Why One Text Message is More Romantic Than a Hundred Valentine Cards

On Valentine’s Day, we try to purchase romance with one night of intense togetherness. But romance can’t be purchased, and the most romantic things may be the things we do for each other when we’re not together…

Valentine's Day

I was an adult when I met my wife, but she turned my world upside down—I dropped about a decade from my psyche and started acting like a kid again. Around the clock, she was perched on the edge of every thought. It didn’t matter if we were in the same room or not, she was always with me.

I started writing a bunch of cheesy poetry.

Maybe all true love begins like cheesy poetry.

But it can’t last that way, can it? No relationship can sustain the passion and intensity of its earliest days—no jobs would get done, no kids would get raised, nobody would sleep. The world would grind to a halt if young love was in charge.

Yet, something essential is happening in the early days of our love, something we should not relinquish as the years pile up. We must extract it, preserve it, and live it with each new dawn.

Psychologists call it object permanence.

To Be or Not to Be (Thought of)

Object permanence is the understanding that objects continue to exist even when they cannot be observed.

Newborn babies lack object permanence. If a big red rattle makes them coo and giggle, when the rattle is suddenly hidden out of sight, they don’t go looking for it. In their new minds, the rattle ceases to exist. But sometime in the second year of life, infants develop object permanence. When the delightful rattle is hidden, they go searching for it.

We begin our relationships this way, with the object of our love fixed permanently in our minds. When they’re away from us, we’ll go searching for them. I met my wife in the age before Facebook and text messages. But throughout the day, I would send her emails. The truth is, I was just being witty and hoping to impress her so she’d stick around. But it turns out I was also accidentally sending one of the most loving messages of all:

even when you’re not here, you’re with me,

I’m thinking about you,

you never leave me,

when we’re apart, I’ll come searching for you.

I think all of us want to be like a red baby rattle, hidden within the folds of life, with the person we love coming searching for us. Delighting in us when they find us again.

Text Messages…

We live in a lonely world, and I think we get married because young love assuages away our loneliness for awhile. When we discover we are present in the mind of our lover, even when we’re apart, it’s like a balm for our loneliness—a clear message declaring, “You’re not alone anymore because I take you with me when I go.”

When I work with adolescents in my therapy practice, they’re constantly getting text messages. And they love it—to be reminded over and over again they are a permanent fixture in the minds of others is to repeatedly have their loneliness eased. And when I work with couples, one of the most common things I hear is, “I’d just love to get a text message in the middle of the day. Nothing complicated. Just a message, saying, ‘I’m thinking of you.’”

Most of us would trade a bunch of extravagant togetherness for one text message when we’re apart, one message saying, “You never leave my heart, and I’m coming searching for you.”

It’s why missing trashcans matter so much to me.

…and Missing Trashcans

For years, when I got home at the end of a long workweek, I wanted nothing more than to walk directly in the house, kick off my shoes, and get into my pajamas, but it was my job to bring in the empty trashcans from the curb.

The walk to the road to retrieve the empty containers always seemed like the longest walk of my week.

But some nights, as I turned down our street and scanned the horizon for the toppled cans, they were nowhere to be seen. My wife had already taken them into the garage. The empty curb was a clear message to me: “I was thinking of you. You were with me, even while you were gone.”

As the Valentine holiday approaches, we think about big-fancy dinners, expensive jewelry, and massive bouquets. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But, ultimately, our souls aren’t thirsty for a love that purchases for us—our souls are thirsty for a love that searches for us.

That thirst gets quenched for a while in the early days of young love. Yet it’s a thirst that never goes away for good, and we can continue to quench it.

One trashcan at a time.

One text at a time.

One message, in any form of word or action, that declares, “You’re on my mind and in my heart. Even when we’re apart. And I’ll always come searching for you.”

This Valentine’s Day, it’s the one message all of us are needing to hear.

Question: Tell us about what you say or do in your relationship to let them know you take them with you when you go. You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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Next Post: Why Getting It Wrong Is Just Right”

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Disclaimer: My writings represent a combination of my own personal opinions and my professional experiences, but they do not reflect professional advice. Interaction with me via the blog does not constitute a professional therapeutic relationship. For professional and customized advice, you should seek the services of a counselor who can dedicate the hours necessary to become more intimately familiar with your specific situation. I do not assume liability for any portion or content of material on the blog and accept no liability for damage or injury resulting from your decision to interact with the website.

