first married, I was introduced to the new husband of a secretary in my department as a fellow newlywed. The guy, clearly bemused, said to me (and right in front of his spouse), "You know, marriage is a lot of work! Why, it's almost like having a second job!" I laughed then, and I'm laughing now as I remember the incident, but I've never doubted the truth of those words. ANY relationship is work, even a casual friendship, and when things aren't going well, it's hard work. When people ask me why I have so many friends, I tell them it's because I'm willing to work to sustain the friendships. My great-grandfather, the head of a very large family, put it succinctly when asked how he maintained family harmony: "I visit them all once a week. And if they don't seem pleased to see me, I visit them twice."

I agree with those who've said that marriages can continue to work (and even improve) over time. My maternal grandparents had one of those fairytale romance marriages their entire lives. My parents, however, had a very rocky marriage and openly contemplated divorce when the kids reached college. They ultimately decided against it, and eventually settled into a playful, contented relationship. (As my mother put it, "When your father and I reached middle age, we discovered that we were comedians.")

But I'm also a huge believer in the saying, "the alternative to the truth is silence," paraphrased by Dr. Laura in earlier comments. There is no law stating that we must "tell it like it is," whatever "it" is, and especially when "it" is bound to be hurtful. I suspect a lot of marriages--and relationships of all kinds--have been able to survive because of people's forbearance. It's one of those old-fashioned virtues that used to be called consideration--or maybe compassion.

Steve Salerno said...

I have a good news/bad news comment to throw in here. The good news is that I'm glad that people even consider this blog worth visiting and contributing to, even if they feel they must do so anonymously. Which brings me to the bad-news part: When I read comments such as this latest one (and actually, several in this thread), I wish, oh how I wish, that so many of our visitors didn't feel compelled to weigh in anonymously. Not only is this true of a large percentage of our newest contributors, but it's clear to me that even some of you who used to post under your true names have decided to go underground.

Even if you have to devise a fictitious name, I wish that you would do so, so that we could get a sense of continuity from your arguments (assuming you continue to post here) and also so that we can dispense praise and reproval when they are respectively due. That is a selfish request on my part, I realize. I just figured I'd throw it into the mix, for what it's worth. In the end, however, I respect your right to privacy, and reassert what I said at the outset: that I'm just glad you choose to comment at all.

Anonymous said...

This may sound pathetic, but I post anonymously because I don't know how to post under a fictitious name. I'd be happy to take on a persona for you if you'll give me a clue as to how to go about it. And I agree, when confronted with a spate of different anonymouses, as here, it would be a lot easier to follow people's arguments if you could distinguish them from one another.

mikecane2008 said...

>>>What is so funny about knowing that you will come to resent the one you love and adore and vice versa?

Well there's your error right there. Who says that is the norm or that it will happen to YOU?

blog49 said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Steve Salerno said...

Folks, it pains me to say that the first 28 comments here were actually posted back in 2008, when I first put this content up. (This is what you might call a "best of" post.) So, while you're more than welcome to continue to "respond," recognize that some of the specifics here may be out of date. Sorry...

Dimension Skipper said...

Zach Weiner's Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal from Thursday.

And don't forget the "after" comic panel too.

Happy V.D. everyone!

RevRon's Rants said...

I've never been one to go in for the sappy pseudo-sentimentality expressed in greeting cards, and though there have been times in my relationships when I gave serious thought to disappearing into the sunset (and have done so a few times), there have also been times when I looked into her eyes and believed - truly believed - that all was right with our relationship, our lives, and the world in general. Were it not for those myopic moments of bliss, I don't think ANY relationship could hope to last, and that the only outcome could well be a descent into deep depression. And sometimes, the depression hits even when we have those idyllic moments.

For that reason, if no other, I think that the occasional dip in the pool of undying, all-consuming, fault-ignoring love must be a good thing, so long as we don't try to carry it beyond its sell date and let it become an obvious cover for how we feel when the weight of the relationship (and the world) is bearing down on us.

I actually boycotted Valentine's Day for years, as it was my ex's birthday (long and sordid story). I got over that after being with Connie for longer than I was with my ex, and my ex provides me with occasional reminders of just how fortunate I am nowadays (a not-so-long, but equally sordid tale in and of itself).

That all being said, Happy Valentine's Day, Steve, and send my condolences to Mrs. Steve. :-)