I can’t pinpoint the very moment I came to loathe this day, but I suspect it was Valentine’s Day 1984, place: high school.
The cheerleaders would sell carnations every year that would be delivered to the intended recipient on Valentine’s Day. In the cafeteria. In front of everybody. Red was for love, white was for like, yellow was for friendship. The mini-skirted popular cheerleaders would gallivant through the lunch room, their 5 gallon buckets of flowers in tow (all class, they were). Just for a second, a brief whisper in time, you’d think “Me! Me! Me!” As they passed me by, I’d think up some snarky comment to make my also-disappointed friends laugh. It was awful – that feeling that no one will ever love you. In high school, it feels like a statement on your person. And you believe in that moment, that you will feel that ache the rest of your life.
It didn’t get much better after that, spending many Valentine’s Days alone or with groups of single friends. Instead of going out, I’d make a gigantic meal and we’d spend the evening playing poker or making fun of each others’ botched romantic exploits. I was content in the days before and in the days after, but that particular day made me feel bereft. Even during years when there was a boyfriend in the picture, he would have plans to shoot pool with his buddies once the flower/chocolate obligation had been met, calling me in drunken inspiration at 2am to profess whatever he wouldn’t remember in the morning.
I don’t inspire the kind of passion that invites serenades under my window or beds covered in rose petals. Mostly because I mock those kind of gestures the other 364 days of the year. It’s not my thing. Everything associated with commercialized romance is fairly unappealing to me in its own right: the color pink, hearts, jewelry, fat baby archers in diapers, coworkers who act surprised to receive bouquets, bouquets from the person you dumped last year. And I’ll tell you a little secret – I loathe cut roses. They remind me of funerals – the sweet, sickly scent of a funeral home or of someone getting bilked.
Each year, when I realize it’s within spitting distance, I start to feel a little resentful and surly. Do we have to go through this every year? My husband makes a gesture, but he knows me well enough to know that while I’ll thank him and appreciate a bouquet of spring flowers, I’m wishing it were the 15th. The pumped up faux sentiment and rituals remind me of the pressure of being a bride. I’m supposed to get all excited. My husband is supposed to march, lock step, into a Hallmark store and pay five dollars for a sentiment that we live every day. I mean, marriage is a big ass Valentine, isn’t it?
For many years, I tried to follow the rules. I bought my husband a card and a unique present that would never see the light of day again. No one needs or wants a replica of Thomas Jefferson’s compass. Yes, I’m weird, but my husband, a techie, is the hardest person on the planet to shop for. I think my gift to him is that I prefer to skip it all – the huge glittery cards, boxes of guessing chocolates (what the hell is inside this one – spackle?) and teddy bears. Ugh. When do grownups need teddy bears? Most of these bears are holding somebody’s heart in their hairy little paws as if they ravaged a campsite and victoriously snatched out a human heart. And then put graffiti on it for spite. Hug me, indeed.
My low tolerance for overt, commercialized romance is not to say that I don’t have any sentiment in that regard. I have spent Valentine’s Day with someone, just getting over someone, alone, with friends and now, with my husband. The best Valentine’s Days have occurred when I was comfortable with myself, allowing the day to be a mere blip on the radar and not a statement of my ability to love or be loved. And it turns out, now that I’m an adult, I can buy my favorite chocolate all year round. Now that is romantic.