Dear un-Valentine: How you speak to your partner tells me more about you than the way you kiss

It’s Flora’s fault.

She’s sensitive, empathetic, and ruled by her heart. And she’s only 10, so her heart makes black and white rules. Wait. I’m telling this story wrong. I should have begun… never mind. Let’s start with Flora. And what Flora says is,

“But how can you like someone if you hate the way they treat their husband or wife?”

I’m not sure how to respond to that—I’m never sure how to respond to anything she says, really. And she goes on:

“I mean, how can someone be a good person if they treat the people they’re supposed to love badly?”

And I still say nothing, but I don’t need to, Flora is following her own train of thought, and she finishes:

“If you’re mean to your own wife or your kids or your husband—and these are the most important people in the world to you, the people you love the most—how will you treat me? If I’m a stranger, and you don’t know me at all, and don’t love me?

I would want nothing to do with such a person.”

And then she takes a carton of green tea ice cream from the freezer, and moves on to other things.

Meanwhile, her mother stands in the middle of the kitchen, phone in one hand, spatula in the other (I was making tacos—not that it’s important, but, you know, if you’re trying to assemble a full picture of the moment), and stares off into space, and ponders…

…that what Flora said should be true. Right? I mean—to flip it a little—that the way we treat the people we love the most should be the best we’re capable of.

Except it’s not, is it?

So often, the people we love best… they’re the ones who get the worst of us. Get treated the worst by us. Day after day after day…


There are three reasons for this ass-backward behaviour, I think.

First—when we love unconditionally and fully (or just a hell-of-a-lot, because most love is conditional, but we’ll talk about that another day) and are loved in return, we trust that love will be there no matter what. And so, when we trust, we let ourselves go. We snap, snip. We let our loves see us at our worst—and they still love us—and so we do it again… and again…

Second—husbands, wives, children, lovers, families—we’re together all the time, in each other’s faces. We rub against each other in the stress of hurried everyone-get-out-the-door mornings. We’re in each other’s faces in the I’m-too-exhausted-to-give-a-fuck evenings. We’re out of energy for politeness, manners. We snip. Snap. Again… and again… and again…

Third—we do it again… and again… and again… and then it’s a habit, and the majority of human behaviour and interaction is, simply… habit. And so… we do the nasty thing, say the mean thing again. And again. And again…

We say things to the people we love the most that we would never, ever say to more casual friends—to strangers—because, Christ, how unthinkably rude, cruel. Nasty.

We accept hearing/receiving these unacceptable behaviours from people who love us, because…

Actually, so here’s the thing, because—why, exactly?

Because they love us? And so it’s ok for them to treat us disrespectfully?

Because I love you, it’s okay for me to mock you? It’s ok for me to knock you down, undermine you, speak to you in a tone so disrespectful I would never, ever use it on a co-worker (not even that really, really annoying one)?

When Sean comes into the kitchen, I’m sitting in the middle of the kitchen, phone and spatula on the dirty floor, taco meat burning.

“What’s wrong?”

he asks, and I love him. I can’t put it into adequate words, so I put it into bad ones. And then, add:

“Do I ever speak to you like that? Ever?”

I don’t think I do, gods above and below, I hope I don’t, but does one ever hear oneself? Does she realize what comes out of her mouth? Does he know what he’s really saying when he says something so…

“Never. God, never, ever.”

(He’s lying. Because he loves me. I know that sometimes, when something he’s said or done triggers me, I react much less… kindly, tolerantly, lovingly… than I would had a less intimate-to-me person said or done the same thing. But I let him lie, in that moment, and I try to believe it.)

“If I ever do… stop me. Hard. The first time.”


As Valentine’s Day comes up—my third least-favourite faux holiday—lovers all through North America will be exchanging flowers, chocolates, and Hallmark-sanctioned expression of love and affection.

I refuse to celebrate Valentine’s Day.

I prefer to show that I love—and to be shown that I’m loved—every day. Mostly, in little things, you know what I mean, the tiny stuff: “thank you for doing the dishes, my love” and “I’m so sorry you had a lousy day” and “I missed you, come sit with me” and “will you do this for me, it’s driving me crazy” and “this poem made me think of you” and “I’m so happy you picked up cream on the way home” and also “god you look good today, I want to devour you” (delivered when I feel spent, exhausted, and so unsexy, and I’m pretty sure you’re lying, but oh-it’s-so-good-to-hear).

I choose to show that I love by how I talk to you. To him, to her, to them. The people I love best? They deserve me at my best—or at least… trying, conscious, aware, fostering, building.

And when I slip up? Call me on it. The first time. Hard.

Don’t let me treating you disrespectfully—because you love me, and I love you, and so it’s all ok—become a habit.

Because it isn’t ok to treat the people you love the most the worst.

Flora said so.

And she knows.

Happy un-Valentine’s Day.



NBTB-Dear un-Valentine

PS I have some un-Valetine’s Day presents for you. First, 15 Compliments for Your Valentine, Courtesy of  Erotic Artist Dorothy Iannone. Kind of awesome.

Second, 3 Misconceptions that Ruin Great Relationships by Kelly Flanagan from The Good Man Project. It’s essentially an essay AGAINST the grand gesture and for… habit.

Third, my friends and I have been debating for the last god knows how many weeks whether love is what you feel or what you do, and we’ve been reading and arguing about, among others, these:

You’ve probably seen one or both pieces already. If you haven’t, they’re worth a read.

