Just Another Day
Anger, Sadness, Resentfulness, Disgust and Other Valentine's Emotions
I'm single in that I don't have a significant other, but I'm as close as I choose to be to a very small, select number of men. It's taken me years to develop the level of comfort I have with my place in the romantic spectrum, though I know my place and my comfort with it is isn't what society expects from a woman. And as comfortable as I may be, sometimes I wonder about the choices that have made me whom I am today--a never-married fortysomething woman. At this stage of my life, when it comes to Valentine's Day, I am the equivalent of Switzerland. I am dedicated to neutrality.
That is not to say I am neutral when it comes to love. I just view it in the practical way I view most things. To me love at its best is an advanced, intense form of friendship with the volume turned up really high. I've never been interested in grand and sweeping romantic gestures; I am touched by the small, consistent acts that demonstrate a willingness to celebrate my charming sexy strangeness. So, in my role as the Swiss, I sit back and watch those who embrace Valentine's Day interact with those who want to call the whole thing off. And the latter group is pretty sizable.
I knew a contingent of people who didn't think much of Valentine's Day existed. But once I started asking around, I was struck by how many of those people there are, and how strongly they feel. Not just stereotypical bitter women, mind you, though I did find those, too. Among men, spouses, singles, divorcees, significant others, sex buddies, young, old, middle-aged, gay, straight, and anyone I've left out, I found people who could do without the hoopla surrounding Feb. 14.
Some are proud of bucking "the Valentine's Day status quo," as someone called it, wearing their distaste for gilded boxes of candy and plush bears like a badge of honor. (Yes, in their fury they even manage to dislike chocolate.) They consider their opposition to the day an act of civil disobedience. It is their protest against all the ways that, as one person I talked to put it, "this culture tries to make you live its version of your life instead of you living your life how you want to." Not participating in Valentine's Day shows that they don't buy the fairy tale of love, and those in this group are going to write their own stories about what love really looks like.
Others are abashed, against their will. "When you don't like Valentine's Day, you're this bitter person, or you're mad because you don't have someone," one woman shared. Another observed that "if you don't get all googly-eyed, people think you're weird." One man leveled: "I just don't get it. I could see if I was an asshole all year long and really need to jump on a chance to make things right. But if, say, you don't get the Feb. 14 fuss, you seem totally heartless."
Whether they secretly agonize over the heart-shaped hubbub or openly thumb their nose at it all, many stand unified in having no use for it. I have very unscientifically broken this group down into subsets.
There are, for example, those who don't have a significant other and are unhappy about it. As one person explained, "Not being acknowledged romantically on that day really hurts." Another noted, "You're surrounded by a world in love and you're left out." When I point out that Valentine's Day is potentially an opportunity to honor all kinds of love, they scornfully respond with some version of, "Valentine's Day is for romance." This group can be further broken down into a sad subset and an angry subset.
The next group suffers from posttraumatic stress disorder. These individuals have had at least one, sometimes several painful Valentine's Day experiences that have forever scarred them. Sometimes they've gotten gifts that made them angry (lingerie three sizes too big), insulted them (a lifetime membership to Jenny Craig given to a 5-foot-7 woman weighing 128 pounds), or that might have been well-meaning but just came out wrong (a platinum band with a card proclaiming, "She may be my wife in my house, but you are my wife in my heart.") Some gifts started a lot of trouble (boxer shorts from a man's lover monogrammed with his best friend's initials--and no, he and his best friend didn't just happen to have the same initials); others gave the receiver a rash (really cheap perfume). You can watch these creatures being born by visiting any office on the day in question and finding the person watching the FTD delivery guy/girl stop at every co-workers' desk in the office except hers.
I even had a boss yell at me once because her husband hadn't sent the roses she required of him every Valentine's Day. "No damn flowers yet?" she hollered from her office periodically all morning. When two dozen fragrant American Beauties finally arrived, I hurriedly signed for them and placed them on her desk with a sigh of relief, only to discover the roses were for me--my boyfriend called 10 minutes later to see if I'd gotten them. (Fortunately my boss was gone to lunch, and I quickly retrieved them from her desk and hid them under mine until her husband's roses came.)
Some see Valentine's Day as a big retail bully. "I hate the way that stuff takes over the seasonal aisles in the stores the minute the new year gets settled in," someone in this bunch groused. This group has a big bone to pick with advertisers who insist that this purchase or that purchase is just the thing for the one you love. "People equate love with material things, and every ad suggesting you need to buy something to show love perpetuates that," one man told me. A woman said, "Commercials make it seem like jewelry solves everything." The people in this group can often tell sad stories about trying to buy into Valentine's Day as presented by Madison Avenue--attempting to make genuine gestures of affection that often fall upon unappreciative targets, which can lead to creating more members of the preceding group.
Then you find those who don't like the stress of trying to please their partners on Valentine's Day. I don't want to say this is the men's group, but, truth be told, I found a lot of testosterone there. "It's not fair," one man commented. "The holiday is for women. I have never had a woman buy me a Valentine's Day present ever, even when I bought her one, even when I was married!" (That sentiment was expressed quite a bit.) And for those in relationships that aren't performing well, the existence of this holiday creates the pressure that expectations always cause, and pressure isn't something these tenuous couplings can deal with.
"You gotta pick just the right thing," another man warned. "It can't be too contrived, or it means you didn't put any thought into it. It can't seem like something you didn't think of yourself. You've gotta show you've been paying attention to what they like and don't like. It can't be too sexy, because that means you only care about sex. It can't be too practical, because it means you don't have a fun side. It can't be too silly, because that means you don't take them seriously. It ain't even worth figuring out."
For some in this group, Valentine's Day is just another opportunity to royally fuck up an opportunity many in this group don't need--for them every day is Valentine's Day in that regard. And don't let the fuck-up be of the "straw that broke the camel's back" variety that leads to a Valentine's Day breakup. That's a whole nother group, and they're a scary bunch.
Valentine's Day touches upon something many people are conflicted about--love. A holiday that seems to shine a huge spotlight on something so many are struggling with is bound to jar some people. And sure, we should love ourselves no matter who else does (or doesn't), but we also want to see ourselves favorably reflected in someone else's eyes in a special way. That is a huge part of what love is about. We all want to be picked by someone at some time and, more importantly, to have the world witness us being picked. It is an unspoken element in a romantic relationship--the fact that its existence says to the world, "Look, y'all, somebody picked me! This proves I don't suck!"
So whether it is annual expensive lavishness that you crave, consistent love offerings all year long, or some happy medium, no one should give huge amounts of power to an arbitrary day on the calendar. Keep the day in perspective, whether you are actively participating or are a Valentine's Day voyeur watching the parade of balloons and roses go by. Or you're always welcome to hang out with me in Switzerland.
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