Valentine’s Day has a different meaning for each one of us. For my eight-year old, it means buying a rose for the boy she likes in third grade, and hoping he likes her back. I hope so too, for her sake. For my 11-year old, nothing yet, or so she says. For my de-facto stepson, nine, writing the names of all his classmates on little boxes of candy, to give out in school.

For my single friends the day reminds them how lucky they are to be unattached and not have to put up with the antics of their loved one. Or it could be a time of longing to be loved and appreciated by a special someone who, in their minds, is perfect—because he exists only in their imagination. For my partner, it’s a day like any other. He’s a guy after all.

As for me…well, I’m a hopeless romantic. Deep down, I wish that my significant other would surprise me with an engagement ring that he picked out a couple of months ago. He saved for it, and bothered to look through my jewelry box to find out my exact ring size. He emailed or called my sister and closest friends to find out what I like. He arranged for a babysitter behind my back and is perhaps calling a quaint waterfront restaurant for dinner reservations.

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Alas, I know this is all a fallacy, and I’m ok with that. Or so I say. Because, here is the contradiction in women: we want to appear strong and self-sufficient and yet we are suckers for Prince Charming. As Julia Roberts so famously said at the end of Pretty Woman, we want the fairy tale.

And yet, I’m old and experienced enough to know that Valentine’s Day is not really what love is about. A proposal is not really what love is about. Giving and receiving jewelry is not really what love is about.

It’s about a journey. It’s about discovering someone little by little, being there for them, admitting your mistakes and saying you’re sorry when you have to. It’s about treating each other with respect, with admiration. Being interested in their interests or at the very least respecting them. Talking the other person off a window ledge as needed. Making friends with them…and realizing that romantic love has many layers and when nurtured, it has the potential to grow into something solid and meaningful that defies time, distance and life’s ups and downs. And I have that. I’ve had it for the past three and a half years. I cherish it. In fact, I wish it upon other people, including my ex-husband.

This year, Valentine’s Day brings a little more joy to my heart because I know it’s a special day for my ex-husband. A couple of weeks ago, he called me to tell me he’d found someone. I hadn’t heard him so excited since we met 16 years ago. And I was thrilled for him. Whether it blossoms into a long-lasting relationship or not, it was a reminder to me that falling in love is a wonderful feeling. And that staying in love with the right person can be too. For that, today I am grateful.

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