I’ve never been a huge fan of Valentine’s Day. Maybe it’s because I’ve never had a significant other on this day. Maybe it’s because of the excess of pink and red in the weeks leading up to it. Maybe it’s just because I’m bitter.
So, imagine my delight when I realized I was working on Valentine’s Day. I had agreed a few days before when an editor asked, “Can you work on Saturday?” I thought nothing of it until my roommate, who has been my V-Day date for the last two years, asked what we would be doing on Saturday.
When it hit me that I had agreed to work on the corniest day of the year, I started imagining what story I would have to write. Some old couple had been together for hundreds of years. A baby had been born at the stroke of midnight and his parents thought it’d be cute to name him “Val.” Or maybe, I’d be stuck covering weddings, with a bunch of happy people surrounding me for a few hours.
On that last one, I was right.
The day of, I drove to the wedding chapel, kind of dreading what I would have to face. When I got there, the room was small, but several different stories were there taking place.
One was of a couple who had met five months before. She was due in July, so they wanted to get married “before I burst.”
Another couple had told their friends and family the day before that they were scrapping their March wedding plans and just doing it on Valentine’s. They were going to be in town for a boxing match anyway, so it seemed convenient.
Two people explained how they had met on MySpace a year and a half before. They said they knew it seemed crazy, but he had planned the entire thing while he was away working, and she had made them matching shirts to wear to the ceremony.
I interviewed at least eight different couples that day.
But the one that stuck with me was this young couple that came in about halfway through. He was dressed in slacks and a red shirt, she was dressed in jeans and a red shirt. They looked about my age. After talking with them, it turns out they were high school sweethearts. They already had one son, and another baby was due in July. Their families couldn’t afford the trip, and since their son was being watched by his grandparents that weekend, it seemed like a decent time to do it.
Because their story fascinated me, I asked if I could sit through their wedding. The groom replied, “Hey, you could be our witness!”
I stuttered until one of the co-owners of the chapel agreed and had me sign a couple papers.
So it was done, and I walked into a tiny chapel. The minister put on the wedding march using a CD, and the couple walked in, with their arms linked and smiles on their faces.
The minister went on to tell them how he could tell they were sincere. Just because Princess Diana had married in Westminster Abbey with thousands of people watching didn’t make her marriage any more real than theirs, he said.
What mattered was that they loved each other, and that they wanted to build a life together.
He repeatedly told them they couldn’t do anything wrong, since they seemed worried about this.
And that’s when I got it. I’ve always dreamed about the dream wedding, with the perfect dress and the perfect flowers and all of my friends and family surrounding me on what is supposed to be the most important day of my life.
But as they recited their vows – some traditional and some that the minister had them make up on the spot – I realized none of that matters. It doesn’t matter what circumstances brought you together. It doesn’t matter what you’re able to afford or who can be there or what you’re wearing.
It only matters that the person who is slipping that ring on your finger and saying “I do” is the person you intend to spend the rest of your life with. All the rest of it is just extra stuff you don’t actually need.
To that happy couple, wherever you are in California, I wish you the best of luck in raising your family and building a life together. The way your eyes shined when you looked at each other gave me hope – for your future, for myself, for love in general.
So thanks to you both too, because what else is a better gift on the sappiest day of the year?