Well, it’s early February, and you know what that means. That’s right! Time for my annual screed against Valentine’s Day!
Now, before you write this off as the rantings of a bitter, pathetic, lonely loser who sits alone at home on Saturday nights over-thinking every aspect of her life, well… um… you’d be mostly right. But don’t write me off yet. I’m actually not so bitter. All that other stuff pretty much applies, sure, but bitter, I am not. I’m like the Yoda of loneliness.
Though I do still hate Valentine’s Day. And those feelings are not limited to times when I am alone. Last year I had a real, live boyfriend. One who actually lived in the same zip code as me. A living, breathing, romantic, piano playing, music writing, hand holding, enjoyed cooking me dinner kind of boyfriend, who once, while on a date, spontaneously and completely without guile said, “You look magical.” Melted into a puddle on the spot, I did. And I still didn’t want to celebrate Valentine’s Day with him. Seriously, I had to go back and refer to my calendar from 2014 to see what, if anything, we did on February 14th. Turns out we ran a midday 5k at NAS/JAX, and then I vaguely remember going to lunch together. Where I ate salad, for goodness sake. Obviously not a celebration. And then my kids had their two best friends sleep over, so I made ice cream sundaes and watched bad tv in the other room, while occasionally telling five children aged 9-6 that they might try lowering their speaking voices since we were getting noise complaints from the next state. So, I guess that was sort of a celebration of love, of the maternal kind. But I didn’t need to turn February 14th into some kind of event, or even be with him, for boyfriend to know he was my valentine.
So that was fine. I don’t understand the obsession with Valentine’s Day. I mean, sure when you’re a little kid, and there is the excitement of coming home from school with brightly colored scraps of paper, scribbled on by your classmates, and candy of all varieties, I can see the appeal. But once you get past the stage of making a Valentine for every single person in the class so no one gets their feelings hurt, Valentine’s Day can become less a symbol of love and happy feelings, and more about the stress of doing it wrong, and the disappointment when it inevitably goes astray. I remember the cheerleaders (or the Key Club, or some other school-spirited organization) selling carnations on Valentine’s Day when we were in high school. There was nothing worse than that day. I mean, I’m sure it was nothing but, well, sunshine and carnations, for Suzy Popular, who got more carnations delivered every class. Flowers and more flowers from boys who wanted to date her, boys who had already dated her, boys who just liked looking at her, her best friends who wanted to be her, etc, etc. But for people like me, and so many other misfit nerds, it was just another day of dashed hopes. It was torture for girls like me, the tomboy who pined after the boys who never even knew I existed, or worse, asked me for advice on what color carnation they should purchase for another one (or more) of my friends before chucking me on the arm or ruffling my hair. Sigh. And I liked high school, really. There were enough of us misfit nerds that I had people. I think it was probably a lot less angsty for me than some, even if I did acquire the nickname of Elvis the very first week. Seriously, I truly did like high school. But I hated that damn carnation day. Because no matter how cool I wished I could be, no matter how much I wanted to be above it all, I wanted one of those damn carnations! From a boy! Who was at least potentially going to fall in love with me (if he wasn’t already)!
And now that the commercialism of the holiday has reached an apex, it’s just rife with more opportunities for pressure and disappointment. Jewelry ads everywhere – nope, he still isn’t going to propose! Candy available in every store – but you’re off sugar, because you feel like you have to be on a diet to fit into that new dress you bought to wear tonight! A seven course prix fixe menu available in that fancy restaurant that your boyfriend saved for months to take you to – but you don’t actually like half of the courses, and you’d never eat veal! He thinks you want something fancy, you wish you could have ordered pizza or gotten Chinese take-out, and eaten it on the couch in an outfit that didn’t require Spanx. He buys you long-stemmed red roses, when you would have rather had wildflowers, or better yet, a new book by your favorite author. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of women who really, really want jewelry, and red roses, and fancy meals. To them that is the ultimate expression of love from a man. But this expectation of what the celebration of Valentine’s Day is “supposed to be” or “should” look like is ridiculous. If you must celebrate, and if you are truly using this mandated day as a springboard to celebrate your love, then celebrate her (or him). Make it not about what the card companies, and the florists, and the candy manufacturers, and the savvy restaurants tell you it should be. Make it about your partner, your lover, your girlfriend or boyfriend, your spouse. What do they love, other than you? What are their interests? What are your shared interests? What do you love most about them? What do they need? Pay attention. Look for clues. Ask for specifics, if you need. Have a conversation. Heart to heart. But don’t make February 14 about Valentine’s Day, make it about your valentine. Make it less about the holiday, and more about the person. The one you love. The one you want to love. The one you admire.
