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Guest Opinion: A Valentine's Day alternative

by David and Constantino Khalaf

David Khalaf, left, and his husband, Constantino, are the authors of "Modern Kinship: A Queer Guide to Christian Marriage." Photo: Lehua Noelle Faulkner
David Khalaf, left, and his husband, Constantino, are the authors of "Modern Kinship: A Queer Guide to Christian Marriage." Photo: Lehua Noelle Faulkner  

Facebook recently reminded us of a screenshot we posted a couple of years ago, the day before our first Valentine's Day as a married couple. "Do you want to do something special tomorrow?" one of us had asked in a text thread. "Nah, but I'm open if you do," the other replied. "Nah," said the first one.

Neither of us has a schmaltzy affinity for roses, heart-shaped boxes of chocolate, or candlelit dinners. We even resist Valentine's Day a little bit because of its origins in consumerism and the heteronormative narrative it has historically espoused. That's not to say we're not romantic. We love the idea of celebrating love and romance but — as with so many facets of being in a same-sex marriage — we've just had to figure out a way to do it that feels true to us and our relationship.

This year, our Valentine's Day celebration will consist of the two of us and a raucous group of 12- to 15-year-olds. We're hosting a hangout for our church's youth group. The idea dropped into our lap months ago when our church's youth pastor asked if we would host one of the group's regular get-togethers, and we saw that the February date fell on Valentine's Day. We looked at each other and immediately knew there was no better way for us to celebrate the holiday.

Having our church's youth over on Valentine's Day is a perfect fit for us because it puts into practice two of the values we seek to live out in our marriage: service and hospitality. We're helping our adult friends out by making it easier for them to go on a romantic Valentine's date without having to worry about child care. And by hosting our younger friends, we're helping them cultivate friendships and a sense of community. We don't have children of our own, and so it has been meaningful for us to participate in the lives of our friends' children.

In our new book, "Modern Kinship: A Queer Guide to Christian Marriage," we explain that we think marriage is at its best when it is something more than a self-centered venture. We write, "a good marriage is outwardly focused; it carries a mission and seeks to make the world a more loving, peaceful place."

To us, marriage has never been just about the love we feel for each other. We came of age in the 1990s, and came out of the closet in the early 2000s, when marriage wasn't even an option for people like us. So we knew, when we met and fell in love in our mid-30s, that we didn't need the government or a church to validate our love.

We got married because we wanted to establish a lifelong covenant to honor, cherish, and support each other. And we wanted to do it surrounded by our friends and family, not only because we realize marriages need community support in order to last and thrive, but also because we wanted to make a commitment to them. We wanted to give back to our community the same support and love we give and get from each other.

As a marginalized group, the LGBTQ community has long recognized the importance of community. The rejection many of us have experienced from our families of origin has moved us to find family elsewhere. We've opened up our homes to each other and we have established traditions, celebrating holidays and doing life with one another. Now that marriage is an option for us, and becoming more common, it's important that we don't leave that communal spirit behind.

Single people often complain that, when a friend gets married, it's as if they drop off the face of the earth. It's easy for couples to become insular units that no longer engage their wider group of friends. We are both homebodies, so we are all too familiar with this temptation. But this is a norm that queer couples are perhaps better poised to challenge than straight folks. The fact that marriage as an institution is newer to us means that we get to deconstruct it, tossing away what doesn't make sense, and keeping only what truly works. And this is something each couple gets to do for themselves.

If you love Valentine's Day, and a romantic date alone with your beloved is what will make you happiest, go for it! Being outwardly focused doesn't mean a couple shouldn't enjoy private holidays. In fact, all couples need to create time to celebrate their relationships in order to strengthen and maintain their bonds. We believe it's important to fill our emotional tanks inwardly first so that we then have the energy to turn outward.

If you're anti-Valentine's or blasé about it, consider establishing a new tradition this year — one that gives the day meaning and purpose beyond the boundaries of your relationship. You could reach out to friends who are single and perhaps feeling lonely and throw a party where couples aren't the emphasis. Or you could take Valentine's weekend to volunteer for a cause you both believe in. You could even start with just having a conversation about the ways in which you can turn outward and serve others as a couple.

Whatever you do, giving your marriage a sense of mission will strengthen your union, and together, you can help make the world a kinder, more beautiful place.

The Khalafs are the authors of "Modern Kinship: A Queer Guide to Christian Marriage" (https://amzn.to/2SjDBSh) (Westminster John Knox Press, 2019). They live in Portland, Oregon, where they spend most of their time drinking tea, coffee, wine, and whisky. They sometimes try to eat healthy.

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