Fourth, Good Daddies Are Hot.

Fifth—the original title of this post was, “Dear un-Valentine: How you speak to your partner tells me everything about the type of friend you’ll be. And it tells me you’re a jerk, and I want nothing to do with you.” But I decided it was a little… wordy. Jane out xx



You come into my house, and I am twirling, spiraling, dancing: half-delirious with joy and excitement. There are things I want to show you, share with you… Are you ready? I take your hand and dance with you through the hallway—walls, floors, baseboards!* —and into the place-space I really want to show you, the space most precious to me, my space.

I stand at its threshold, and beam. Spread my arms open and spin around: it’s tiny, but it’s mine, all mine, and it’s real-rebuilt-unspoilt. As I spin, I point to my little desk, and the couch-I-can-lounge-on-or-invite-friends-to-crash-on, and the rug no-child-or-dog-has-peed-on-yet, and the old, dusty Tiffany lamp Sean got me for a birthday way back when, and the little shelf of beloved-books that are there, within hand’s reach of me when I sit on the couch, and the window through which speckles of sunlight-and-outdoor-fairy-dust come in, and…

Mine, all mine, precious to me, and I am so happy, so happy to share it with you. Because I love you.

And you…

You look around, at this space-that-is-me, that is my heart-mind-made-into-place, and you say…

“Sort of a sloppy paint job, eh? I can see the spots you missed on the ceiling.”

And you say…

“Is that an Ikea sofa bed? I can’t stand Ikea furniture. And that colour… grey? What were you thinking?”

And you say…

“That Mexican blanket is so frayed and worn. Plus–taaacky! You should just throw it out.”

And you say…

“That secretary desk just doesn’t belong there at all.”

And you say…

“Why did you put a white rug there? You know it’s only going to get filthy, and you know you’ll never clean it.”

And you say…

“Is that the picture that was in your bedroom before? I’ve never liked it.”

You are in this space-that-is-me, my heart-mind-made-into-place, and you are violating me with every word.

I collapse into my grey—cheap, unfashionable, whatever, MINE, and it does what I need it to do—Ikea couch, wrap the frayed blanket (I LOVE IT) around me and turn away from you (I HATE YOU right now) and look at my shelf of beloved-books-that-always-make-me-happy and I reach out for one of them.

And you say…

“Jesus, are you still obsessed with Jane Austen? I don’t get how you can re-read those books over and over and over again. They’re so boring. Can’t you find something more interesting, more productive to do with your time?”

And our relationship is over. You never get to come into space-that-is-me, my-heart-mind ever again.


You’ve never done this to me. You would never do this to me. As you read the story above—you were appalled, were you not? You thought, I know you did—what sort of terrible, terrible person would ever do that to a friend?

And yet… the average well-meaning, loving parent… does something like this… ALL THE TIME… to children.



You come into their world, their moment, their space, their joy—and there they are, twirling, spiraling, dancing: half-delirious with joy and excitement. There are things they want to show you, share with you… Are you ready? They want to show you/tell you about their space-place-passion-joy, and it doesn’t matter what it is: an arrangement of sticks, a new graphic novel, a Youtube video that’s touched off something inside them, this cool thing they’ve built in Minecraft, a new Barbie doll outfit, what Sophia said at the playground. The way they’ve stacked their cars, rearranged their stuffies. Reorganized your kitchen cupboards.

It is a thing that is precious to them, and they are so happy, so happy to share it with you. Because they love you.

And you…

You look at what they are baring to you, and you say…

“What a mess!”

And you say…

“Did you spend the whole day watching Youtube videos again?”

And you say…

“I don’t get why you keep on reading crap like this.”

And you say…

“What a waste of time.”

And you say…

“Can’t you ever put your things away?”

And you say…

“I don’t understand why you hang out with her.”

And you say…

“Can’t you find something more interesting, more productive to do with your time?”

You are violating them with your every word.

And your relationship is over.

It won’t die the first time you do this. No. It will take a while.

But eventually… you will never get to come into space-that-is-them, their-heart-mind-space ever again.


Children give their heart-mind-space-place-come-within-me-be-inside-me-and-see-what-I-love… so freely. Don’t take it for granted.

Don’t wreck it.

Honour it.

You wouldn’t tell me—would you? —all those terrible things? (And if you would, baby—therapy. Now. Today; don’t wait for tomorrow.) You wouldn’t, of course you wouldn’t. Because you know you would violate me. With every word. And our relationship would be over, and my space-place-heart-mind closed to you forever.

Don’t do it to your children.

This soapbox moment brought to you by my own need for eternal vigilance over the tendency to treat our children worse than we would treat friends or strangers.




*If you’re new here, you might need to know… there was this flood: unLessons from the flood: we are amazing and After the flood: Running on empty, and why “are things back to normal” is not the right question. And now, 10.5 months later, I have my space back (well, almost, almost, any day now…), and am reimagining it. And it is quite, quite wonderful.

And when I get a cheap grey IKEA couch in there, and my frayed Mexican blanket, and a rug no-child-or-dog-has-peed-on-yet, and my most-beloved-books… it will be even better. And when I invite you into it, invite you in because I love you–you will look at it through MY eyes before you say anything. Because… you love me. And want to understand how I feel about this space-that-is-me, understand me–not hear yourself talk.

Of course you will.

Now. Go do the same thing when your child invites you in…