Lest you think me a total humbug, I am not above appreciating a silly Valentine’s card – I especially like the new trend towards humorously ironic, or blatantly steamy cards. I think hearts are sweet, and some shades of red, and especially dark pink, look really good against my skin tone. And I do have a particular affinity for conversation hearts. (For the reason why, see my post from February 2013.) So when in Target with my children on Monday, purchasing the brightly-colored scraps of paper they’ll be handing out to all of their classmates on Friday, I bought a large bag of conversation hearts to share with them. And I naively thought they’d be similar to the conversation hearts of my childhood. I mean, I expected that perhaps “Call Me” might have changed to “Text Me” – because who actually calls anymore? And maybe “Marry Me” would have dropped out entirely in favor of something less partriarchally oppressive. But I was not prepared for what I saw when I opened this bag. First and foremost, the majority of them were sloppily misprinted. Not just smudged, but print was off the edge of the candy. Very few had their phrases stamped dead center in their edible red ink. And the ones that were legible? Oy. I can’t even. And those weren’t even the sayings, those are just my feelings on the candies I found. First, there is a conversation heart with only a picture of a moustache. A moustache? Because nothing says hipster love like a handlebar moustache. I fully support the idea that full conversations can be achieved without words, but that’s not a conversation at all! And then there was “Pugs and Kittens”. WTF is that?? I mean, I get it, it’s supposed to be some humorous take on “Hugs and Kisses,” but it failed. Surprisingly enough, the “Marry Me” was still present, though I’m assuming now the proposal is gender-expectation neutral. And apparently a New England bag got mis-routed down south, because “Wicked Cool” is not a typical phrase in the land of sweet tea. There are a few of the classic standbys: “Let’s Kiss,” “Hug Me,” Sweet Pea” (now that’s a land of sweet tea kind of saying!), and “Real Love” (despite the picture on the front of the bag depicting a conversation heart that says, “True Love.”) But my 7 year old daughter actually found the one conversation heart I can really get behind. The one that was apparently meant for me. She came up to me with it last night, loudly claiming it was her favorite, she was going to save it to eat last, and she hoped she got more of them. It simply said, “Let’s Read.” Now that’s true love.
The boyfriend is still real and live, but he no longer lives in the same zip code. No more hand-holding, no more cooking me dinner. It’s been quite awhile since he’s written me any music, and I haven’t felt magical in a long time. However, even if he were here I wouldn’t want to celebrate Valentine’s Day in some special way. But since February 14 is on a Saturday night this year (what a boon to the economy!), I also decided that I didn’t want to pathetically sit home alone like I do most Saturday nights. Not when my favorite little renovated theatre, Sun-Ray Cinema in Five Points, is dusting off one of my favorite movies for a one off showing on Valentine’s Day. “Amélie” is the story of a quirky dreamer, a lovely soul who wishes to spread happiness, and along the way finds a little for herself. One of the best compliments I ever received was when a friend said that the character, Amélie, reminded her of me. So, on the day when Hallmark tells us that we should be part of a couple, it will be good to revisit an old friend. Someone who makes me laugh and smile, and feel good that a beloved friend once saw me as a quirky dreamer. And the good thing about about making that visit alone? No one to distract me while I’m reading the subtitles.