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It's OK to be unromantic

A Miami sweets shop has its Valentine's Day chocolates ready for the rush. Daniel Jones will probably not be buying any.

Story highlights

  • Daniel Jones and his wife, Cathi, aren't romantic; they don't ever remember their anniversary
  • Jones edits a "love" column in which strangers tell tales of swooning love, romantic longing
  • Their marriage has lasted 22 years without the flowers and the chocolates, he says
  • Jones: They support each other, laugh and talk together, and make a good pair of parents

Not even on Valentine's Day am I much of a romantic. I hardly ever think to buy flowers for my wife or plan fun getaways, and I rarely remember our anniversary. To be fair, neither does she. We're usually reminded of our anniversary only when her mother's congratulatory card arrives with a little check tucked inside.

Oh yeah, we think. It's that time of year again. How many years has it been? Which anniversary is this? Paper? Copper? Sometimes I have to take off my wedding ring and look at the date, which is etched inside.

In the card my mother-in-law will have written: "Spend this on a nice dinner out for the two of you!"

Daniel Jones

"How sweet of her," Cathi will say.

"She's so nice to do this every year," I'll say.

And then we'll deposit the check in our mutual checking account and promise ourselves a nice dinner out, which usually fails to materialize. Maybe a portion of that check will go toward the electric bill, which powers our air conditioner, which keeps us cool and comfortable in the hot summer months. That's kind of romantic, right? Not really. What can I say? Romance just isn't in our DNA.

And yet I spend my days reading other people's love stories. For the past 10 years I've edited a column in The New York Times called "Modern Love," in which strangers write personal essays spilling the details of their love lives for a mass audience. A lot of their stories aren't very romantic, either, but many of them are: tales of swooning singletons traveling great distances for love, or planning elaborate proposals, or pouring their hearts out in ways that expose them to crushing rejection.

Stories like that make me think I should be more romantic.

But at this point, Cathi and I have been married almost 22 years. Our patterns are kind of established. We love each other and support each other's work and aspirations. We're good parents together. We're really good at making each other laugh. At dinner parties, we'd still rather sit next to each other than be broken up and forced to talk to other people. Isn't that enough? I know what you're thinking. This guy is hopeless! And not in the sense of being a hopeless romantic!

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Some say romance is dying in this age of commercialized and computerized matchmaking. They say romance is being killed by a world of constant communication. How can you miss someone when you can FaceTime with him or her 24/7? Where is the mystery when you can follow each other's Twitter feed and Facebook posts at work during the day or when away on a business trip?

I've even heard of husbands and wives using "Find My iPhone" to locate their spouses if they're not answering calls or texts, as if the thing was invented to serve as a GPS tracking device. And after our laptop locates the signal, we think: Oh, she's just at CVS. Oh, he's just walking the dog down by the river. Not a lot of mystery there.

Nothing to wonder about. If absence makes the heart grow fonder, what does continual presence do? Make the heart grow bored?

With Cathi and me, technology has nothing to do with our unromantic affliction. Our love has sidestepped romantic traditions from the beginning. We got engaged on a ferry boat in San Francisco Bay. That's romantic, right? Well, not for us. We had departed from Fisherman's Wharf, bound for Sausalito, when Cathi said, "So are we getting married, or what?"

"Yeah, we should," I said.

And that was it. We had become engaged. Even though I hadn't proposed. Hadn't knelt. Hadn't pulled a hidden ring box from my pocket or sock and presented it to her with a big, goofy smile. Hadn't memorized or delivered any heartfelt lines. I don't even think we kissed.

By then we had been together for almost two years. We were both 29, nearing the end of our graduate school days, and obviously had to figure out what was next for us. Our marriage and family clock was ticking, and our parents' expectations were mounting. I wanted to marry Cathi and assumed we would get married, and yet I hadn't taken a single step in that direction.

Why hadn't I? I wish I could claim some standard excuse like cold feet or commitment issues or a laundry list of doubts, but it wouldn't be true. I wasn't worried about Cathi specifically or about marriage generally. I expected it would all work out fine. I wasn't concerned about joining her family or her joining mine. I was simply procrastinating because I didn't want to face the work and stress that proposing and then planning a wedding would require.

As we steamed past Alcatraz Island (no prison symbolism intended), Cathi asked if I had any thoughts about a ring.

"No," I said. "But I'll ask my mother."

Oof.

In the end, though, my mother delivered. She had a family heirloom kind of ring with a little diamond chip that we got sized for Cathi's finger, and that made it official. Some months later, during our pre-wedding planning, we went to a strip mall in West Orange, New Jersey, and ordered matching gold bands. As we walked out, I felt a little misty eyed, and I don't think it was just because of the pollution.

Some months later we walked down the aisle. We said our vows. We kissed. We danced. We celebrated. And later that night we strode into our fancy hotel room, where I pulled from my pockets the cash and checks people had given us, and I scattered the loot all over the bed. No one had told me that people tend to stuff money into the groom's pockets at weddings, and I have to say it felt really romantic to lie in all that cash together on a king-size hotel bed.

We'd done it. We had turned our love into marriage. It was the start of everything. It's a date that will be etched forever in -- my ring.

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