Valentine’s Day is like Thanksgiving with less tryptophan and more schmaltz.
Note: When I began Gunmetal Geisha, I wrote a Valentine’s Day post for the first three years to express love toward my readers. Today I woke up wanting to ignore this day, at least publicly, because some years I’m the alone curmudgeon and others I’m the in-love gusher. Worse than the occasions I was a grumpy loner, I’ve had boyfriends who didn’t bother even with a cursory “Happy Valentine’s Day,” while others sent me enough purple tulips to cover my entire dining table. Such extremes, and how each made me feel, bring me to think about other people in general and how best to be sensitive toward those who feel alone, those who feel neglected, and those who want to celebrate their love out loud. In the end, I’ve decided that rather than ignore Valentine’s Day, I’ll repurpose the old love letters to my readers and shape them into one updated message.
It’s the day TV commercials tell women they’re not loved unless they receive diamonds. And if she isn’t in heels clipping garters to a doily passing for underwear, you must not be loved either, mister. I call it a herded holiday when society and the media collude to make you feel obligated towards someone, or like shit because no one feels obligated toward you. Obligations make so much money for other people.
While I have an aversion to commerce predicated on people’s insecurities, I’m not immune to such insecurities myself. I’ve been properly conditioned toward them since I was ten, which was actually late because before that I lived in Iran where we didn’t do paper hearts. I also disapprove of cardboard babies with stunted wings and sadistic arrows pointing everywhere. The onset of romantic love and its withdrawal in association with a piercing arrow is reminiscent of needle to junky. Not a pretty thought? Neither is an arrow in the ass.
I first learned of the I’m-utterly-alone-and-rejected-unless-someone-takes-pity-on-me day in the fifth grade when I ended up with three or four generic “Will you be my Valentine” cards with some heart candy thrown in, distributed to everyone in the class by the most generous among us. Until that day, I didn’t know I was supposed to expect something on heart day, or that come every February 14th, if I received nothing, I was supposed to feel like a non-girl unworthy of attention.
Several years ago, I was given a flower made of cigarette-box tinfoil by my age-inappropriate, 23-year-old Valentine’s date, which stayed affixed to my fridge for at least a year simply because he made it with his own hands. So apparently, all it takes to feel worthy is a little tinfoil.
Commerce and insecurity aside, I don’t actually see Valentine’s Day as too different from Thanksgiving, other than there’s less tryptophan and more schmaltz. Both are days of appreciation that shouldn’t be relegated to one day. So I’m not mad at Valentine’s Day. In fact, I find many words that end in “-ine” inherently romantic: Balanchine, crystalline, dopamine, clandestine… Not only that, I’m a fan of love. All kinds of love. The blood-thick love of siblings, the time-sealed love of best friends, the unquestioning love of pets, the incomparable love of parent and child. And naturally, that of lovers. It’s a glorious candle flicker in the dark, though sometimes just as impermanent. Luckily, all the other kinds of love aren’t fleeting at all. And some bonds show you genuine love doesn’t end even when the romantic relationship aspect of it does.
For each Valentine’s Day we were together, S. gave me a handmade, ultra-modern glass perfume bottle. These fit my idea of poetic, so he did not risk deviating with other items during the following years, and I built a decent collection of geometric art glass. For him I rigged envelopes I spent hours designing, so that upon opening, a burst of tiny, varied, hand-cut hearts would spring out and rain on him. Years after we broke up, he died. Yet here he is again, remembered on Valentine’s Day 2020.
One year many Valentine’s Days ago, I had a boyfriend who napped on our couch while I went to the New York premiere of Vagina Monologues by myself to watch famous actresses in red ball gowns tell stories of rape and genital mutilation. Prior to that night, I used to write him poems year-round, coming up with titles like “Without Eyes,” attributing vision to the discovery of my love for him. We’re still friends, but it’s weird the turns life takes, or, the way love turns.
Then there was the Valentine’s Day on which T. and I decided to invite along to a fancy vegan restaurant my two girlfriends as a share-the-love gesture because one was unhappily single and the other had a husband out of town. The takeaway? Don’t do this. The girls were so long-faced and self-pitying that T. and I considered the romance of bagging up our food and eating in the car.
Speaking of the romantically disgruntled, there are those you can’t hug into any semblance of mammalian warmth for the simple reason that they won’t let you. They believe nobody loves them, or that they can’t love anybody. They’ve given humanity the pink slip, but somehow, bitterness rather than acceptance accompanies their wholly self-imposed belief. But listen up Alone Curmudgeons, because you might be someone’s envy:
When you’re single, there’s no one to take you for granted; you get to be always right; you are free to fart; you’re not one of those never-farting “in love and annoying” people saturating your friends’ social media; and you can give the finger to compromise. Certainly it’s nice to have a hand to hold, share a laugh and a meal, but then you have to be pleasant when you don’t feel like it, prevent the erosion of romance, engage in new activities even when the couch is calling, and at least once in a while, do things their way.
Of course, there’s the question of being biologically programmed to seek a mate, and feeling some sort of lack without one, but when I personally don’t have a partner, I suppose it’s just one more thing I don’t have. I also don’t have an English castle or a Pulitzer or eternal youth, and somehow, I find ways to cope.
I do know this much — even if you personally chase love out your front door with a broom, it finds a way in. I don’t care if it’s some stray cat nuzzling your ankle, or the grocery clerk taking extra care to pack your bag, it’s there, in one form or another. My brother calling to tell me how hilarious it was that his GPS just referred to FDR Dr. as FDR doctor instead of drive, is love. One of my favorite Valentine’s Days took place with one of my best girlfriends in a dim, chintzy lounge, toasting love with red wine. Neither of us wanted to be anywhere other than where we were, and in that, there was something flawless. That’s love. Digitally transmitting thoughts, that’s love too.
In deference to the eye-rolling bunch who find this day nauseating, I’ll end with a story that’s both vomitous and filled with Valentine-red imagery. Don’t say you weren’t warned. One February 13th evening, my body decided that for no reason at all, without a hint of nausea, it wanted to expel…stuff. Yes, we’re embarking on literal vomit. The dark pink mess with the translucent particles looked like half-bitten jammed cranberries, having emitted from my insides in spite of the fact that I’d only eaten brown lentils. Sure, there may have been some modest amount of red wine accounting for color, but not for the translucent, vaguely heart-like shapes. Unhappy tears streamed down my face as I called out to my love, “The devil just came out of me in tiny red chunks.”
Except that’s when it occurred to me: the mysterious heart shapes weren’t chunks of the devil at all, but exactly appropriate for Valentine’s Day Eve, since on varying romance-o-meters, the day is both gag-inducing and heart-filled.
How do I know I love you? Because you’re here and I’m here. I have very new, very raw personal writing up on Medium as of yesterday that I’ve felt too vulnerable to promote. It’s metoo-related, a click away and called The Luck of a Body.
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