Skip to main content

It's OK to be unromantic

By Daniel Jones
updated 10:12 AM EST, Thu February 13, 2014
A Miami sweets shop has its Valentine's Day chocolates ready for the rush. Daniel Jones will probably not be buying any.
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

Editor's note: Daniel Jones is the editor of the Modern Love column in The New York Times and the author of "Love Illuminated: Exploring Life's Most Mystifying Subject (with the Help of 50,000 Strangers)." Follow him on Twitter @danjonesnyt.

(CNN) -- 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.

Daniel Jones
Daniel Jones

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

"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.

Cupp: Valentines Day should have rejection
Valentine's roses: Every second matters
Heartache cure: Share misery with others

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!

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.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook.com/CNNOpinion.

The opinions in this commentary are solely those of Daniel Jones.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 5:01 PM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
Paul Callan says the grand jury is the right process to use to decide if charges should be brought against the police officer
updated 12:19 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Theresa Brown says the Ebola crisis brought nurses into the national conversation on health care. They need to stay there.
updated 6:35 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Patrick Hornbeck says don't buy the hype: The arguments the Vatican used in its interim report would have virtually guaranteed that same-sex couples remained second class citizens
updated 9:48 PM EDT, Sat October 25, 2014
Paul Begala says Iowa's U.S. Senate candidate, Joni Ernst, told NRA she has right to use gun to defend herself--even from the government. But shooting at officials is not what the Founders had in mind
updated 6:08 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
John Sutter: Why are we so surprised the head of a major international corporation learned another language?
updated 5:54 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Jason Johnson says Ferguson isn't a downtrodden community rising up against the white oppressor, but it is looking for justice
updated 12:21 PM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Sally Kohn says a video of little girls dressed as princesses using the F-word very loudly to condemn sexism is provocative. But is it exploitative?
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Timothy Stanley says Lewinsky is shamelessly playing the victim in her affair with Bill Clinton, humiliating Hillary Clinton again and aiding her critics
updated 10:14 AM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Imagine being rescued from modern slavery, only to be charged with a crime, writes John Sutter
updated 12:00 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Tidal flooding used to be a relatively rare occurrence along the East Coast. Not anymore, write Melanie Fitzpatrick and Erika Spanger-Siegfried.
updated 7:35 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Carol Costello says activists, writers, politicians have begun discussing their abortions. But will that new approach make a difference on an old battleground?
updated 9:12 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
updated 2:51 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Crystal Wright says racist remarks like those made by black Republican actress Stacey Dash do nothing to get blacks to join the GOP
updated 6:07 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Mel Robbins says by telling her story, Monica Lewinsky offers a lesson in confronting humiliating mistakes while keeping her head held high
updated 9:29 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Cornell Belcher says the story of the "tea party wave" in 2010 was bogus; it was an election determined by ebbing Democratic turnout
updated 4:12 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Les Abend says pilots want protocols, preparation and checklists for all contingencies; at the moment, controlling a deadly disease is out of their comfort zone
updated 11:36 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
David Weinberger says an online controversy that snowballed from a misogynist attack by gamers into a culture war is a preview of the way news is handled in a world of hashtag-fueled scandal
updated 8:23 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Paul Krugman makes some good points in his defense of President Obama but is premature in calling him one of the most successful presidents.
updated 10:21 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
Conservatives can't bash and slash government and then suddenly act surprised if government isn't there when we need it, writes Sally Kohn
updated 8:05 AM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
ISIS is looking to take over a good chunk of the Middle East -- if not the entire Muslim world, write Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider.
updated 9:00 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
updated 4:33 PM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
updated 12:42 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
updated 4:43 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
updated 4:58 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
updated 9:42 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
updated 8:21 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
updated 4:27 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
updated 12:07 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
updated 12:29 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
updated 12:53 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
updated 6:45 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
updated 1:00 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
updated 7:01 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
updated 1:44 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
updated 9:35 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
updated 10:08 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
updated 7:25 AM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
updated 4:04 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
updated 9:07 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
updated 6:50 PM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
updated 11:43 AM EDT, Sat October 11, 2014
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT