When I was in the third grade, my classmate Billy spent most of his time lifting girl’s skirts, talking about underwear, making vulgar comments and chasing down female classmates to kiss and/or grope. Sad, that we had an eight year old class perv, but we did. After only a few weeks, Billy and I had pretty much established our relationship. As one of his favorite targets, I hated him fervently, and he seemed to love being hated. I wouldn’t even remember Valentine’s Day that year if not for the Disney themed card from him. Mickey Mouse leaned forward at the waist, spring flowers in his hand. The text said “My Tulips Are For You”. Forgetting all other cards, sweet or indifferent from my other classmates, I stomped home carrying this evidence of further disrespect for my person. I presented it to my mother with righteous indignation. I know she attempted to explain that he was just an angry, scared little boy looking for friends, but I knew better. I ripped the crafty little perv’s card up into a million pieces and flushed it to the sewers. Gotta love grade school.
Remember being encouraged and often assigned the work of Celebrating Things by an enthusiastic teacher? I realized early on that as kids, we interpreted these social experiments in a variety of ways. Some of us went through the motions (or not) and didn’t seem to care very much about any of it. Others were clearly petrified of the outcome (popular or not) because of what it told them about themselves. Or we participated eagerly, with every faith that our classmates would respond in kind. When it came to Valentine’s Day, I was an odd mix. I didn’t care what I got, but I did care about the message I might give out. I very carefully selected the most appropriate card for each classmate. Not too familiar for some, and just the right amount of warmth for others. Sometimes my mother would help me to make simple homemade cards, and I can honestly say I enjoyed that. But that wasn’t every year, and given the limited and hopelessly cheesy nature of pre-printed Valentine’s Day cards, the mission I set out for myself often put me into a state of plutonic panic. Yes, I still over-think these things as an adult.
I was reminded of all of this as Valentine’s Day 2007 approaches, because I think I was over anxious about the message given (and in the one instance, received). My excuse is that I was just a kid, caught up in the tiny world of my own emotional politics. As a grown up, I find it sad that dating services, restaurants, resorts, jewelers and chocolatiers are counting on that same anxiety. They desperately want to help us prove we are head over heels for one another, or like a potion, promise the magical onset of true love. (And wouldn’t that prove to so-and-so that we are happy without them dammit.) Always be your own darned Valentine (I’ve done it, and it was never disappointing, frogs and princes are overrated). And if you’re with someone (family, friend, lover) who means the world to you, make sure you celebrate that every day, not just the one Hallmark tells you to.