Kelly is a licensed clinical psychologist, practicing at Alliance Clinical Associates in Wheaton, IL. He is also a writer and blogs regularly about the redemption of our personal, relational, and communal lives. Kelly is married, has three children, and enjoys learning from them how to be a kid again. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Katy Beth

    My husband and I will leave each other notes on index cards. Last week as I was rushing to get myself and our son out of the house, I was reminded of my husband’s love for me. On the frozen windshield of my car my husband had etched our initials and a heart. If that wasn’t enough, he had placed an index card in my cup holder reminding me how much he loved me. I love leaving index cards in his lunch. I know at some point during his long work day that he will stumble upon my note and know that I’m thinking of him.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Katy, your husband makes me want to be a better man. You two are truly heart warming.

  • Christina Davila

    I’m not married yet, but my boyfriend and I have been together for eight months. Sometimes I surprise him by having dinner ready when he gets off work late. He likes bringing me lunch in the middle of my work day. Sometimes he’ll send me a picture of him pouting that says “missing you baby”. If we haven’t really talked all day I send him a text telling him all the reasons why i’m happy to be with him. It really is the best feeling in the world to know that your presence matters to someone

    • drkellyflanagan

      It really is, Christina. May you both be intentional and enduring in creating that experience for each other.

  • Jerri K.

    I have said for years people like to be noticed when they are present, but the way to say, “You are really important,” is to notice when they aren’t.
    I am a widow with no “love interest” in my life, but I try to find ways daily to communicate to my kids that I love them, that they are gifts, that they are wonderful. Kids need to know they are important and unforgettable as much, and I would argue more so in some ways, than adults.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Jerri, it was so hard not to add a kid component to this blog! Because it’s true for them too, isn’t it?

  • Cindy G

    During the first couple of years together we always left notes to each other but as time progressed the notes have been fewer and fewer. But I have noticed we do other things. We bought a new car earlies this year and had a bet who would scratch it first, me thinking it would be him. But no, it was me, I was so sad and disappointed in myself that I just went to bed. When I awoke there were hearts hanging in our window that said I love you, your my sweetheart. We send texts back and forth all day but its these other acts of love and kindness that make me realize that I am so very blessed to be with who I am with. He is not a practising christian but his compassion, love and understanding and most of all patience, showing me Christs love on a daily basis.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Love this, Cindy.

  • CDM

    30 years I have been married. Not always perfect, not always exciting, but He still calls me every day from work to see how my day is going. I still tell him all my secrets. He is still the first person I want to share my joy with and he is still the one I run to when I think I can take no more. I’m sending him a text and bringing in the trash cans…Wonderful post!!

    • drkellyflanagan

      Seriously warms my heart to hear he still calls you every day from work. Awesome.

  • Danita Clark Able

    Those of us who have been wooed by over the top Valentine givers….then painfully mistreated by the same giver….understand this blog article completely. Thank you.
    Danita Clark Able

    • drkellyflanagan

      You’re welcome, Danita.

  • Sheila Mikulin

    Dr. Kelly – Beautiful post! I just posted it to FB. Thank you! S-

    • drkellyflanagan

      You’re welcome!

    • Janine Johnson Coleman

      As well as I….Love what I have been reading!

  • MFP

    I had read once that we get married so we can have a witness to our lives. No one wants their passage on this earth to go unnoticed and when a loved one dies, we don’t want to forget them – we simply redefine our relationship with them. Love this post – the assurance that the person I love will come searching for me – I will never get tired of being reminded of that fact! it screams I love you so much louder!

    • drkellyflanagan

      That’s a great quote and I forget whose exactly it was. Does anyone remember?

      • Susan

        I think this is a quote from the wonderful movie “Shall we dance?” (Richard Geer/Jennifer Lopez/Susan S.) The wife thinks her husband is having an affair and it turns out he’s taking dance lessons on Tuesday nights after work. She talks with the private detective about being married as a witness to our lives and not going through life unnoticed. Maybe she is quoting someone too, but that’s where I’ve heard this beautiful quote.

      • MFP

        As Susan indicated that’s where I saw it and I can’t seem to find another source but here is the full quote – see pic. which I found on “…to love, honor and vaccum” blog (not sure I could link to another url) and where you will find the excerpt of Susan Sarandon from the movie.

  • Iriana

    I’m still young and I’ve only been with my boyfriend for about a year and a half but I completely agree with what you said. We don’t really buy gifts for one another since we tend not to know what to get, not because we don’t know each other well but because we know the other doesn’t actually need or want anything at the time. We prefer to celebrate holidays through good meals (since we both love love love food) and just spending time together. Last year, we watched part of All Star’s Weekend at home. I don’t understand basketball at all but it was still fun watching the dunk contest with him. It made me happy that he wanted to share something so important to him, basketball, with me even though I didn’t understand much.

    • drkellyflanagan

      And he’s lucky you were happy to join him! I hope you two have a great holiday, Iriana.

  • Allison

    I love this post. My boyfriend and I haven’t been together long but a day hasn’t gone by that we haven’t sent each other a simple text just reminding one another that you’re always on my mind. I cherish these little reminders even more because he’s in the military and there will come a time when he has to deploy again and we won’t have this luxury every day.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Allison, please thank your boyfriend for his service. And I have a sister whose husband is in the Air Force, so I know you serve in your own way. Thank you.

  • Dale

    The signature on the wedding ring I gave my wife is “Je pense a toi” wich means “I think of you”.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Absolutely beautiful, Dale, thank you for sharing.

  • Dave W

    I carry a rock Shan gave me that reads “Only you”. She is always with me. I truly love her.

    • drkellyflanagan

      I love that, Dave. Say hi to Shannon and the kids for me!

      • Dave W

        I certainly will, and say hi to Kelly and the kids for us too!

  • Sebs | MaximizingMarriage.com

    Great insights! Just subscribed on your list to get your ebook. Thanks for sharing!

    • drkellyflanagan

      Welcome to the blog, Sebs; I hope you enjoy the book!

  • Carmen Montgomery

    My husband and I have been through many trials and tribulations, and consider ourselves blessed because those times have made us so strong. In our second year of our relationship I was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, Ceruminous Carcenoma. One of the most powerful things he ever said to me during the months of hospitalization was “I’m here, I’m not going anywhere”. In the last 16 years we have been through 4 long term deployments, he is currently deployed and has been since October. He comes home in August. We have lost loved ones, been through cancer, miscarriages, he has broken his collar bone and his neck and had extensive surgeries. One thing we always says is. ” TMD (song truly madly deeply by savage garden) I am here, not going anywhere.” we flourish through honesty, love and affirmations. I send him care boxes when deployed. He always gets a box the first week he is there, and in the box will be a card for every day of his deployment, love notes. They say simple things , memories, moments that make that make us both smile. Always ends with, I’m here…tmd baby. He is very attentive to me, and I him. We both have very busy lives in our professional careers…so taking time to affirm the other one is extremely important to us, because we know how important the other one is in our lives.

    • drkellyflanagan

      Thanks for sharing your story, Carmen; it’s an encouragement to us all.

  • Rye And Cai

    We has a long distance relationship for a couple of years. Thanks to technology, it seemed like we were never apart. Skype, Friendster (before) then Facebook, Emails and Phone Calls kept our relationship strong. Now that we are together, we constantly BBM each other. If separate, we make sure to let the other know once we have arrived our destination and what we will do on that particular day and place. During lunch break, one of us calls each other. These are simple ways but without any message from each other in a couple of hours makes us feel like there’s something wrong, something missing. So yeah. This is our thing. :)

  • Kristin Moses

    My boyfriend and I are mature adults (both in our 30s) in university together. We are in different classes, but each day no matter were I am, my boyfriend will find me just for a smile, to blow a kiss, for a hug or an actual kiss…. never fails to brighten my day! :)

  • Garima

    One day, I asked my boyfriend, “Why do you love me?” He sat silently and seeing him sitting there unresponsive made me realize that silence has a sound and its so freaking loud. After 2 days, we met again. In the mezzo of casual conversation, he said, “I don’t know why I love you.” This further instigated the dismay and I felt let down. He could sense discontented and unsettled me. He smiled and with lots of stillness and quietude in his words, he said ” Finding reasons to love you have taken a toll on me. I brainstorm plethora of reasons, but they did not suffice my love for you. I love you because I love you. I never decided to be with you, rather I choose to be with you. Because you are a rational being when you decide as you analyse the pros and cons of all alternatives and its vice- versa when you choose. The day I’ll have reasons to love you, I will be a rational being and if those reasons will fade, so will my love for you…” I was spellbound!!

    Now, I always teach my students that always choose your career path. You cannot afford to decide your goals. Perhaps that is what differentiates intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.

