There’s no good way to lead into this, so I’m just going to come out and admit it:
I love Valentine’s Day.
Oh, I didn’t used to. I mean, it was cool in elementary school, when we would buy boxes of cards with our favorite cartoon characters on them, address them to each of the 30-some-odd kids in our class, stuff the envelopes with candy, and put them in the handmade mailboxes attached to our desks. And my mom would always serve bagels with pink cream cheese for breakfast, put red- and silver-wrapped chocolates in our lunches,* and give us little presents after dinner.
But as I got older, giving Valentine’s cards and candy stopped being mandatory, my mom stopped packing my lunch, and I realized there was some aspect of this holiday on which I was missing out.
I went all four years of college sans a boyfriend, and began disdainfully referring to February 14th as “Singles Awareness Day (SAD).” One year, Monica and I even dressed up as characters from the MTV series Daria, and called the holiday “Halloween II.” Even after I became part of a couple, I complained about Valentine’s Day being just an excuse for Hallmark and the candy companies to make money; I stood firm in my belief that we should show love to our loved ones every day, not just one day out of the year; I groaned at my sister, with her house covered in hearts and X’s and O’s.
The first Valentine’s Day I spent with the man who would become my ex-husband (France), we agreed to get cards for each other and nothing else – this was the compromise we made after I’d told him I wanted nothing to do with the holiday. So he bought me a sterling silver necklace. (Maybe I should have taken this as a sign that he had no respect for my wishes, and wouldn’t be inclined to in the future either.) On our second Valentine’s Day (Wales), which happened to fall on the same night as our weekly ballroom dance class, our class had a Valentine’s Day Social, and afterwards, the two of us went to dinner. I was still anti-buying-gifts, and still wanted to illustrate that love should be shown year-round, so I took a deck of cards and made them into personalized coupons, redeemable one per week for the following year – I still consider this one of the best gifts I’ve ever given, and wouldn’t hesitate to make a similar gift for Doug, my future child, or anyone else I felt like showing affection for 52 weeks straight. That year, my ex got me trashy lingerie (the kind that comes in the plastic package and claims to be one-size-fits-all-Playboy-models) and a sex toy. For our third Valentine’s Day (San Diego), my ex made a reservation at a fancy Italian restaurant, and we dressed up and went to dinner like we were expected to do. He got me more trashy lingerie, even though we were living in my parents’ house at the time. I don’t remember whether I got him a gift, or what it might have been, but I do remember that I got veal marsala at the restaurant. It was delicious.
By the following year (San Diego), I had split with my husband and gotten together with Doug. Once again, I tried my cards-but-no-gifts routine. This time, it worked! We went to lunch in a restaurant where a friend was working, dressing up because we could, even though the time of day didn’t necessarily require it. I wore a green dress, the jade heart pendant my French family had sent me after hearing of my divorce, and no underwear. Later in the day, we put on normal clothes, and went to my parents’ house for dinner, where we all shared the chocolate-dipped strawberries Doug had bought as a surprise.
For our second Valentine’s Day (Seattle), Doug and I took a tip from a customer, who said her Valentine’s tradition with her husband is to buy a bunch of appetizers from the grocery store we work in, stay home, and have a grown-up picnic. We lit a fire, spread a fuzzy blanket on the floor, and watched A Good Year – a romantic movie about a winery in France. I wore a red cotton nightgown and high heels; he wore a wifebeater tanktop and boxers. But this was only a few months post-miscarriage, so we probably didn’t have sex. (At least not memorable sex, obviously.)
Last year (back in San Diego), Doug and I both had to work closing shifts on Valentine’s Day. It was a beautiful, sunny day, though, so at around 11 a.m., we took a baguette, cheese, salame, grapes, and pink champagne to the lake near our house. I got a slight sunburn on the stripe of my lower back where my top didn’t quite meet my skirt. For the first time ever, I bought a Valentine’s gift for someone I was dating. (More accurately, I’d seen an Instant Immersion: French computer program in Costco the week before, bought it for Doug, and needed an excuse to give it to him.) He gave me the nicest, most heartfelt-sounding store-bought card I’d ever seen. An excerpt:
My heart knows strength, because you help strengthen it, caring because you care for it, comfort because you comfort me in times of need.
(I always suspected I was a good influence on him.)
In less than two weeks, Doug and I will be spending our fourth Valentine’s Day together, which officially makes this my longest relationship ever. I’ve been eyeing the hearts and X’s and O’s for weeks already, coming to the strange and satisfying realization that at some point, I actually started to love this holiday. It’s still just an excuse for the card and candy companies to make money, but sometimes we need an excuse to spend our money on those things; I still believe we should show love to our loved ones year round, but with life tending to get in the way, sometimes we need a reminder to do so.
As for my sister? She’ll be so proud.
*On Saint Patrick’s Day, we’d get green- and gold-wrapped chocolates. I remember the day I learned that what my mom was actually doing was buying Christmas candy on sale in January, then dividing it up by color, and spreading it out across the two subsequent holidays. It blew my mind. That woman is a genius.