Column: Putting the L in Valentine’s Day

Picking up socks and other ways to show your love
Jo Mathis

Jo Mathis

Ghazi Abuhouleh is one smart man.

I spotted the Ypsilanti resident Friday morning carefully choosing a romantic valentine for his wife, Dalal. And this was after he’d bought her a diamond ring, as well. Though he’s been married less than two years, he knows the No. 1 rule of Valentine’s Day: This is not the time to be practical.

“I don’t buy that boring stuff,” said Abuhouleh, who opts instead for perfume, a pretty blouse, or jewelry.

Some guys, however, have a practical streak. And some guys shop for practical women who’ve told them not to spend money this year on chocolates (the calories!), flowers or jewelry.

Some of these men will be tempted to make a mistake on Sunday, and I feel it’s my duty to warn them. Men: If you plan to give your woman anything that is associated with a chore, save it for another day.

Even if it’s a $300 set of cookware. Even if she seems to love it at the time – and there’s a 10% chance she may – it will come back to haunt you.

“You know what Matt got me for Valentine’s Day in 2010? Pots and pans!”

“You think your guy’s unromantic? Derek once got me a rice steamer.”

Especially now that we all post pictures on Facebook to prove we’re enjoying a Wonderful Life, it’s important to give photo-worthy gifts.


Ghazi Abuhouleh of Ypsilanti choosing a valentine for his wife, Dalal, at Norton's Flowers & Gifts in Ypsilanti Township. (Photos by the writer.)

Eventually you can switch to something a bit more creative. And cheaper, which is important if you’re married and she considers that it’s coming out of her pocketbook as well.

I asked my Facebook friends to name the best non-traditional Valentine’s Day gifts. Guys, here’s what they said: A foot rub. Wii sports. Books. Seeing a play. A new kitten. (Make sure she wants a furry companion for the next 20 years.) An evening or even an hour just to talk, with no distractions. A donation in her name to a cause she supports. A clean house. For the kids to do what she asks, when she asks.

One woman met her partner in an Ann Arbor Observer personal ad and thought it would be cute to rewrite each other’s ads, adding new traits they’ve discovered.

When I had four kids at home, the best thing my husband could get me was some free time in the house by myself. I didn’t need to go anywhere. I needed him to go somewhere – and take everyone with him.

Now that I’m working from home, I’ll take any sentence beginning with the words, “Why don’t we go out to …”

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You know what I love? The fact that you can Google the name of any song and its artist, and within seconds you can be listening to that song. Whether it’s a ’60s hit like “Norman” by Sue Thompson, the theme song to “The Rifleman,” or the catchy tune you heard yesterday on the radio. You want it. You got it. Thank you, Google and

What’s your favorite love song? There are so many great ones: “Layla.” “If I Fell.” “And I Love Her.” “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face.” “Unchained Melody.” “Happy Together.” “There’s a Kind of Hush.”

My favorite is probably “Lost Together ” by Blue Rodeo. I love everything about it: The melody, the harmonies, that voice. And those lyrics: ”If we’re lost, then we are lost together.”

It’s not a promise to feel a certain way or a declaration of giddiness. It’s the conviction that we’re in this thing together no matter what.

That, my friends, is love in action. And that’s the kind that counts.

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As long as I can remember, my mother insisted that if she died before my dad, he would find a new wife within a month. I would think: Nah. Give him six months, anyhow.

Like many men of his generation, my father depended on his wife for his very survival.

As his health has deteriorated, my saintly mother has been by his side. About a year ago, she’d spent the day driving him to one appointment after another and was stopped at a light near a Sprint store. Not exactly a technology buff, my mother said: “Sprint. Hmm. That must be a running store.”

My father, who had been catered to all day by my mother as he has been for the last 62 years, sighed, shook his head, and said: “See what I have to put up with?”

He might have been serious.

So now my father is 84 and frail. He uses a wheelchair, barely talks, needs help doing virtually everything. And guess what my mother said the other day?

“If I die before Don, he’ll be married within a month.”

She still thinks he’s a catch. That’s amore.

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Of course you’re one of the 42,267,993 people who watched Jill and Kevin and their wedding party dance down the aisle last year.

Check it out at here, and you’ll see people are still commenting about it every few minutes.

When I watch it, I think what a fun couple they are. And that it’s too bad the song is sung by domestic abuser Chris Brown. And how there’s no way that even one person in my wedding party of 15 would have donned sunglasses and danced down the aisle. Duds, every one of ‘em!

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Every year during the week before Valentine’s Day, I drive over to the Ann Arbor PTO Thrift Shop and stock up on half-price Valentine goodies.

It’s all seasonal stuff nobody needs – pink teddy bears and heart-shaped candles and other knickknacky nonsense – but it’s perfect for Valentine’s Day junkies like me who insist the day should be all-inclusive. Romance shmomance. Of course the dog deserves her kibbles on a heart-shaped plate.

A mug of love.

A mug of love.

My favorite find on Monday was a pale pink mug with the word Love.

Not “Luv ya lots!” Or “Love is in the Air” written on a balloon. Or even “I Love You.”

Just … Love.

Simple is good. And who doesn’t love love?

I was going to send that mug to my coffee-loving daughter. But that evening as I removed the mug when the steamy dishwasher, I had an Oprah Aha moment. Reader, that cup was telling me to love.

I no longer saw the word as a noun. It was an action verb. A command. Something like “Surrender Dorothy.” But more chipper.

And here’s the great part about that: I can love more just by willing myself to do it. I can’t suddenly become fluent in three languages, or a great bowler, or 25% prettier.

But I can love.

What matters more than what you feel is what you do. So you don’t feel you love your mate anymore? Love her or him anyway. Wash her car or bite your tongue or pick up your socks. Think about what you can do to make your mate happy, and do it. Do the loving thing, and quite often the feelings follow.

So I’m keeping that mug.

And if you’re the one who donated it to the thrift shop, thanks. I needed that.

About the author: Jo Mathis is an Ann Arbor-based writer.


  1. February 13, 2010 at 10:06 am | permalink

    Thank yo Jo for the reminder!

  2. By bob h.
    February 13, 2010 at 12:17 pm | permalink

    Thanks JO,

    Us men need to be reminded that women are eternally romantic beings.

  3. By sally m
    February 13, 2010 at 12:35 pm | permalink

    oh Jo, you make me feel like such a weirdo. I have been begging my husband for years to please buy me power tools and cookware for Christmas and birthdays and any other gift-giving days. Honest! I mean it! He doesn’t believe I really want that stuff, but I do. So I say, men, listen very, very carefully. Maybe she really does want a practical gift, and women, say what you mean.

  4. February 14, 2010 at 3:32 pm | permalink

    My husband bought me some traditional chocolates but also downloaded into my itunes music library some Beethoven I’ve been longing for lately. Inexpensive but had a big impact!

  5. By Steve T
    February 15, 2010 at 9:43 am | permalink

    My girlfriend — who would probably get along famously with Sally M — wanted me to take her to an ice fishing contest. So I did. Love among the shanties.

  6. By Kelli
    February 15, 2010 at 1:27 pm | permalink

    I know valentines day is over, but the Ann Arbor CVB is running a sweepstakes for a romantic weekend getaway in Ann Arbor. You can enter through the end of February, here’s the link for anyone interested! [link]