    I am in love with your post Kelly.. Thanks for your wonderful sharing to the world..

  • Katrina R.

    So elegantly put, yet so simple. Loved reading this post and feeling my heart flutter. Didn’t want it to end. I try to write my boyfriend quirky little notes, mostly during the last few seconds I have before leaving for work. Even in those few rushed seconds I have, I’m still thinking about him and he needs to know that. Lovely post, really. Thank you.

  • Brittany

    My boyfriend and I have been together for almost a year now. Although we are both young, we have both been through divorces and bad relationships. But with each other is it very different. Our love for each other was almost instantaneous! We’ve spent one whole day/night apart from each other in this year and it was the worst night ever. In any other relationship the opposite person would most likely be “driving me crazy” by now. But we LOVE doing everything together. We celebrated valentines day a week early because neither of us like being out in crowded places, we didn’t do anything fancy, but that’s what I LOVE about us! Every single day I wake up earlier than needed to help him get ready for work and pack his lunch before I go to work or school (to finish my nursing degree), many people say I am spoiling him and this “phase” of me being so nice will pass, but I disagree. We text each other every time we get to where we need to be and others think we are “keeping tabs on each other”, but I have to explain that it is because we care about each others safety. And we are also always (every day) texting “I love you”, “Miss you already”, “So lucky to have you”. Little things like this have helped both of us realize that we are very lucky, some people never find the kind of relationship/unconditional love we have and we’ve found it at only 24 and 25 years old. But, even though we get along so well it is nice to see post like these that show there is still people out there that love each other like we do. And its always nice to have a reminder to not get caught up in material things, like gifts for valentines day. Thank you for this post Dr. Flanagan!

  • wendy

    One day at work I came out to find my car had been “broken into”. Inside, carefully folded like an airplane (something we both have an interest in) was a sweet little note. I used to email several times a day from my desk job but my fiancé would sometimes get frustrated with the interruptions and feel pressured to write a response, so now I put little notes in his pockets, lunchbox, etc…so he can read them at his leisure and feel no pressure to respond immediately. One time I mailed him a love letter…from our house, dropped into a mailbox to be mailed back to our house. It is fun for me to try to find new ways to let him know (in a NON DISRUPTIVE TO HIS WORK DAY way…lol) that I am thinking of him. It is so true that these little things matter.

  • My Lover’s Lover

    What started as sticky notes became voice mails and then moved to text messages. As our 30 year relationship and 27 years of marriage has changed what has remained constant is “My Lover” does something each day to show he’s thinking of me. We have “My Lover” listed beside each of our phone numbers so when we call one another, that’s the first thing we see. No matter how annoyed and upset I may be, when I see that “My Lover” is calling, it reminds me that I am deeply and wonderfully in love.

  • Dora G. Gomez

    I have been divorced for close to 13 years now but I still remember one of our last conversations we had. I had asked him if he knew how much I loved him at the time. Hconversation. He knew because I would be at the grocery store picking up essentials and I would call him to say, “Hey that shaving cream you like is on sale, I picked up a few for you so you don’t need to get anymore”

    He said, I knew you were always thinking of me, even at the darn grocery store for something that may have seemed insignificant.

    Years later I am still struck by that conversation. <3

  • drkellyflanagan

    I wish I could respond to everyone’s comments but it doesn’t look like it will be physically possible. Just know: I’ve read every one and I’m thrilled to hear stories of people intentionally cultivating a sense of love and presence, even when apart. We need to hear stories like these: they give us much encouragement. Thank you!

  • Trish

    My boyfriend and I have been together almost 5 years now and he has never said the words “I love you” to me. But, I know he does by his actions. It is true actions speak louder than words and his actions tell me everyday he loves me. I was married for 17 years prior and was verbally told everyday I was loved, but his actions never reflected that. I felt more unloved in those 17 years than I have in the past 5. Love is an action not just words.

  • Tricey

    My boyfriend and I have been together for two years, I’m assuming we’re still “newbies”. However, since day one no more than 1 hr went by without us texting each other; even if it’s just something as simple as “Baby.” We still text each other non-stop during the work day and call as soon as we can. We fall asleep on the phone at night and wake up to “Good morning” text. I would like to know how do we keep this going in a realistic way once married? Marriage has lost its value with my generation, however I cherish it very much. Any ideas?? Thanks!

