Valentine’s Day is like Thanksgiving with less tryptophan and more schmaltz.
Note: For Valentine’s Day, depending on the year, I’ve been both the alone curmudgeon and the gushing lover of love. I’ve had partners who didn’t bother with a cursory “Happy Valentine’s Day” and those who sent me enough purple tulips to cover my dining table. Such extremes bring me to consider those who feel alone or neglected as well as those who want to celebrate their love out loud. So I’ve repurposed a couple of vintage GG Valentine’s Day posts into an updated message.
It’s the day TV commercials try to tell women they aren’t loved unless they receive diamonds. You must not be loved either, mister, if she isn’t in heels clipping garters to a doily passing for underwear. Mainstream culture and the media herd the willing to fields of perceived deficit. They collude to make us feel obligated toward someone or like crap because no one feels obligated toward us. Obligation makes so much money for other people.
And what of those cardboard babies with stunted wings and sadistic arrows pointing all over the place? The onset of romantic love and its withdrawal in association with a piercing arrow is reminiscent of needle to junkie. It isn’t the prettiest thought, but neither is an arrow to the ass.
Even with an aversion to commerce predicated on people’s insecurities, I’m not immune to Valentine’s Day. I’ve been duly indoctrinated since I was ten, which was actually late — before that I had lived in Iran where we didn’t do paper hearts.
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 parents of the most generous among us. Until that day, I didn’t know to expect something come every February 14th, or that if I received nothing, I was supposed to feel un-girlish and not worthy of attention.
It’s not that my needs are extravagant. 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 all it takes for me to feel worthy might be a bit of tinfoil.
Commerce and insecurity aside, I don’t see Valentine’s Day as too different from Thanksgiving, other than there’s less tryptophan and more schmaltz. Both are days of appreciation that might be nice to extend to the other 363. I can’t possibly be 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 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, a glorious candle flicker in the dark, though sometimes just as impermanent. Luckily, the other kinds of love aren’t fleeting at all. And some bonds show you genuine love doesn’t end when romance does.
For each Valentine’s Day that we were a couple, S. gave me a handmade, ultra-modern glass perfume bottle. These fit my idea of poetic, so he didn’t risk deviating with other items 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. He died years after we broke up, yet here he is again, remembered on Valentine’s Day 2020.
Another boyfriend napped on our couch on a Valentine’s Day 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. I resented him for letting me go alone. Prior to that night, I had written 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 a third boyfriend and I went to a fancy vegan restaurant, inviting along 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 on our own.
Speaking of the romantically disgruntled, there are those you can’t hug into a 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. Do these loner curmudgeons know they 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. Sure 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.
There’s the question of being biologically programmed to seek a mate, and feeling a void without one, but for me, the times without a partner meant just one more thing I didn’t have. I also didn’t have an English castle, or a Pulitzer, or eternal youth, and somehow, I found ways to cope.
Besides, even if you personally sweep love out the 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 bag your produce, it’s there, in one form or another. My brother calling me from New York to share the hilarity of his GPS referring to FDR Dr. as FDR doctor instead of drive is love. A favorite Valentine’s Day for me 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 to the so-called loveless is 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’s-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 jellied 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.
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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 me-too related, a click away and called The Luck of a Body.
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