The first holiday we encountered together after I moved onto his converted barge in Paris was Valentine’s Day. Paying attention to it — a card, a gift, a dinner reservation — was not on his radar. We spent that Saturday visiting charming towns to the northwest of the city. When the sun set, we began to look for an inn for dinner. Full. Complet. No reservations? Out of the question. It was a holiday.
After several disappointing inquiries, we returned to Paris. David called the bistro where we had enjoyed our first meal together, and where we often returned. They knew us well. Astonished that we had failed to plan for this day designated to celebrate romance, the maître d’hotel promised to seat us but the best that he could do was a table for two on the balcony.
David has never again failed to plan for Valentine’s Day. What he plans is irrelevant; the remembering is the gift that is meaningful to me. Over the years, while he still has not acquired my enthusiasm for America’s many commercially-exploited holidays, he has learned to honor Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Thanksgiving, along with Memorial Day and Labor Day as indicators of seasonal transitions. The details do not matter; the remembering is what counts. It is an excellent way to show he loves me.
What can we remember?
- Dates. As described above, the calendar annually indicates dates that are filled with personal meaning. They may be officially sanctioned, such as Valentine’s Day or Thanksgiving. But they can also be quite personal — birthdays, a first encounter, the date that someone you loved died. The calendar provides excellent candidates for taking a moment to pay tribute to the sentiment that underlies the anniversaries of a specific date or event.
- Memories. Apart from specific dates, shared memories can promote closeness when revisited. Whether they evoke moments of joy or pain, adventure or indulgence, struggle or triumph, they offer opportunities to deepen a sense of sharing. And sharing can deepen love.
- Details. Has anyone ever asked you what you were wearing when? What song was playing? What was happening in the world at that time? Details bring in context, background, and imagery; through them we sustain memories. This is particularly helpful as people age and memories blur amid the overload of information collected across years.
- Agreements. In close relationships, we make promises to each other. You pick up milk and I will stop at the cleaners; you do the laundry and I will make dinner. That sort of thing. Honoring our commitments to one another is a supreme mark of respect and thus expressing love. But first we need to remember that we have made those commitments.
How do we express remembering?
- Keeping your word. We show that we remember agreements when we keep our word. By limiting promises to those that we can keep, we have a better chance of actually remembering what they are and of making them a priority.
- Gifts. At another time I will write about giving gifts as a way to show “I love you” — but throughout time the giving of a gift has been a way to say “I remember”.
- Memory triggers. Concrete objects or replayed experiences can use the senses to remind someone that you know who they are, that you want to please them, that you too can recall a magic moment. A specific cut on a record album, the smell of a loved one’s favorite dinner, the sight of a coffee mug that you bought together on a trip to New England can bring back feelings shared at an earlier time in the relationship and help those feelings replay in the present.
- Photographs. Today photographs are ubiquitous. Images are captured for reasons ranging from assisting short-term memory needs (like where to mail a package or what color sheets to buy for the bedroom) to capturing a smile in a moment of joy or look of astonishment at encountering the unexpected. Those in the latter category can help us acknowledge the light we bring to each other as well as situations in which we have done so.
Creative tributes. Personal ways of remembering can speak the loudest and last the longest. Hand-made art — a card, a board filled with sayings, collages, a decoupaged wastebasket, a photo montage — assures the loved one that you took the time to remember. Similarly, a surprise meal, gold stars on notes tacked up in hidden places, tea as promised each morning at 10:30 — the possibilities are endless.
Why does remembering show love?
- Validation of the importance of the relationship. Taking the time to show that you remember assures the loved one that he or she is a priority. Being important in the eyes of someone you love makes you feel valued and gives you the opportunity to show them that what they have to give — their love — is also valuable.
- Recognition of shared moments that mattered. Replaying life moments that were of critical importance helps those remembering know that they are not alone. They underscore ways in which they witnessed each other’s heights, depths and transformations. They underlie ingredients of a shared identity.
- Bringing pleasure. Best of all, remembering can be a way to bring pleasure to each other, even when the pleasure is relief at having made it through a difficult time. Our capacity to bring joy to each other sustains the positive impact of a relationship in the midst of inevitable distractions and difficulties.
When did you feel loved because someone remembered a date, an event, a detail, a promise? How have ways of remembering changed for you over time? Were you ever surprised and delighted by someone remembering something about you or that involved you both? How did that make you feel about the other person? About yourself?