The history of my husband, me and Valentine’s Day is pretty minimalist. On Feb. 14, 1984, I had just started working as a staff attorney at the N.C. Court of Appeals, and we went out to lunch with a mutual friend. She wasn’t trying to set us up (he had a girlfriend); she just insisted he was a great guy and I should get to know him. Dan seemed pretty quiet to me, but since Pat liked him I decided to reserve judgment.

The next Valentine’s Day, as Dan’s fiancee, I bought him two shirts and wrapped them in shirtboxes covered with this great red paper–what a model wife-to-be! Then there was one Valentine’s Day as a newlywed, one pregnant, one as a mother of an infant and about to get pregnant again (or maybe I was already pregnant), and then a long series of Valentine’s Days With Kids. Don’t get me wrong–it’s not that they haven’t been wonderful; it’s just that my Valentine’s memories since having kids (i.e., most of my married life) haven’t had much to do with romance or whoopee.

There’s the heart-shaped pan I bought for a series of cakes decorated with pink-tinted cream cheese icing and red-and-white M&Ms; years of buying little valentines that fit into tiny envelopes for the kids to fill out for their classmates; and my favorite, the heart-shaped lollipop molds which my daughter and I use to make dozens of dark and white chocolate swirled treats wrapped in cellophane bags and tied with red ribbon that we then deliver all over town. Dan and I usually manage to exchange cards, and one time he did give me a pair of silver earrings I still wear, but other than the earrings I didn’t have a single concrete memory involving him and Valentine’s Day since we were engaged and I bought those shirts.

That’s why I was so excited to learn during the afternoon of Valentine’s Day 2003, a Friday no less, that both kids, teenagers now, had plans for the evening. I worked till about 6 o’clock (rare for me, I must have been finishing up a brief), but while the evening was still young I hightailed it over to Wellspring to buy some dinner neither of us would have to cook–even rarer. (The way I learned to run a kitchen, Italian-style, you do it all yourself, always–I barely knew what the expression “cake from scratch” meant until I was 12 or 13. Cake was cake. You make ’em. You bake ’em. Period.)

The mood chez Wellspring was festive, to say the least. The store was filled with people lucky enough to have love or a lover in their lives–people buying flowers and wine and exotic cheeses and fancy desserts. And I was a part of them! I was not in my kitchen searching for the heart-shaped pan; I was putting together a meal that signaled romance!

I filled my cart with impractical, overpriced food that required at most heating up. I impulse-bought a red heart-shaped floater candle and a cheesecake for two. So this is what single people and childless couples had been doing on Valentine’s Day–I felt as if I’d cracked the Morse Code. I loaded the bags into the minivan and drove home. The kids weren’t there, but neither was my spouse, not an auspicious start to the evening’s planned activities. I dialed his office. (He was apparently doing his imitation of Ebenezer Scrooge on Christmas Eve.) Hey honey, I said, I’m alone in the house and it’s Valentine’s Day. You need to come home now. Fortunately, I married a guy who can take a hint. He did. We did. Now that’s amore.