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.
By the time I had a boyfriend, I was in my second year of college. My expectations for Valentine’s Day had grown from the loneliness of high school into outrageous denial. My dopey, sweet boyfriend didn’t know what hit him. He surprised me with a bouquet of wildflowers and I surprised him with happy tears. At least, that’s what I called them after I sobbed into his daisies for an hour. No one had ever bought me flowers. I was touched, and shocked by my emotions.
Of course, the good memories are often weighted down by assholes. A few years ago, I was in a short relationship with an architect. He was what women refer to as “good on paper.” And while he was smart enough to come over to my apartment for a romantic dinner, he was stupid enough to dump me during a pathetic display of it’s-not-you-it’s-me.
For the record: it was definitely him. Who breaks up with a woman on Valentine’s Day?
My current—and amazing—boyfriend and I got drunk last year. We didn’t mean to. We had been dating for a few months and I didn’t want to rush anything. We made a last-minute reservation at a fancy Italian restaurant, but couldn’t be seated until 11pm. Never a couple to let late plans stop us, we decided to go to our favorite bar to kill time before dinner. Three bottles of red wine later, we practically crashed into the restaurant. After some long-forgotten pasta and more wine, we ended up in bed blissful and ecstatic about our relationship, our hot sex, and our ridiculous Valentine’s Day.
I started to bug my boyfriend about this Valentine’s Day in January.
Christmas and New Year’s were over, the weather had gotten the best of me, and I wanted something sweet to look forward to. He looked surprised, and admitted that he did not take me for a Valentine’s Day girl.
But that’s the rub—I’m not a Valentine’s Day girl. But behind every lonely girl who rolls her eyes about the day and gets drunk at a bar before dinner, is a girl who wants something special and romantic.
Would I trade one day of over-the-top dinners and chocolates for a lifetime of daily flowers and poetry just because? Sure. But until my boyfriend robs a florist and learns how to cook, I will settle for one day of over-the-top romantic bliss. The sixteen year old in me needs it. And the twenty-six year old in me would also accept a copious amount of red wine and hot sex.