Show Affection (Without Getting Sappy)

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Show Affection (Without Getting Sappy)
Displays of affection don't need to be lovey-dovey or sappy.

Anyway, for the longest time I was way too sophisticated for all that crap. Every time an anniversary or Valentine's Day rolled around, I was quick to tell whomever I was dating that he was not to worry about such lame, Hallmark-generated hoopla. I would then proceed to look down my nose at the candy-concealing bears and heart-encrusted lingerie, happy in my intellectual superiority. I was, I imagine, a real treat to have around.

Then, one February, everything changed. It was like this: I was sitting around with my boyfriend, Frank, drinking a beer, when he asked what I wanted to do for Valentine's Day. I suggested the usual nothing, wondering if he had forgotten what a lovely time we had had the previous year doing nothing. Frank nodded. Then he mentioned that he was thinking of buying me a gift—if not for Valentine's Day, exactly, then just because—and suggested that maybe I consider doing the same. I sneered. This was the moment I looked forward to every time I sat through a De Beers ad, the moment for self-righteous speechifying. "Why would we want to do that?" I asked, gearing up to lower the boom. His answer totally flicked on the cartoon lightbulb over my head: "Well, because I thought it would be a nice thing to do."

"A nice thing to do." How can you argue against doing nice things for a person you like? You really can't. Feeling like the Grinch during the heart-grows-three-sizes scene, I realized that perhaps it wasn't outside the realm of possibility that couples might give each other presents not because of capitalist brainwashing, but because they like to be generous with their partners. That, just maybe, what you do for each other isn't as important as why and how you do it.

Frank and I agreed then to buy each other something special and, you know, meaningful. A thing that the other person would really want to have. Which, it turns out, is an odd combination of more and less sappy than just grabbing an off-the-shelf plush from Snuggles Unlimited. More sappy because you have to put a lot of thought into delighting someone you love, and less sappy because you're not doing anything that would make my sister say "Awww." So when Frank gave me the nose ring he had picked out, and I gave him a signed comic book, it did feel like we were doing something nice for each other, and with very little associated saccharin.

It's possible to find a happy medium between sticky sweet and bitterly repressed. Here's an example involving people other than me: A few years back, my friends Josh and Karen announced that they had decided to get married. My initial reaction was to be highly skeptical about the whole thing. Not because of the commitment—they'd been living together for years and were really good for each other. No, I was bothered by the inherent lameness of having a wedding.

I had only ever been to big, puffy, expensive bridezilla-type ceremonies, with the lurid bridesmaids' dresses and the crazy parents-in-law and the single women brawling over the bouquet. Why, I wondered, would people I respected want to put themselves through that kind of misery? It had never occurred to me that at your wedding you can do whatever the hell you want.

Rather than a church and a minister, Josh and Karen had a kick-ass outdoor spot and an old friend officiating. In lieu of "Wedding March," Karen walked down the "aisle" to "Green Onions" by Booker T. and the MG's. Instead of the uptight, buttoned-up ceremony I had been expecting, they had thrown themselves a weekend-long party with all of their best friends and family, and it was wicked fun. Everyone seemed genuinely happy for them and happy to be there.

If weddings can be cool, anything can. It shouldn't be embarrassing to admit that you love somebody—fifth grade was a long time ago. Not even the grumpiest anti-romantic wants to go through life alone and miserable, a stinky, senile cat her only companion. At the same time, it takes a while to get comfortable with your smooshy side. You kind of have to grow into it—learn to love the love.

In that spirit, when I recently told my roommates and best friends that Frank and I had decided to move in together, I choked back all of the practical justifications for the move (saving money on rent, getting more living space, simplifying our scheduling, blah blah blah) and told them the painfully earnest truth: that we liked each other enough to want to share a house.

Naturally, I got ribbed for it, but good. I guess I deserved it after all the grief I'd given friends like Josh and Karen when they made moves to pair off. I stood by my moment of sappiness, though. And as I sit here in my shared apartment, with my shared cat and my sentimental nose jewelry and my decidedly un-rock 'n' roll Netflix subscription, I’m struck by this thought: I may have ended up the kind of becoupled homebody I used to roll my eyes at, but unlike my ex-roommates, I am getting some on a regular basis. And what could be cooler than that?

Audrey Ference is a freelance writer living in Brooklyn with her boyfriend and a senile cat. She still can’t bring herself to call anyone “Schmoopy.”

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