The Swedish Way of Love
I married two of the most unromantic men in the world. Not at the same time, of course. Only money and inertia prevent me from asking a therapist why I chose such a dispassionate existence. I like candy, flowers, jewelry, and being taken out to dinner. Yet, my combined thirty-nine years of wedded bliss have rarely included such treats. Did marrying two robots make me cynical, or was I born cynical, causing me to seek out men who would not disappoint?
My first marriage lasted nineteen years. Perhaps the word lasted isn’t the most appropriate way to describe a marriage, but those years did have the feel of a marathon, and I was certainly exhausted by the end of it.
On February 15, for nearly two decades, husband number one presented me with all the half-priced chocolates a gal could ever want. He got up early the morning after Valentine’s Day to make sure he was first in line at the local pharmacy. Sparing no expense, he scooped up all the sale candy he could carry, brought it home, and proudly handed the bag of booty to me, not unlike my cat presenting me with a dead mouse on the doorstep.
This annual behavior annoyed me because he was rich. Instead of honoring me, he deprived poor people of their annual chocolate fest. I finally divorced him, in part because he bought me half-price chocolates, but mostly because he couldn’t make me laugh.
After swearing off unromantic men and marriage forever, I proceeded to tie the knot a few years later with Sven. Hailing from a country known for its neutrality, fairness, and humanitarian awards, I assumed he would be demonstrably affectionate. All that regard for the teeming masses, I reasoned, must translate to fawning adulation of his one and only beloved. Alas, with still no therapist to set me straight, I quickly discovered I had consigned myself to another marriage sans flowers and bonbons.
I had not taken into consideration that Sweden was also known for the cold, calculating efficiency of their people, second only to Germans. I don’t know about you, but when I picture a German man, I’m not seeing tiny, happy cupids dancing around his head.
I knew, of course, that Sweden was the home of the Nobel Prize, awarded annually to a handful of people who excel in their fields of endeavor. After my first Valentine’s Day encounter with Sven, I decided it was too bad the rest of the world couldn’t reciprocate. Why couldn’t the United Nations bestow an award on the country with the least romantically inclined males? Surely, the Swedes would win every year.
Think of romance--warm, fuzzy feelings, sweet, sexy pillow talk, roses, heart-shaped candy, and even terms of endearment. Now think of Sweden--frigid, ice-covered, and devoid of color. Swedish men’s traits reflect their country’s winter landscape: Ice-blue eyes, methodical practicality, and unrelenting logical analysis. That’s a fairly harsh analogy, but then has anyone every described a Swede as passionate?
We also can’t forget that Anders Celsius, the Swedish nemesis of Mr. Fahrenheit, had a decidedly different idea of what constituted warmth. He determined the numerical equivalent of the German physicist’s sweltering 104 degrees was a mere forty on the Celsius scale. Brrrrrrr.
The discussion Sven and I had just before his first Valentine’s Day in America set the tone for my impending, pragmatic future.
“What is Walentine’s Day?” he asked, still unable to pronounce a ‘V’.
(I don’t fault him for this, I can’t pronounce omhetsbetygelsers, the Swedish word for romantic gesture.) By the way, the Swedes extend their efficiency to their language, omhetsbetygelsers means a romantic gesture to your lover, or a caring act towards your grandmother. I guess you have to get the pronunciation juuust right to avoid getting smacked.
I continued lobbying for my favorite February holiday. “Couples in love,” I happily explained, “give each other greeting cards and thoughtful little gifts.” Visions of champagne and roses danced in my head.
“What kinds of gifts?” He frowned.
I saw in my mind’s eye the bubbly and flowers flying out the window. Giving a gift to someone you’d already snagged wasn’t computing in his logical Swedish head.
“Most people give chocolates and flowers, and everyone exchanges greeting cards. The very, very romantic also give jewelry,” I replied, deciding there was no point in being subtle in the face of inexcitability.
“You have created a day to do this thing?”
“We don’t think of Valentine’s Day as a thing,” I said through gritted teeth. “It’s a day for romance and love."
Picking up on the nuances of emotion not being his strong suit, he blithely continued, “And who benefits from this day?"
“What are you talking about?”
“This sounds like corporate America.”
“Sven," I explained testily, “It’s not a subversive plot. It’s just a fun way for couples to celebrate their romance.”
“Can’t you see how you are being manipulated? It’s the candy makers and flower people who benefit.”
“I prefer to call them chocolatiers and florists,” I replied in my haughtiest American voice.
“This is a capitalistic wenture thought up by corporate America. Your greeting cards cost almost three dollars each. If one hundred million Americans buy a card for this fake holiday, that’s at least one hundred fifty million in profit for the card companies.”
“You’re right. Let’s not, God forbid, contribute to anyone’s profits. There will be no cards, candy, flowers, or anything else smacking of capitalism exchanged in this house on Valentine’s Day.”
“You sound wery angry,” he said.
“What’s wrong with you Swedes? What’s so hard about being thoughtful?”
“We are thoughtful. We invented seat warmers for cars.”
“You also invented dynamite.”
“Compared to the Atom bomb, it doesn’t seem so bad.”
“Don’t start one of your anti-American rants. This isn’t about politics. Why can’t you relax and enjoy a harmless celebration like Valentine’s Day? Just once, try feeling without thinking.”
Like boxers at the end of a round, we retreated to our corners to lick our wounds, treading lightly around each other for the next few days.
February 14th arrived and I presented him with a humorous card, devoid of all romantic sentiment.
He presented me with a hand-made card, determined that corporate America wouldn’t get a piece of him.
On the front of the card he had drawn a man holding the Swedish flag. Sitting on top of the man’s head was a huge, red heart, bursting with exclamation points and stars.
On the inside he had written: I have a heart on for you.
“Read it fast,” he said.
We’re still together, and I’m still laughing.