Some musings on Valentine’s Day
I have a love/hate relationship with Valentine’s Day. Back in the days when cell phones were first becoming popular, there was a radio commercial from one of the carriers that featured two “dude”-type characters who regularly discussed the pros and cons of owning a cell phone, and the ad that ran in early February had one character using the line, “Dude, it’s like their Super Bowl!” to convince his friend that he should buy his sweetheart a cell phone. I always chuckled at that line, but I know several women who really do take it that seriously.
What is it about Valentine’s Day presents anyway? They are usually cheesy and overpriced ($100 bouquets of red roses that have no scent and die in a week, anyone?) and there is so much expectation surrounding the selection, purchasing, presentation and receiving of these gifts. Why is that? Have we really bought into the mass merchandising hype that much? To me, it is a classic example of “manufactured drama” – you’re not a real man if you don’t buy just the right present at just the right price point and your man doesn’t really love you if he doesn’t come through with the flowers/candy/jewelry/dinner out/(insert appropriate gift here). Could it get any more shallow or meaningless? And yet, I’m disappointed when Valentine’s Day comes and goes without a bouquet of flowers, a box of chocolates or a little velvet box magically appearing from the hands of my beloved. That’s why my feelings are so conflicted about the holiday.
My Valentine’s Day expectations started with my parents. I have fond memories of my dad coming home from work on Valentine’s Day with little heart-shaped boxes of chocolates, small teddy bears and other appropriately-themed gifts easily procured from the local Coronet or Thrifty Drugstore for my sister and me. He always had something for my mom too (much bigger and grander, of course), but she always seemed vaguely dissatisfied with his offerings. While my sister and I were perfectly happy with red, pink and white loveys and cheap boxes of Whitman’s, my mother was looking for something else, something more. I read somewhere that man’s chief aim in life is to please woman, and while I’m not sure that’s universally true, it certainly seemed to be the case with my parents and several other couples I know. But why is the man’s offering never good enough? Or, if he does manage to present the woman with the perfect gift that she’s always wanted, why does it fail to satisfy in the long-term?
I always swore that I would never be one of “those” women – the “if you can guess why I’m angry then we’ll talk” kind that like to play head games and expect (demand?) the men in their life to make regular offerings to prove their love and devotion (and usually without providing any guidelines as to what sort of offerings would be deemed worthy). It always seemed foolish to me to expect someone else to read my mind and perfectly provide for my every want and need. I just don’t buy the “if he really loved me he’d know what I want” thing. Hell, a lot of the time I don’t even know what I want. How on earth is someone else supposed to know? And like a lot of young women heading into adulthood, I vowed to not be like my mother. I was determined not to buy into the gender role stereotypes, to cave to mass consumerism demands, to remain true and honest in my interactions with boyfriends, lovers and husbands, and to avoid being brainwashed by all the crap we’re bombarded with every day that tells us how we’re “supposed” to look and behave and feel and think. And yet, here I am, one day past Valentine’s Day feeling vaguely dissatisfied. And I don’t like it.
For most of my teen and adult life, my romantic relationships have been with men who would not be considered romantic by most standards. Florist-delivered bouquets of roses hardly ever appear on my doorstep (except from my father, who sent me flowers on my birthday and Valentines Day for years after hearing my then-husband say he would never do so because it was a waste of money). Candle-lit dinners, romantic weekend escapes and moonlight walks on the beach are arranged by me, not by them. Elaborate, romantic marriage proposals, declarations of undying love, “I was just thinking about you” phone calls/emails, and hidden love notes rarely appear. And, despite all my thinking and logic-ing and rationalizing to the contrary, this has left me feeling somewhat disappointed. I don’t want to be, but I am.
To be fair, however, I have received some wonderful, touching, thoughtful gifts from the men in my life over the years – the single, perfect dahlia clandestinely ripped from the neighbor’s garden with roots and dirt clump still attached while we were on a walk in the neighborhood; the obscure computer game that I’d never heard of before but turned out to be one of my favorite games to play because “it seemed like something you would like;” the beautiful diamond ring that was presented on Memorial Day weekend because “I couldn’t wait until your birthday to give this to you.” Those gifts were wonderful, touching, and unexpected, but they didn’t come on Valentine’s Day. Why does that matter?
If I’m being completely honest, it’s bigger than just Valentine’s Day. What I think it boils down to, for me anyway, is not so much what the gift is or when it is received as much as what it stands for. To be deemed worthy enough of attention and adoration is part of it, but really it is more the idea that someone values me and our relationship enough to take the time and energy to acknowledge it in some public, tangible way. The “I saw this and thought of you” present or the “I arranged this because I knew you’d like it,” regardless of how much it cost or how elaborate the plans were, symbolize, to me, that I am important, that I matter, that our relationship and my contribution to it has value, that someone cares about my feelings.
As much as I hate to admit it, and think that I’ve risen above it all, and am more evolved and mature than that, I still need external validation of my love-worthiness. And I’m reminded of that every Valentine’s Day.