You've probably heard the sad news by now. Those venerable, heart-shaped Sweetheart sugar candies that have become so popular for Valentine's Day won't be on store shelves this year. No "Be Mine" and "Kiss Me" printed messages to satisfy your romantic (and sweet) cravings. No more declarations of "My Love" and "Miss You" and "Crazy for You."
I'm – excuse the pun – heartbroken. I remember those little candies from elementary school, when classmates included them with Valentine cards. As an adult, I'd dig into my children's (and now my grandchildren's) Valentine loot to pop two or three pastel pieces at a time. Valentine's Day, like Easter, like Halloween, is the perfect holiday for those of us who have surrendered without guilt to a sweet tooth. Who could possibly look askance at such indulgence?
Sweethearts, the most popular Valentine's Day candy ever, dropped out of sight when its maker, Necco, filed for bankruptcy and the investment firm that bought it closed the factory. Another company has since bought the brand and plans to continue manufacturing the hearts – but not in time for this year. The new company needs time to gear up to make about 100,000 pounds of Sweethearts a day for 11 months.
The temporary demise of Sweethearts got me thinking about romance and love and how difficult it is to keep the spark of both alive beyond the early infatuation stage. After all, romantic love is a lot like a business startup. Enthusiasm runs fast and deep in the beginning but wanes as we negotiate the obstacles of building something more durable. Maintaining a relationship, one that matters, one that brings you joy most of the time, is about as difficult as raising children, and the latter is a 24/7 job that requires endurance and a sense of humor. As I've told each of my kids before their formal "I do" marriage – any long-term relationship, in fact – is a marathon, not a sprint. It evolves, changes shape, transforms us.
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You don't make it past the first year without learning something unpleasant about your beloved and about yourself. And you'll never make it past the first decade (and beyond) if you define love as permanent bliss, attachment as sex, and commitment as an automatic byproduct of simply hanging around and hanging on.
A few years back, I interviewed a couple for a story about how to keep love alive. She was 87, he was 92, and they had been married for 66 years. During those years they had weathered a war, a long separation, and the time demands of a business. While I visited they held hands, a detail I readily noted. But they also needled each other and rolled their eyes when one or the other got an anecdote wrong. True love, in other words, is not blind, but it is forgiving.
They still fought, they admitted, and neither had made peace with the other's annoying habit of being late or messy. But as the husband told me, "You learn to compromise."
On Valentine's Day, we don't celebrate compromise. We don't usually honor the accommodations and understanding required to reach a middle ground, either. That kind of sausage-making is far too pedestrian for greeting cards. Yet, the progress from head-over-heels to how-are-we-going-to-make-this-work deserves to be the true focus of any holiday of love.
So in the spirit of Feb. 14 and in an effort to help the new owners of Sweethearts, I propose a few updated slogans for the candy hearts. "Give and Take." "Hold Fast." "Work Hard." "Agree to Disagree." "Remember When."
(Ana Veciana-Suarez writes about family and social issues. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her website anavecianasuarez.com. Follow @AnaVeciana.)