Two Views on Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day is one of those days. While there’s a nice “warm, fuzzy” about it, it also seems somewhat manic—either someone is ecstatic about the holiday, or else in the doldrums. I thought I’d match the manic nature with my Valentine’s Day post, musing on the pros and cons of the holiday.

The Cons

In high school, my friends and I handed out black plastic flowers on Valentine’s Day, taping up posters that said “Happy Corporate Holiday” and other such things—regardless of whether we had a boyfriend. We were teenagers; we were rebellious. Valentine’s Day is what started a years-long tradition of me making my own greeting cards that featured, on the back, my hand-drawn logo: a crown with the red circle-and-slash sign, along with the slogan “down with the crown.” It was directed specifically at Hallmark but generally at any institution that, I felt, made people feel like they had to feel a certain way at a certain time.

Case in point: Valentine’s Day.

On such a day, I felt like the world wanted us to feel happy and smiley. If we weren’t euphoric, there was something wrong. If we weren’t dressed in red and pink and handing out sugar and messages to everyone we met, we weren’t really part of humanity, were we?

Fitting in was never a big deal for me, so it didn’t bother me specifically. What bothered me more was watching other people not fit in. I always felt sorry for people who didn’t have a significant other. I imagined how someone might walk through the day, deeply affected when seeing others receive roses and teddy bears and chocolates. I imagined how someone might feel—as I’m sure we’ve all felt—at allowing herself to imagine what it might feel like to have someone who would send flowers, taunting herself with a possibility that seemed so impossibly far from reality. I felt most sorry for those people.

But I felt sorry for others, too. I felt sorry for people in stable relationships who felt pressure at Valentine’s Day to do something terribly nice for a significant other. I imagined them falling short of expectations, or just having an off-day on February 14 to the chagrin of their significant others. I felt sorry for people who had ordinary problems on Valentine’s Day, like those who had the flu or the stomach bug. Weren’t they supposed to be hugging and kissing and eating chocolates? How could a universe that imposed universal happiness on us on the 14th allow such a tragedy?

I felt sorry, also, for those in new relationships. What about people who started dating at the beginning of February? There was hardly ample time to see if the relationship would sink or float—and now the added pressure of doing “just the right amount” for Valentine’s Day.

All in all, more pressure than it would be worth.

I felt sorry, too, for children in elementary school. I remember well my teachers being very clear: if you bring valentines cards or treats, you must bring enough for everyone. We all had little envelopes taped to our desks, and we had to go around delivering one valentine per box. I felt sorry for the kids who nobody seemed to like, and who received valentines simply because the teacher said they had to. They always got the valentines no one wanted. The brown ones, or the green ones. Not the red or pink ones. I wondered if those kids knew they were only receiving valentines because the teacher said they had to. I never figured out which made me more sad: whether the kids knew, or whether they didn’t. Again, the holiday seemed always to bring joy to those who already had it, and emphasize sorrow for those who would rather forget it.

The only thing that never made me sad on Valentine’s Day was seeing children and their parents exchange valentines. There’s something about a hand-drawn Valentine for a parent that’s so genuine. And, of course, a daddy giving his daughter a box of chocolates… that comes from the heart as well. But with true love like that, a national (corporate?) holiday doesn’t seem necessary.

The Pros

While in general I don’t like conforming, there’s something to be said for setting aside a day, a time, a place for remembering those we love. Too often in our lives we take our loved ones for granted. It’s often said that time is our most precious gift. We never know when it will run out.

I remember well the first song that made me tear up. The middle-school chorus came to my elementary school to perform. They sang the song “The Living Years.” I can’t remember if it was the first time I heard the song or not, but I do remember it was the first time I actually listened to the lyrics. Yes, I was listening to the lyrics, but as always, I was the observer. I noticed the conductor, a teacher from the middle school, was crying. She was crying during a very specific verse:

“It’s too late when we die
To admit we don’t see eye to eye

I wasn’t there that morning
When my Father passed away
I didn’t get to tell him
All the things I had to say

I think I caught his spirit
Later that same year
I’m sure I heard his echo
In my baby’s new born tears
I just wish I could have told him in the living years”

It wasn’t until years later, when I heard the song on the radio again, that I truly understood what those lyrics meant. The song inspired a frantic sense of the delicacy of life. I thought back to what that middle school conductor must have been thinking, or who she might have been missing, or what she might have been regretting. To me, this song gets at the heart of what’s so important about Valentine’s Day–and other holidays.

I used to get so stressed out cleaning the house for Christmas, or preparing for family to come over. Both my parents told me that years and years from now, no one would remember how neat or messy my house was: when people get together, they want to see each other. People are what make memories. I don’t get stressed anymore.

For me, this is the positive side of Valentine’s Day. It’s a chance for us to pause and remember to do something special for those we love. And we need those reminders. It could be that before we know it, it may be too late.

So this Valentine’s Day, instead of blowing money at an over-crowded restaurant, do something nice and thoughtful for those you love, but more importantly, reach out to those you may have lost touch with, those who mean a lot to you, those you don’t speak to as often as you’d like. Reach out to those you see every day who might not have a Valentine of their own, or anyone in their life for that matter. Because sometimes whether the valentine is red, pink, green, or brown, it’s the thought that counts, and small thoughts to us often mean much more to their recipients.

Thinking back to those kids in elementary school, the ones who got the valentines no one else wanted, I’m thinking they probably appreciated them after all.