Of the 365 days on our calendar, today is recognized as the one to celebrate love, marriage and the joys of budding romance.

The optimism and hope of this Valentine's Day has been darkened by sad news surrounding the tragic life of Whitney Houston, an entertainment diva and one of the greatest voices this planet has ever heard. For a nation then engaged in the Persian Gulf War, her rendition of the Star Spangled banner at the 1991 Super Bowl sent shivers through us all.

Off stage, however, Whitney faced a war of her own an internal battle against the demons of drugs and addiction which turned her personal her life into a nightmare. Many fans were shocked when Whitney married singer Bobby Brown, whose struggles with drug abuse and violence, were well known. The two met at the Soul Train Music Awards in 1989. Ironically Soul Train creator Don Cornelius died just 10 days before Whitney's death last weekend.

During that initial meeting with Brown, Whitney once said that the thing that most impressed her about Brown was that "he was such a gentleman." She said he didn't try to impress her, didn't try to put on airs, and didn't seem like he was afraid of her for being such a megastar. Whitney said when she met Brown, it was simply that "Bobby knew what I needed was love."

Like so many others, Whitney discovered that first meetings and first impressions can be deceiving, especially when fueled by dark forces as addictive and destructive as drugs and alcohol. Many Whitney fans point to her marriage to Brown as the beginning of a downward spiral, not only in her personal life but for her professional career.

The 14-year marriage to Brown was scarred by her husband's long history of infidelity, drug and alcohol arrests and incidents of domestic violence. When the tumultuous marriage ended five years ago, many fans' reaction was, "What took so long?" Some now reflecting on and seeking answers on Whitney's demise are blaming Brown for introducing her into the dark, despairing world of powerful illegal drugs.

But even when dealing publicly with her failed marriage, Whitney never blamed her former husband for the addiction. She said in 2009 that her high was being together as partners and no matter what "we did it together." At the divorce hearing, she said that Brown was unreliable as a father to the couple's then 14-year-old daughter.

There are numerous marriages and lives unraveling every day involving people who, although not walking down the red carpet of the entertainment world, are still faced with making choices about life that will impact their futures.

Whitney made some terrible choices, one of which may have cost her a long and fruitful second half of life. Her very public struggles in marriage and with substance abuse teach us all just how critical it is to make wise choices.

By Jim Zbick

jzbick@tnonline.com