  • Rahab Mwangi

    thanks Doc. . .been thinking bout the post and now i understand clearly the little things that my fiance does to me when together to show his love to me. . .very eyeopening

    • drkellyflanagan

      Rahab, I’m glad to hear the post continued to work on you and gave you a new perspective. Wonderful!

  • Angela Clements Grissom

    My hubby and I have been married for 27 yrs. He makes the coffee EVERY morning …. Just for ME (he doesn’t even drink coffee). Many mornings he will have my cup sitting there next to the coffee pot with a simple post-it note saying “have a great day”…it is definitely “the little things”!

    Something I would ask both my children when “tucking them in” … “When does momma love you??” They would roll their eyes and say ” we know, momma….. ALL THE TIME!!” I just wanted them to know that my love was constant… Never was it based on “our” day, ect. I still ask them this occasionally even though they are 21 and 23 yrs old!!

    Loved your “today show” interview!

    Angela Grissom
    Atlanta, tx

    • drkellyflanagan

      Angela, I love your husband’s morning ritual and your bedtime ritual! Those words to your kids are getting worked into their emotional DNA, even if they act like they are annoyed!

  • Lucia

    I am not in a relationship right now but I am reminded everyday how loved I am just by simple text messages and calls from my family and friends. Makes a dull work day that much better. This article inspired me to call my Grandpa to let him know he is loved. He lives by himself in a retirement home and I know he is lonely. The simple action of reaching out to him I know brightened his day and made mine mean that much more. Also I have a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and simply love your application of object permanence in this article!

    • drkellyflanagan

      Thank you, Lucia!

  • Iris

    One day when I meant to type “I love you” in a text I mistyped “I live you”. I decided not to correct it.

  • Pingback: http://drkellyflanagan.com/2014/02/12/why-one-text-message-is-more-romantic-than-a-hundred-valentine-cards/#more-2506 | Dear Remembrance,()

  • Lea

    That post made my heart ache. It’s all I want from a love but didn’t have the right words to express it.
    Object permanence.
    It’s the concept I have tried to explain to my lover many times when asking him to show me his affection. I have even entertained the thought that the moment I leave the room I leave his consciousness, only to return when I come back into his periphery in one medium or another.
    The sad thing is that we may carry the one we love to every place our day brings us, but even in a long caring relationship there can be no certainty that they do the same. Not without some evidence.
    I know he cares and I like to believe that he would send me love if he could. The hardest thing to figure is if this is his nature or if its a result of deeper fissure in our relationship. Perhaps I’m just not a person that his mind can gravitate to.

    We are in stasis between my ability to accept a degree of loneliness and the questionable depths of his emotional range.

    Please believe me, I am looking for no advise or concern. I simply read your post and wanted to express why something so beautiful touched a part of me so filled with sorrow that I was nearly moved to tears.
    Thank you.

  • Lea

    Sorry “questionable depth of his emotional range” just sounds so wrong. I dont know how to express it without it sounding bad, he’s really amazing. Depth is not a factor and perhaps “emotional direction” or “Personal expression” is more apt

    • drkellyflanagan

      No worries, Lea. People are complicated and if we aren’t fumbling with the words to describe them, we’re probably not honoring the complexity!

  • Pingback: The Commitment Project » Happy Valentine’s/Object Permanence Day!()

  • Stacey Bruno

    I never believed in love spells or magic until I met this spell caster once when i went to see my friend in Indian this year on a business summit. I meant a man who’s name is Dr ATILA he is really powerful and could help cast spells to bring back one’s gone, lost, misbehaving lover and magic money spell or spell for a good job or luck spell .I’m now happy & a living testimony cos the man i had wanted to marry left me 5 weeks before our wedding and my life was upside down cos our relationship has been on for 3years. I really loved him, but his mother was against us and he had no good paying job. So when i met this spell caster, i told him what happened and explained the situation of things to him. At first i was undecided,skeptical and doubtful, but i just gave it a try. And in 7 days when i returned to Canada, my boyfriend (now husband) called me by himself and came to me apologizing that everything had been settled with his mom and family and he got a new job interview so we should get married. I didn’t believe it cos the spell caster only asked for my name and my boyfriends name and all i wanted him to do. Well we are happily married now and we are expecting our little kid, and my husband also got the new job and our lives became much better. His email is atilahealinghome@yahoo.com.

  • Annie

    This made me cry because I can go weeks without getting any text messages or emails or replies to messages I’ve sent to people. Makes me wonder who in this world actually cares. Life goes on though, eh?