On this Valentine’s Day, the fifth anniversary of our first date, Daphne Goral and I will be walking down the aisle.
It all began in early 2010 when she sent me a friendship request on Facebook. We had never met but had mutual acquaintances. And we had never even exchanged messages — until one night after I’d gone to a Toronto Rock lacrosse game, and had a few beers.
She had posted about how Valentine’s Day sucks. At the time, she was a single mom of a baby girl. I worked up the courage to comment on her post, saying I wasn’t a Valentine’s fan either and suggesting we get together and, maybe, change our outlook.
After some persuading, Daphne agreed to meet me for Valentine’s Day dinner at East Side Mario’s — and she brought 10-month-old Summer, who took a liking to me right away. Daphne and I hit it off instantly, and we ended the evening curled up on her sofa watching a thriller.
Five-year-old Summer announces the good news between Brandon Woodfield and Daphne Goral.
Ever since, we’ve been together every day. Helping raise Summer — being there for her first steps and teaching her to read — has been amazing.
Last year, I decided to propose on Valentine’s, but after getting the ring on Feb. 10, I couldn’t wait. I went to her workplace and got down on one knee. She was crying so much that when a delivery guy arrived I had to sign for the package.
Valentine’s 2015 seemed like the perfect day to get married. In the days leading up to it, we’ve signed all the papers so that I can legally adopt Summer. I’m not only gaining a wife, but also a daughter. — Brandon Woodfield, Kitchener
A love for the ages
My husband and daughter both died in 2004, and I joined a bereavement support group. An upset-looking man was sitting next to me. I asked if he’d like a cup of coffee and that broke the ice.
Ken Von Zuben’s wife had died, and he and I became friends, helping each other through phone calls and going out for coffee. We needed each other to lean on. Over the next year, we became close friends. There were dinners, dances and shows.
Joan Hango, 90, and Ken Von Zuben, 73, have been close friends for 11 years, spending many Valentine's Days together, dancing, cooking and enjoying each other's company.
For Valentine’s Day, I invited him to my home for dinner. He was there when a knock came to the door. There stood four handsome men in bright red shirts and white ties with a big bouquet of red roses and a sign, “Happy Valentine’s, Joan.”
They came in and serenaded me with five romantic songs. Tears ran down my face and joy filled my heart. My special friend did all this for me. It was the sweetest Valentine’s Day I ever had.
We’ve been special friends now for 11 years. We both have our own homes but we often cook for each other. We’re busy going to shows and dances at the Legion. I dance my heart out, jitterbug, line dancing, everything. But for this Valentine’s Day I’m leaning toward going out to dinner, just the two of us.
By the way, I’m 90 and he’s 73. Age is just a number. — Joan Hango, Oakville
Crashed and burned
I lived with an unromantic man a bit younger than myself who decided on Valentine’s Day to celebrate. He bought Dom Pérignon, candles, holders and bubble bath. As I walked in the door, he — in shorts and barefoot — told me he had a surprise and helped me out of my clothes.
The bottle crashed into the tub, the glasses fell on the floor and the shower curtain caught fire from the candles. Because it was an apartment building, we had to call the fire department — firefighters found two people partly dressed, water all over and a raging fire. —Vivian Bryan, Mississauga
Mom’s night out
In the fall of 2003 I became a mom, and, as any new parent knows, those initial months are often marked by a lack of sleep. For Valentine’s Day 2004, my husband decided that the best gift was a good night’s rest. So that morning he told me to pump as much breast milk as I could because he was taking me on a little trip. He whisked me to a Toronto hotel, about 15 minutes from our house, where he had booked me for a night. He had a cooler full of ice cream, chocolate and other treats. He had magazines, tea, my pillow, a night’s worth of my belongings. He and the baby kissed me goodbye, and he yelled “Happy Valentine’s Day!” as he drove away.
It was glorious! I enjoyed a delicious evening of solitude and a solid eight hours of shut-eye. Given that my son was colicky, it was the only night’s sleep I’d had in five months.
