Old habits die hard, but when it comes to Valentine's Day traditions you had with a former spouse, die they must.
When you're in a subsequent marriage or relationship, it's imperative to burn the old playbook and write a new one -- especially one customized to your new partner's joys, loves, and unique tickles. On Valentine's Day, your partner needs to know she's the one, not the "second one." Here are five no-nonsense, no-expense ways to make that loud and clear.
Nothing makes a new partner feel better than knowing she's special, so don't just do a generic "flowers and candy" thing. Discover her favorite flower, her favorite snack, her favorite color, her favorite restaurant, her favorite band, her favorite jewel, her favorite movie, her favorite dessert. Don't know those things? Send her an email questionnaire (with plenty of false leads). She'll love playing along. And save that response -- it'll come in handy later.
There's one place kids belong when you're celebrating Valentine's Day -- somewhere else. This is especially true with kids from a previous marriage; they'll always be symbols of that former relationship, no matter how much you partner adores them. Make it clear that your devotion to your partner is singular and undiluted, and that -- especially with football season over -- she shares you with no one else, at least until the babysitter goes home. Here are more ways for remarried dads to recognize their stepmother wives.
Honestly, the most wonderful thing you can give a new partner is your time. Your time is unique, personal, invaluable, and can't be exchanged for a different color. So focus not on gifts, but on events (especially events during which you can give gifts!) Candlelight dinners are fine, but so are long walks, playing board games, driving aimlessly, even just watching TV together in bed.
Your new partner will never know if that personalized bowling ball you got her wasn't the same thing you got your first wife. But mere words out of your mouth are guaranteed unique... and won't crush anyone's toes when you drop them. Spend Valentine's Day telling your partner exactly why she's special, and how she showed you a new path to happiness. And not just out loud, but in poems, notes, emails, Tweets, Facebook status reports, videos, songs (if you're Glee-worthy), raps, candy-grams... and bowling alley announcements.
It sounds ridiculously simple, but makes so much sense. Your new partner wants to hear her name, read her name, touch her name, and wear her name -- it's a crystal clear declaration that you chose her and no one else. If she's not the type to wear her name around her neck a la Carrie Bradshaw, and you're not the type to have "Rosalinda" tattooed on your shoulder, then make sure to write her name on cards, on envelopes, on gifts, on notes, and in emails. Say her name often too -- it's a verbal hug that doesn't get old. Doesn't "Beatrice, I love you" sound so much more poignant and personal than "I love you"? Just ask Beatrice.
Joel Schwartzberg is the author of "The 40-Year-Old Version: Humoirs of a Divorced Dad" -- an award-winning collection of personal essays -- and is a very happily-remarried man.
Follow Joel Schwartzberg on Twitter: www.twitter.com/joeljest