Monday, February 16, 2015

The Problem of Valentine's Day; or, love is kind, love is selfish, love is cruel, but lest we forget love is fun

Recently someone asked me I "liked Valentine's Day." To be honest, I had not really thought about that question. Not really. I know the problems with Valentine's Day and why this question exists, but my own answer was not one I had really considered. I am aware that it has a controversial reputation and that the answer to that question is often personal, temporal, and completely reliant on your relationship status. In love? It's a great day. Single? It's an unwelcome reminder. Brokenhearted? It's salt in raw wounds. I understand that, but, if Valentine's Day is about love then perhaps it can--should?--rise above our circumstances?  Love should be love. Romance, something else altogether, and V-Day should offer us a chance to be better, to love better, more broadly and deeply because  it is the people that matter, not the day.

4th Grade
The day before Valentines Day we would make envelopes out of colored paper and decorate them with hearts, flowers, and tiny cupid's arrows. We would tape them to the the front of the desk and wait for them to be filled at the next day's V-Day class party. The next day kids would wander around the class stuffing their cards, candy, and notes into the envelopes. The pretty girls and the cool kids' envelopes would grow fatter and fuller, surfeiting with the tokens of adoration and almost bursting and overflowing. Other kids, the ones who were different, shy, poor, less socially adept, or considered unattractive would remain thin, a flat and empty reminder of the dearth of affection. It was a ritual of public social sorting, One year, there was a girl who didn't get any. She sat in her desk reading a book, pretending not to notice. I watched her furtively wipe away a couple of tears, and even though I was too young to really know why, I just ached for her on her behalf. The next year, I made her three cards and signed other people's names on them. Unfortunately, I know now that some people will always have more than they need, and for others love will be maddeningly precious.

High School
I really, really liked him. I was the daughter of the football coach, the sister of the school jock, and welcome at any cafeteria table. He was not. He was different, For whatever reason my family didn't like him. The only thing he did wrong, I think, was to be less tough, less cool, and less athletic than my family wanted him to be. But, I thought he was perfect. It started with stares in the hallway, and progressed to the exchange of romantic and sexually charged notes, to late night phone calls, and quick clumsy make-out sessions at lunch. When the fullback on the football team found out that Coaches' daughter was making out with a "loser" they took action. The bullying and threats begin and he was told in no uncertain terms that I was "off-limits." I was afraid enough of losing my status that I upheld the ban.  I told him that I didn't want to see him anymore and walked away. That Valentine's Day a dozen roses were delivered to me at my desk in my homeroom. There was only an unsigned note in very familiar handwriting that simply said, "There is no greater sin than turning your back on love." As I read the note, I felt a wave of guilt and remorse. But, I didn't even look at him. I told everyone I didn't know who they were from and just walked away without a second glance. I still wonder how things would have been different if I had been braver.

I remember that it was raining, and I remember that we got soaked. And I remember that we didn't care. We were dressed to go out and there were dinner reservations at the appropriate dark corner table of the perfect restaurant that served those drinks that I loved. We were walking downtown when we were just absolutely soaked in a torrential downpour. It was every cliche of every cheesy love story that has ever been told. And I was dizzy with it. We stopped in the rain and kissed in the middle of the sidewalk as the rain soaked our hair, our clothes. I remember licking droplets that turned to rivulets at his throat. We arrived at the restaurant completely soaked through, wet to our souls. We made it through the drinks and appetizers before he caught my eye and we got up and ran home to bed.

Grad School
I had the kind of broken heart that makes everything hurt. He had hollowed me out and taken everything. It was such a thorough killing that he had left me with barely a shell to curl up in. He was a vampire dressed in professor's clothes and he completely devoured me. My dad drove two hours to pick me up on Valentine's Day and take me to dinner. I was so distraught I was wearing old jeans and an unwashed sweater. He took me to dinner. It wasn't fancy, I think it was a burger place. He bought me a drink and handed me a card, some flowers, and a box of chocolates. I cried the whole time. He just kept telling me that I would get better, things would get better. Every Valentine's since then, my dad has given me a small box of chocolates. I don't have the heart to tell him that I don't like them, because I love them so much.

There is a joy in meeting someone new. There is this contagion of possibility. Will this be a new friend? A new lover? Something permanent? Something just for today? The exchange of identities. the discovery of layer after layer of someone. It does not have to lead somewhere. It doesn't have to be anything. Because, sometimes it's just fun. Because, sometimes Valentine's Day is just fun, fun, fun.

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