Celebrate Valentine's Day without giving into traditional expectations.
"V-Day." Sounds more like an invasion of Normandy than a day spent celebrating love and romance. And rightfully so. Sometimes the intricacies of preparing for the holiday resemble war-room strategy more than jubilation. Sure, you're armed with flowers and chocolates instead of a rifle and grenades, but there is a common dread, with the tips of those big red hearts hanging like so many swords of Damocles.
Sound like the ramblings of a bitter soul? Sour grapes some? That's the classic reply to those haters of the holiday. But it's not only the lonely hearts that feel a certain misgiving about forced romance. Even those that have found someone can feel anxiety about V-Day, particularly early in a relationship. This writer himself had something of a scare.
I'm not a Valentine's Day faithful, not a belieVer, so to speak. I carried the resistor's torch for years back in high school, but it was easy to write me off when I didn't have a girlfriend. When I met Phoebe, though, I was faced with a unique problem. We started going out on New Year's Eve (undrunkenly, I promise), which put us within a stone's throw of V-Day right at the beginning of the relationship. I wasn't sure where she stood on the issue; it had never come up. How high of a cost was I willing to pay for my declared values? And how cheap would I sell them if I had to?
I was brave. I more or less handed Phoebe the pamphlet: Hallmark holiday, personal nature of romance, consumer rush, blah, blah, blah. And, lucky me, she nodded in vehement agreement. What a load off my mind! Now I was free to loathe the holiday without fostering resentment. I thought the matter was settled.
But the next day her friend, Tara, motioned me over to her end of the lunch table.
"You know Phoebe wants to celebrate Valentine's Day, right?"
What? No, I knew no such thing! But by the end of the conversation, I wasn't feeling so sure. And it only got worse. Later, in the hallway, another of Phoebe's friends made the same ushering motion.
"You're still going to celebrate Valentine's Day, aren't you?"
B-but... she said...
"I don't think she wanted to say, but I'm sure she really does."
It's always been my belief that communication is the soul of a working relationship, a point on which a million magazines and talk shows agree with me. But this ignores the difficulty in actually managing to talk. I had given Phoebe a screed about V-Day's evils, never thinking that she might be too startled by my vehemence to disagree. On the other hand, I wasn't happy that she hadn't been honest enough to be upfront with me. I had no roses, no chocolates, but instead an olive branch of apology and a torch of indignation when I approached Phoebe that very day and told her what her friends had told me.
And she said she had no idea what they were talking about.
This is what I mean by "forced." Turns out, Phoebe honest to goodness didn't care about the holiday. Her disdain was almost on par with mine. But everyone else in her life assumed her antipathy was also just a show. We were cast as stubborn souls, ones too afraid of being wrong to change our opinions. We all, people assume, want to take part in the festival. Some of us are just wound too tightly to admit it.
How right are they? I'd love to say not at all, but it's a little more complicated than that. I wanted to give Phoebe flowers, and she wanted a romantic dinner. Just not necessarily on February 14.
For all us fighters out there, trying to stay strong against our own culture, I have some suggestions. Resistance is fine, but subversion is that much better. Don't cross your arms and insist on having a bad time just to spite everyone else. I don't want to overthrow V-Day. I want to reclaim it.
Make a day of your own. Get flowers, dress up, go out on the town. Take everything about Valentine's Day that's worthwhile, the sweets and the sweetness, the so-rarely-found excuse to just have a good time, and ditch the kitsch and the impersonal intrusion of the wider world. Or keep the kitsch! Even wear red and pink if you're into that. Love is deeply personal, so make it personal. Make it yours. And make it when the weather's less chilly and the restaurant's less crowded. And buy all the chocolate you want. Just do it a day after the big V, when every last bit of it is on sale.
Love on your own terms, but make sure to love.