Honestly, it was a real gift of love. We joke that our best Valentine’s Day was when I was at a hotel and he wasn’t. — Vickie Papavs, Toronto
It was around 2008 and I decided to do something nice for my wife on Valentine’s Day. A local paper asked readers to send in a Valentine note to a loved one that would run in the paper. I thought my note would be buried in a sea of letters and no one would notice. However, only three people sent in notes. I was the only man and the only one to send a photo of a loved one.
My wife was mortified. She’s not one to be so public, and the picture wasn’t the best. My male friends were also mad. Their wives asked them why they couldn’t do something like that. Needless to say, I’ve stayed away from that kind of publicity — until now.
Happy Valentine’s Day, Honey. — Kevin Gross, Bolton
No happy ending
When I was 17, I met a guy snowboarding. After several weekends boarding together, he asked me out for Valentine’s Day. He seemed nice, so I agreed. We went to a restaurant where I worked because I wanted to show off my cute new beau and figured my employee discount would be handy, seeing as he didn’t have a job.
When the bill arrived, he tossed down $10 and asked if I had money. I went to pay the bill, attracting dismayed looks from my co-workers. I shrugged it off, saying I didn’t mind going Dutch. That is true, but I would have appreciated a conversation beforehand. He capped off the night by handing me a cheesy card. When I opened it, a condom fell out. I was stunned. He smiled and said, “What you say? Finish this day with a bang?” I told him to call his mom to come get him. — Courtney Black, Toronto
Last year, I met a guy on Tinder. We had a good first date, although he talked about his band a lot. He asked me to see his band play on Valentine’s Day. I had to go alone because my friends had plans, but I really liked him, so I scrambled to get him a card and chocolates and then drove out of town to see them perform. I assumed he would make a bit of time for me, since I had driven an hour and paid a $20 cover charge. But he talked to me for just five minutes, encouraging me to “dirty dance” with him on stage like a groupie. I declined.
At the end of the night he said he had to drive his friends home and couldn’t hang out — even though I had been at the show for four hours, alone. He didn’t wish me a happy Valentine’s Day or even acknowledge it. I never talked to him again. — Nichole McCrosson, Peterborough
Up in flames
I was a shy 10-year-old when I had a crush on a boy who lived on my street. I got up the nerve to leave a valentine in his mailbox. It was a matchbox that said, “We make a perfect match.” A few days later, he approached me in the school yard during recess. I was surrounded by my friends when he handed me the valentine and told me he did not want it. I was devastated. — Karen Trace, Toronto
A tea-lightful moment
I fell in love with Wayne when he smiled at me. I was teaching an adult literacy class and didn’t expect to fall in love with a high-school dropout — a middle-aged man suffering from dyslexia, low self-esteem, and loneliness. When the course was over, we had tea together at a café. I was so nervous that I spilled it all over the dish. He quickly wiped up the mess, and continued the conversation. He was a gentleman and I was a goner.
Elaine Low and Wayne Armstrong met while she was teaching an adult literacy class.
For Valentine’s Day he bought me a card that read: “To a favourite Niece.” I started laughing thinking it was a joke. He looked upset and asked, “What’s so funny?” When I pointed out the word niece, he blushed: “I thought it said to someone nice....”
I never made fun of his dyslexia again. And he bought me Valentine’s cards for the next 23 years.
Wayne died in 2013. I miss his smile every day. — Elaine Low, Toronto
The love bug
On Valentine’s Day 2012, I was single with unromantic plans to stay late at the office.
When my then-roommate heard of my plans, she made up strange excuses why I should come home. She finally confessed: her new boyfriend and his roommate John MacKenzie (who I’d dated a couple of times) were making the two-hour trek to the city to “surprise us for Valentine’s Day.”
I was perplexed. I barely knew this guy.
Around 8 p.m. that night, both guys, dressed in suits, holding a dozen roses apiece, arrived. They made us dinner. It was all very nice, though still a little strange.
Later in the night, John and I leveled with each other. I thought it was weird he’d come — especially without asking. He explained his roommate had convinced him, but during the drive, he realized it might be a weird thing to do. When the roommate stopped for roses, he thought it was over-the-top to show up with roses himself, but worried how it would look if he were empty handed.
We had a laugh about it and enjoyed the rest of the night. They had plans to head back the following day.
