The Most Romantic Gesture Ever | Giving Up on Perfect

In my high school Valentine’s Day was quite the floral spectacle. Like adolescent boys everywhere, my classmates knew that buying flowers on that infamous greeting card holiday was mandatory if they hoped for any chance of having a girlfriend on February 15.

Rather than interrupt class with deliveries all afternoon, some wise person in charge of our school decided that the best course of action was to simply place all flowers and gifts on tables in the cafeteria. Then, following the last bell, students were responsible for checking the tables.

That meant that if you had even an inkling that someone might have sent you flowers, you had to walk slowly, casually by the tables, eyes darting back and forth, searching for your name on a box or bouquet. It was an outrageous form of teenage torture, and I can’t even believe it was legal.

As a long-time victim of Just a Friend Syndrome who had recently acquired a Boyfriend Who Is Not Romantic At All, I was fairly certain my name was not on any of the smelly flowers. And yet, I hoped.

I don’t remember exactly how I found out there were flowers for me on the table. Did I see it as I walked by, oh so casually, after class? Or did someone else see it and tell me? I don’t know. But I do remember exactly how I felt when I saw the roses.

The world stopped. My heart soared. Angels sang. You get the picture, right?

Mark gave me a dozen red roses that year – and also gave my mom a rose, too. ARE YOU KIDDING ME? Could anything possibly be more romantic than that?

At 17 years old, I thought not. Clearly, this was The Most Romantic Gesture Ever.

A little over a year later, I went to the lake with about half of my class a few days before graduation. We water skied, swam, shopped in the tourist trap town and even got one of those old-timey pictures taken. And after dinner each night, we gathered in the resort’s dance hall for an awkward, are-we-in-middle-school-again dance.

As we hung out, waiting for the second night’s party to start, one guy punched me in the arm and asked me to save him a slow dance. Since this particular guy is one I’d had a crush on since middle school, I said, “Sure.” And I said it real cool-like, you know. Even though I might have possibly been shrieking in my head, “I WILL SAVE YOU ANY DANCE YOU WANT!”

{And yes, for those of you keeping track, I did still have that one-time rose-buying boyfriend who would become my husband. He was at home. I was at the lake. I have no excuse or explanation for those treacherous and embarrassing shrieking thoughts.}

So the dance started. And it was kind of lame. My friends wanted to go back to our cabin and hang out, but I couldn’t leave. I had promised that guy a dance! So I waited. And waited. I waited as he danced with pretty much every girl in the room EXCEPT ME. Finally, I snapped out of my idiocy and realized this whole thing was stupid. As one more slow song started and that guy grabbed Another Girl Who Was Not Me, I turned (in a huff, I am sure) and walked out.

I ran to catch up with my friends, who had wisely decided not to wait for me. And then I heard, “Hey! Wait!” I felt a hand on my shoulder, and I turned around. THAT GUY HAD FOLLOWED ME OUTSIDE. And he said, “Let’s dance.”

Had more romantic words ever been spoken?

Look, I know. But in the moment? It was Billy Crystal running across New York City at midnight. It was Tom Hanks taking Meg Ryan’s hand on top of the Empire State Building. It was John Cusack holding up that ridiculous boombox. It was romantic.

{Yes, even though it went nowhere and meant nothing. I promise. For those of you keeping track.}

For years I held onto memories like this and stories like that. The roses and the stupid dance and all the things we’re programmed to “need” – that was my definition of romance. And every time my husband (he of the dozen plus one roses, remember) failed to live up to that definition, I felt so disappointed, so ripped off.

Where were my flowers? My surprise getaways and weekly date nights and notes just because I love you? The dances under the stars, the carriage rides in the park, the champagne and mix tapes and feeding each other chocolate on a Thursday?

Yeah, I wasn’t getting any of that.

And it took me a long time – TOO LONG – to figure out that those things are not all they’re cracked up to be. Those things mean nothing compared to someone who kisses you and never mentions your morning breath, who puts up with your mom and says of course your best friend can go on vacation with you and adores your daughter like nobody’s business, who holds your hair and goes to the store for feminine products and brings you a glass of water when you throw a grown-up tantrum and cry yourself dehydrated.

But even though I [eventually] figured that out, I didn’t immediately become immune to Romance Envy. It flares up every now and then, often when reading gag-inducing Facebook statuses or watching unrealistic chick flicks. (Am I alone on this??)

However, I think I was cured for good this spring. It seems like this year has been the “big” anniversary of so many couples we know. Ten, fifteen, twenty-five years our friends have been together, and they’ve celebrated right. Vacations, cruises, flowers and wine and all that jazz. Oh yeah, probably jazz music, too.

Mark and I celebrated our anniversary in May. Well, not so much as “celebrated” as “made it to.” The weeks leading up to the big day were filled with arguments, threats, silence and tears. So on the 13th anniversary of our wedding, we went to our first counseling session together.

It was, BY FAR, the most romantic thing Mark could have done.

He made the appointment. He vowed, all over again, to stay with me forever and do whatever it takes to make our marriage work. The issues that brought us to that point aren’t important to this story, and we both share the blame for it all. What matters is that we chose to stay, to fight, to find love again.

Most. Romantic. Gesture. EVER.

What’s the most romantic thing you’ve ever done for someone?

This post is part of 31 Days of Giving Up on Perfect. All month long, I’ll be writing about my fight against perfectionism and my quest to get on with life, already. For more 31 Days, visit The Nester.

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