The Heart Monitor: What’s Love Got to Do With Valentine’s Day?

Valentine’s Day is a big deal. Okay, it’s not. I don’t even know who Saint Valentine is, and I suspect it’s another religious holiday that was watered down by the greeting card industry, like Christmas and National Oatmeal Nut Waffles Day (March 11).

But like it or not, it’s a big deal.

Every year, writers feel compelled to pick sides about Valentine’s Day.  Lists of romantic do’s and don’ts and pink-themed holiday gift guides (“Sexy presents for your mistress for under $20!”) are a fixture in February magazines. Alas, the holiday is not without tradition. Forget the flowers and chocolate: it is custom for single people to hate Valentine’s Day and for couples to either thrive off it or fight over it. Either way, they get to do it together. Valentine’s Day is like sex. Sure, you can do it by yourself — but what’s the fun in that?

We tend to be passionate about Valentine’s Day—whether we’re for or against chalky candy hearts. It triggers memories of loneliness, happiness, love and envy.

I have complicated feelings about Valentine’s Day.

As a young girl, I was freckle-faced and quirky. Except quirky wasn’t a commonly used expression of off-beat endearment in the late ’80s.

Suffice it to say, I was a huge dork. I wore Mary Engelbreit T-shirts, mismatched socks, and Keds. The boys used to chase the cute girls around the playground during recess, and I watched them run around the swing-set screaming, their pigtails wagging back and forth as they loped past me in their clean mary janes. Occasionally, I ran around too, pretending the boys were chasing after me. They weren’t.

Boys didn’t like me. It’s not that I was teased, um, too badly. I was mostly ignored. I preferred books over Girl Scouts and my older brother’s Aerosmith tapes to Madonna. And although I acted like I wanted nothing to do with those cootie-filled trolls, the truth was that I was mystified by them. But Valentine’s Day was just another day in elementary school. We cut out pink and red hearts, stuck them to cardboard with thick purple glue stick. Everyone got one.

As I grew older, the cute girls unfurled their pigtails and converted the boys into boyfriends. They held hands in the hallway between classes and stole kisses against lockers. The playground chase was over, and it was the boys who had been caught. I stuck with books and moved from Aerosmith to Pearl Jam as my peers moved to from first to second base. I ignored aches of loneliness.

Valentine’s Day meant something in high school. That one cold day in February felt like salt rubbed in my awkward adolescent wounds. Chalky love hearts tasted like crap. Flowers, I noted angrily, eventually died.

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