Halifax couple Jessica Burns and John MacKenzie fell for each other - over a box of tissue and throat lozenges - while battling the flu together.
But the next morning, we both woke up with a bad case of the flu. We spent the day laying on the couch together, sharing throat lozenges and a box of Kleenex. John and I saw each other at our absolute worst, a level of gross most couples don’t usually see until things have gotten serious.
Something about getting the ugly out of the way early must have worked in our favour. Three Valentine’s Days later, we now live together.
He showed up uninvited, in a suit, with a dozen roses and gave me the flu for Valentine’s Day. And we lived happily ever after. — Jessica Burns, Halifax
Every moment counts
My husband Fred was scheduled for surgery to unblock his carotid artery on Feb. 15, 2013. He got the call a few days earlier and said to me, “I’m not ready.” I reminded him that his condition was dangerous and the surgery was relatively routine.
On Valentine’s, the day before his surgery, I came home to find a beautiful bouquet of flowers and a card. The card’s verse described “an attitude and openness to life and reaching out beyond yourself that makes a person young.” He signed it with his characteristic “this says it all.”
Savouring the simple moments with loved ones is important, says Sharon Abbey of St. Catharines, shown with Fred Loucks.
He insisted on going out for dinner to celebrate even though he had to be at the hospital early the next morning. We went to our favourite Italian restaurant and sat in our usual booth — a familiar routine. We sipped wine and chatted about ski plans. Fred had the white pizza and I had penne carbonara. We were home early.
The next day at the hospital, I sat with Fred until they called him in. I gave him a quick kiss and he said, “See you later, honey.” An hour later, the surgeon found me. His face was expressionless, his words were curt. “Your husband suffered a massive stroke while the surgery was in progress.”
Fred survived but was not able to speak or move his right side. He passed on peacefully that June. He left many friends who had been drawn to his gentle way of being and his joy in simple pleasures. The memory of our last Valentine’s dinner makes me realize that simple pleasures shared with those we love need to be savoured with every fibre of our being. — Sharon Abbey, St. Catharines
Tragically not the one
We’d been dating about three months when, a few days before Valentine’s, my boyfriend decided to go to the Dominican Republic with six buddies. Sweet me, I made his favourite cookies in heart shapes for him. On Valentine’s Day, he texted me saying I’d receive flowers at work. I stayed 30 minutes late. Nothing. In the middle of the next week, they came. I suspected he felt guilty and ordered them from the airport and it didn’t go through properly.
The next Valentine’s we were still together and I was hopeful. I told him I was planning a nice dinner for us. He agreed. Then on February 13, he told me he’d forgotten his roommate had bought tickets for the two of them for the Tragically Hip on Valentine’s Day. He said it was important he go, it was his favourite band. He then told me it would be his 17th time seeing them in concert! He didn’t understand what the problem was. This guy was 30-years old. He said he didn’t like Valentine’s Day and never would. We broke up that year. — Lisa Chartrand, Stouffville
For almost 20 years, our group of friends (four or five couples) get together for our annual Valentine’s Day Aphrodisiac Dinner. We created the event to put the love back into what can be a stale Hallmark holiday.
We rotate hosts and houses yearly. Each couple is responsible for a food course and the beverage to go with it. The food must have aphrodisiac properties — or at least a made-up story. We serve a lot of baloney and I don’t mean on the plate. One year I baked a Persian love cake with 100 candied rose petals.
Kate Martin serves her Persian love cake with 100 candied rose petals at her annual Valentine's Day Aphrodisiac Dinner.
As the women mostly tend to the food, the men provide entertainment. One year they performed Karaoke, singing love songs, such as Barry White’s “You are My First, My Last, My Everything.” That gives you some idea how old we are.
Last year we played the Newlywed Game. The men had prepared silly questions — “Where was our first kiss?” — and the women had to guess which answer their beau had picked. Turns out, we still don’t know our men.
Once again as Valentine’s Day rolls around, I won’t be looking for roses or heart-shaped diamonds from a big box store, rather I’ll be anticipating the love and friendship we’ve created with food, wine, and, above all, delicious laughter. — Kate Martin, Los Angeles