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The Holiday of Love Gone Bad

I knew I was in trouble the moment she walked into our bedroom. It was Valentine’s morning, and my wife bounced in with a card and an English muffin cut into the shape of a heart. While her gesture was nice, I knew these scenarios usually work out best when you immediately reciprocate with a similar gesture, like pulling a card and small jewelry box out from under the pillow. In hopes the Valentine’s Fairy had left something the night before, I reached under the pillow. Nothing. This day wasn’t starting out all that well.

Like most men, I’m annoyed by the whole idea of Valentine’s Day. I don’t need a special day to show my wife I love her. But like most men, I’m smart enough to know I have to play along. Although we don’t exchange gifts, we exchange cards. In an attempt to make it look as though I had not forgotten her on Valentine’s Day, I sat up in bed and said (with all the enthusiasm I could muster first thing in the morning), “I was hoping we’d exchange cards tonight, because I have a special night planned. I’m cooking dinner!”

I should probably share with you that my wife and I love to cook, so the thought of me playing chef wasn’t really a stretch. It was more a question of what I would prepare. I pulled out some great cookbooks and selected something we’d never tried before. That afternoon I headed for the grocery store to purchase all the ingredients for my new recipe, as well as a last minute Valentine’s Day card.

I won’t go into the preparation details for this Italian pasta dish, but I will share that the recipe, while conceptually interesting, had me wondering if anyone had actually tasted it after putting the idea to paper. It was awful. The recipe called for cheese I couldn’t pronounce or stand within twelve inches. In fact, it could easily be counted in the top three worst meals I had ever put in my mouth. It was bitter, gummy, and dreadful … it made me want to spit.

The bad news is the dinner was awful and the “special night” wasn’t going as planned. The good news is my wife prepared an outstanding banana milk shake for dessert that helped me quickly forget the dinner disaster. Since there is always a lesson to be learned in any situation, I reflected on the simple (yet often forgotten) lessons learned, including:

Plan ahead when it really matters

Spontaneity is great, but sometimes a little planning can significantly improve the situation. For instance, I probably would have made a dinner reservation if I’d planned ahead, and we could have eaten at a favorite restaurant instead of choking down this foul plate of Shiitake mushrooms with Gorgonzola and mascarpone cheese. Also, have you ever tried to buy a Valentine’s Day card on Valentine’s Day? There I was with 180 other men crammed in the card aisle picking over the remaining cards like vultures on a deer carcass. I ended up with a beautiful card, and if my wife could read Spanish, it would have meant even more. I’m not even sure it was a Valentine’s Day card.

Stick with what you know when it really matters

My wife has a bad habit of trying new recipes when we’re having guests over for dinner. Basically, it’s a total crapshoot on whether you’re going to get anything decent to eat at the Swindall house if you’re here for a dinner party. I prefer to stick with what I know when it matters, like having friends over for dinner that I would like to remain friends. It mattered to me to have a nice dinner on Valentine’s Day, and I should have stuck with what I know. Steak. An outdoor grill. Now that would have been a good meal.

Trust your instincts when it really matters

There was a point in the preparation of our dinner that I knew this was not going to be a great meal. The smell was so bad it could curl your toes. Although I kept thinking the smell must be part of the dish and that it would eventually go away, my instincts told me that food was never intended to smell this way and that I needed to stop preparing this meal and do something different. Sometimes you just have to trust your instincts.

Other than a lousy dinner experience on Valentine’s Day, I went through the anguish of having prepared one of the worst meals of my life. I could be scarred forever. But tonight I take the first step toward repairing my culinary ego. It’s my night to cook dinner, so I’m off to the grocery store for some steaks! And while I’m there, I’m going to see if there are any leftover Valentine’s Day cards still on the shelf. You can never start planning too early for next year.

Clint Swindall

© 2016 Clint Swindall — Clint is the president & CEO of Verbalocity, Inc., a personal development company with a focus on leadership enhancement. For information about how he can enhance employee engagement in your organization, please visit, or contact him directly

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