Once again, V- Day is looming.
I call it V- Day because Hallmark’s favorite holiday–Valentine’s Day–is a bit like D-Day, especially for the men, I suppose. It’s romantic warfare: the pressure is on and everything will completely blow up, if you don’t do everything exactly right. You’ll have a disaster of epic proportions on your hands, and the history book of your relationship will posthumously dissect your foiled attempts on the romantic front lines.
I’ve had both good and bad Valentine’s Days, like good and bad any ol’ days—centering expectations around a contrived celebration has never made much sense to me.
And yet, a few years ago, in a sort of preemptive Valentine’s Day strike (strangely, relationship fits and starts seem to hover around February 14), I chose to distance myself from the wrong guy and head home to see the family.
Turns out, they have Valentine’s Day in California too. My sister and I went to the midnight screening of Valentine’s Day, the movie. She was psyched to stay up late, and her husband agreed to man the kid-filled fort so she and I could enjoy a “sister outing.” I told her this was the perfect Valentine’s Date: “There’s no point even going out with friends,” I observed. “You get bad service, because no one wants to be there. And there’s nowhere to sit, because it’s all two-tops!”
Onscreen, Jamie Foxx was the Ladies’ Man of newscasters; but even he wouldn’t touch V-Day. “Now, listen, y’all know I’m a player,” says Foxx’s Casanova to his fellow broadcasters, “but I purposely shut down my playerhood from New Year’s to St. Patrick’s Day, yeah, that’s right—just so I can avoid Valentine’s Day.”
Last year, just before Valentine’s Weekend, I was skiing with some girlfriends in Colorado. We boarded the long, slow chairlift and there was plenty of time to talk.
“Valentine’s Day is the worst,” declared Sarah, shaking her head. “Seriously, it’s like I dread it all year. Everything’s just going along fine and then –wham. There it is.”
Sarah had a boyfriend (we were finally using that word) who was a single dad and lived a few hours away; Heidi had been dating someone for a few months;
Heidi chimed in: “So yeah, I am not expecting much. I got him a card…but I’m holding onto it. We’ll see what he does first.” I asked how everything was going. “Oh, great. Really, everything’s fine,” she said.
Meaning, things probably were fine, except now that Valentine’s Day was looming, she’d decided to second-guess things and monitor every potentially unromantic twitch, or cough. I chuckled, then asked her how long she’d wait until the big ‘card unveiling’… 10 o’clock? 11:59 pm?
She paused, a slight smirk on her face, then shrugged. “Yeah, and if he blows it,” she continued, “maybe I’ll give it to him right at the last minute—scribble something real quick then whip it out, just to make him feel bad.”
Romantic stuff, right? To Heidi—and to many women, I imagine, Valentine’s Day is some sort of showdown, little to do with genuine affection, more like “pistols drawn at 5:47 pm, the only time I could get us a dinner reservation.”
Sarah chimed in on the card conundrum. “Well, on the other hand, you don’t want it to be like Christmas. Scott unveiled the new TV set, and I showed up with a hat. I was like, ‘Um, yeah, still working on your present pile. But this’ll keep you warm while you’re installing my new flat screen…?’”
Heidi and I cackled, and the chair jerked forward. Good thing the safety bar was down.
“Seriously, I was horrified!” Sarah continued. “I didn’t know we were going big already, geesh…”
I nudged Heidi. “So yeah, Heids, definitely hold out on the card, Don’t want to overwhelm him.”
“But seriously,” Sarah observed, between fits of laughter. “It’s a girl’s holiday. Are we supposed to shower the man?
“Nope, it’s their turn to do the fussing. I’m hangin’ onto the card,” Heidi declared. I’ll keep you posted.”
Sarah’s boyfriend was supposed to come down for the whole weekend, but family obligations had whittled the visit down to maybe, possibly, Sunday night; and then, come Monday morning—officially Valentine’s Day—they were both traveling for work for a couple weeks.
“I mean, I can’t be upset, because he’s being a good dad–which is awesome–but our weekend just got totally…shrunk.”
We starting referring to the Weekend of Dwindling Valentine’s as the Shrinkage .Our laughter was now causing the chair to sway from side to side.
“But yeah, he’ll be here for like four hours,” Sarah lamented. “Then he’ll take off on Valentine’s Day!”
And therein lay that rub. That Scott had to head out on Valentine’s Day turned an otherwise inconvenient change of plans into the big “red and pink” elephant in the room, so to speak. To Sarah, a small, interpersonal speed bump was in danger of becoming severe road damage, with the sign declaring: “He took off on Valentine’s Day!”
