Valentine’s Day is for lovers. I guess. I don’t really know. My husband and I opted out of it so long ago I can’t really speak to its virtues. When we were first dating we should have been all up in each other’s Valentines, because, you know, we were deep in the love. But man alive, my husband stank at observing this seemingly arbitrary and commercial holiday from the get-go.

His first try at making me his Valentine went this way: he knocked on my dorm room door and proceeded to unceremoniously produce from behind his back . . . don’t wait for it . . . an unwrapped VHS copy of Fried Green Tomatoes and said these loving words as he offered it to me, “Here.” Sorry, word, loving word.

I actually didn’t even realize he was attempting to partake in the ritual of bestowing a Valentine upon me. I was utterly confused at being randomly handed a movie I didn’t even like and had to ask, “Huh?” Then he filled me in. That, my friends, was his best attempt at our first Valentine’s Day together and he never did get much better at it. Have you been disappointed on Valentine’s Day too? Mmmhmm, I know hun, come lay your head on my shoulder and I will pet you.

My husband kept trying though, to make Valentine’s Day his groove thang. The first year we were married, he spent $110 on a dozen red roses that keeled over three days later. Back then we didn’t have even $10 to spend in this manner AND I’m not an appreciator of red roses, and so I grieved. Again. It was clear this holiday was just never gonna be his strength. It felt worse to me to crash and burn together in his attempts than to just not celebrate it at all, so I made a motion to excommunicate it from our regime altogether. Forever.

Oh, the relief that flooded my husband’s face at this welcome coup. I swear it was one of the best days of his life to be let off the Valentine’s Day hook. And I can testify that doing this for him helped redirect his energy and he actually got way better at expressing his love for me. Still today, I much prefer his sincere expressions of love over an imposed, once-yearly, fabricated, material declaration of adoration.

Learning of our individual love languages is what gave me the idea of giving Valentine’s Day the boot. Quality time and acts of kindness are mine, and you can’t find that in Valentine’s Day aisles. So, turns out he had been doomed from the start no matter what he tried to gift me with. His top love languages are physical touch and words of encouragement—also not sold at Target. We were never meant to be any good at celebrating Valentine’s Day in traditional ways, it was not our destiny.

Instead, we focused on speaking each other’s love languages the whole year through. Some years we were like the Beatles and Garth Brooks and we topped the charts at it and other years we were like one-hit wonders and otherwise failed to achieve for each other. But one thing struck a chord and became a go-to we still employ—albeit with some irregularly—but that is actually part of its inherent joy.

I like words, so much. And my husband needs to hear them to feel loved. It’s nice when your respective love languages do you a solid like that. We’re further apart in understanding the rest of each other’s languages and so there’s more struggle involved in continually speaking those to each other.

Knowing kind words are his primary love language, one day, long ago, I grabbed a blank journal that had been cluttering a shelf for years and penned a short love note inside. I left it for him to find on his own and I know he still remembers the elation he felt at finding my first note in that journal, 15 years ago. And I will always remember my own euphoria from the third time I left him a note in that journal. Because he wrote me back!

His heartfelt, loving gesture was a grand surprise because I wasn’t expecting anything in return. I was just trying to love him the way he likes to be loved—but he was so moved he loved me right back. And here’s the kicker, and another reason Valentine’s Day will pass us by again without a glance from us: we’ve never stopped writing to each other in our book since. That’s what we call it, our book. And it’s now a series because we’ve added two more volumes just like it over the years.

I’ll also always remember when he started writing to me in our book first and leaving it for me to find. What a thrill that unexpected act of kindness was. No roses, jewelry, chocolates, teddy bears, or uncomfortable unmentionables could ever do that for me. The commercial and contrived aspects of Valentine’s Day would never have shored up our love. But him writing to me first in our book sent me to the moon and still does.

Our book is our version of love in action. It works for us on many levels and fulfills many of our needs. Our book has no rules or expectations, no standards to meet. We don’t write in it every day and never have. That would’ve spoiled it some. It’s free-flowing and that’s why it’s lovely. When we do write to each other, we leave our book in unexpected and different places for one another to find. It’s unpredictable and exciting and that’s why it’s sexy. In our book, we honor each other with words from our hearts when we’re feeling those words, and sometimes even when we’re not, as a way to kickstart those feelings again. It’s versatile and that’s why it’s dependable.

Our book is our any time of year expression of love and it’s replaced Valentine’s Day in the most meaningful of ways. Where couples honor each other’s unique needs in ways that mean something to them both is the sweet spot, the space where love shines the brightest and feels the best. We write our book together because we want to, not because we feel like we have to. Because it’s us and it’s what we’re good at—and it’s what we look forward to, together.

Jodie Utter

Jodie Utter is a freelance writer & creator of the blog, Utter Imperfection. She calls the Pacific Northwest home and shares it with her husband and two children. As an awkward dancer who’s tired of making dinner and can’t stay awake past nine, she flings her life wide open and tells her stories to connect pain to pain and struggle to struggle in hopes others will feel less alone inside their own stories and more at home in their hearts, minds, and relationships. You can connect with her on her blog, Utter Imperfection and on FacebookInstagram, or Twitter.