A sizeable contingent of folks feel that Valentine’s Day is a pointless and bloated holiday created for the sole purpose of funding Hallmark executives’ annual ivory backscratcher purchases. They have ample support in every panting engagement ring commercial, pajama-gram and tub of chocolate body paint. What they do not have however, is my acquiescence on this point. Here’s why.
When I was growing up, my parents were (and still are) extremely private people. Although they certainly did believe it, they did not ever say “I love you” to each other in front of me or my siblings. They would rarely show physical affection for each other. Again, this is not to say they were cold. They were just reserved. But every year on Valentine’s Day my father would always buy my mother a beautiful boquet of flowers and a card. Some years he would make a big, goofy gesture, like hanging an oversized “I love you” sign in the dining room. The point was, on this one day of the year, he felt comfortable being a little silly about love. And my mother would blush and smile and accept it accordingly. To say that watching this expression on this one day registered in my subconscious and informed my attitude about the holiday is a vast understatement.
When I got to high school—the point at which I believe Valentine’s Day concretely shifts from being about your love of your friends or your parents’ love for you, to how someone loves you romantically—I was always vaguely detached from the day. I’ll let you in on a little secret: in the American high school, the curly red-haired girl with the above-average vocabulary and the uncompromising inability to tolerate doofuses does not exactly have a lot of guys banging down her door. I had plenty of guy friends, but they were of the “like me” variety, never the “like me like me” variety. Let me repeat that: never. My dates for all homecoming dances and the prom and such were dudes who enjoyed debating the relative merits of Cracker versus Catherine Wheel in the back of AP British Lit. Or who appreciated that I’d play a pickup game of lacrosse with them without whining if they head checked me.
So Valentine’s Days came and went without the oversized heart balloons affixed to my locker handle or roses delivered to the front office. Now, thanks must be paid at this point to my 10-years-older, curly red-haired sister-in-law who would assure me in those days that this was a temporary affliction. That even though my appeal at the time was limited to creepy old men, I would enter college and find it to be a whole new world. As such, this lack of Valentine’s Day swag did not have the effect of turning me into a Bitter Betty who sat in the back of the library mulling the best proportion of Drano to Diet Coke for my chums with the straight blond or brunette hair lugging around top hat-wearing teddy bears. I still liked the holiday, but just felt that it wasn’t a day that registered for me in my own romantic life. Namely, because I did not have my own romantic life.
Then I got to college and learned within about 45 minutes on Day 1 that, true to my sister-in-law’s word, it would indeed be a whole new world. On the morning of Valentine’s Day 1996, my first love gave me a diamond necklace—my first romantic gift on the holiday, which registered not because of its cost, but because of its meaning. It was the start of a remarkable day that I will always recall vividly.
Jump forward to Valentine’s Day 2006. My not-yet-fiancé handed me a letter that remains the only inanimate object that I would enter a burning building to retrieve.
Which brings us to this Valentine’s Day. On this particular morning, I slept an extra 15 minutes because he let the dog out. I walked into the dining room and found the perfect card and a gift bag from Aprés Peau, bearing the perfect gifts. And now I’m killing a bit of time before we’ll grab a nice, casual dinner. Card, gifts, dinner. All because of a specific day, arbitrarily selected by the commercial industry. All the trappings of a day that earns so much consternation from so many people. I understand them, but blissfully, I’ll never agree with them.