I got it; I really did. Disappointment sucks, but so does assessing your relationships through Hallmark holidays.
I guess I was raised with a different outlook on Valentines’ Day.
I turned to my friends and said, in all sincerity: “How about you get all Jedi Mind trick this year, and just ignore Valentine’s Day?”
In all fairness, I’ve had some solid Valentine’s Day mentors. While my siblings and I were raised around love affection between Mom and Dad, my father held an utter disdain for Valentine’s Day.
He thought it was the stupidest, most made-up marketing ploy on the planet, and he refused to acknowledge it in the expected fashion.
That’s not to say he didn’t acknowledge it at all.
He gave Mom all kinds of cards on Valentine’s Day: Get Well Soon; Sorry for Your Loss; Congratulations, Graduate! The St. Patrick’s Day card year was the best. In true Hallmark fashion, St. Patrick’s Day cards came out a month or so early, surely by early February, and sometimes the leprechauns resembled evil cupids—so actually, Dad was pretty spot on, substituting St. Paddy’s for V-Day. He’d take Mom to dinner and would always do something in honor of the day, but he never, ever, gave her a Valentine’s Day card.
Mom would sigh, shaking her head at a recycled Groundhog Day card, and say, “Oh, Spike, come on…”
This little ritual always made me smile. It’s one of my favorite memories of my dad. Spike Miller was an innovator in many ways, but raising his daughters to raise an eyebrow at February 14 was one of his finer moves.
I phoned Heidi after skiing. “Any developments on the card front?”
“Well, he called and asked me if I had any plans Monday night,” she said. “He’s like, I guess we should go to dinner or something, huh?”
Hooray! She now had plans. Hooray, right?!
“I guess we should go to dinner? Kinda weak,” she continued. “Whatever. Not card-worthy yet. I’m keepin’ it in the drawer.”
So, while Dad thought the card was the least of the sentiment, a special dinner date on the big night didn’t necessarily mean Heidi’s date was getting a card.
A complicated Hallmark ritual, this Valentine’s Day, fraught with skepticism and withholding.
I then called Sarah to see how the Shrinkage was going. Scott was on his way, she told me. “No more talk of shrinkage!”
On Valentine’s Eve, I called my niece and nephew to chat. I missed them. Nate was then 9, Sophia 11, and I needed an update from each of them. Nate’s pizza had herbs with an audible “h,” eww gross! Every Valentine’s Day, Sophia told me, the classes go to IHOP–International House of Pancakes–but this year, her class wasn’t going.
And she was mad.
I told her I’d be mad, too, if everyone went to IHOP but me. But hey, why do you all got to IHOP on Valentine’s Day?
“I don’t know. We just do,” she said, with 11-year-old exasperation. I suggested this was a nice way to celebrate Valentine’s Day. Pancakes for all. At an International House of Them!
“Yeah,” Sophia continued, “and I was supposed to bring cards to school for everyone but I told the teacher that was a waste of paper and glue, and I didn’t do it.”
“You did?” I said, stifling a laugh. “Wow. But wait, do you really feel that way about wasting paper and glue, or was it just a Valentine’s Day thing? Because I’m sure you waste paper and glue in other ways. I sure do!”
Sophia laughed. “Well I mean if it’s for Christmas or Chanukah, it’s OK. Because everyone gets presents. But Valentine’s Day is a lame, made-up holiday that was invented by the Hallmark card people.”
“Who told you that?” I asked, in total disbelief. Was this natural disdain for Hallmark holidays genetic?
“Mommy,” she said, giggling.
And then I told Sophia the story of our dad, Grandpa Spike, whom she never met, and how he showered Nana with many good things over the years but never, ever, with a Valentine’s Day card.
I ran through the list of bogus greeting cards, pausing for effect on the evil leprechaun/cupid phenomenon, and Sophia giggled and giggled at Grandpa Spike’s silliness.
I’m pretty sure she, too, liked the St. Paddy’s Day year the best.
Several years ago, Sophia sent me a handwritten Valentine’s letter, measured penmanship round and intentional on dotted lines, and sparkle pen explosions in Valentine’s-like colors.
“Dear Aunt Jamie, Happy Valentine’s Day! I can’t wait to see you in Mexico! We are going to have so much fun. We are going to go rock climbing and hiking. Maybe I can stay in your room one night.”
I put her letter on my fridge to enjoy every day. A note like that makes any day feel like Valentine’s Day.
* * *
If life is a box of chocolates, love is something else.
Never be afraid to show your cards, especially those with glue smudges and sparkly stickers.