A Valentine Gift
Vanessa and I had been together about six months when Valentine's Day 1995 rolled around. I was prepared. Weeks earlier, I'd begun planning my gift.
On the fateful day, I couldn't wait for her to open the package. It was a poem...a Shakespearean sonnet, no less. Three quatrains and a couplet. I had it professionally calligraphied on expensive parchment. I mounted it in a dramatic frame.
Predictably, she was moved. I no longer retain a copy of the verse, so I can't say with certainty it was any good, but it had to at least be passable. She was very excited and, just as quickly, embarassed.
She handed me my gift. It wasn't even wrapped. A crappy small box of chocolates and a tiny white teddy bear holding a heart that said, "I love you." Not quite on the same Effort and Thought (or Cost) level as mine.
And there, you have the problem with Valentine's Day.
The pervasive and perverse nature of advertising has turned this occasion into a chore. The guidelines are clear: Flowers, candy, teddy bears. No thought necessary. Not a few people have referred to it as a psuedo-holiday and that carries weight. The idea behind the day, like so many others, has been lost in an avalanche of marketing and prurient articles in Cosmopolitan. These insidious injections that are slowly shaping and eroding our culture serve to obscure the purity of romantic gestures. Hallmark and See's Candies have turned Valentine's Day into an unconscious action, one complete with expectations and rigid rituals, rendering it akin to yardwork.
And we've let them.
In the above example, I harbored certain expectations. When Vanessa failed to meet them--meet my idea of the holiday--our relationship took a turn for the worse. She failed to see beyond the hype, stuck with society's strict standards, aspiring only to fill the minimum requirements of the day without a nod to the depth of our togetherness. She did what she thought was expected, followed the cultural edict that carries all the romanticism of showing up to work on time. Clearly, I was involved in a relationship that needed to be relentlessly prompted to prove it's worth on what is essentially a random day. With gifts that relate not to the personal interests of those involved but those which have been deemed appropriate. And somehow, people are happy with this show of love, even if it's forced and completely devoid of emotion. Because it's what Valentine's Day has come to require.
My readers, of course, are far more worldly and effective in the ways of the heart. We don't need to be prompted to show our love for those important in our lives. So, naturally, we are derisive about this marketer-fueled ritual, rise above it to share ourselves in ways beyond a last-minute stop at Ralphs for wilted tulips. But have we stopped to think that some people DO need this day? Need the reminder to let their partner know how they feel, even if it's something as simple as a heart-felt note on a card? I assure you they exist. Running daily, to and fro, the hourly tasks of simply living sometimes get in the way of letting someone know their exaulted place in your universe. So Valentine's Day does serve a purpose. Even if it is viewed as a task, this reminder to embrace can be beneficial.
But there's a better way. Remember, there IS a purity in love. A surrender. Some would call it naivete, but it's more like innocence. It's blind, to be sure, but the feeling of love, of attraction, causes all of us to do ridiculous things. I, for one, find nothing wrong with that. It stops us from being cynical. Pushes us to poetry and song and art. We've forgotten that. We've let the red waves of helium balloons and tons of marzipan-filled chocolates obscure the delicate state of love, of loving. Don't blame the capitalist state. It exists to sell you things you don't need. Blame yourself if it works.
Perhaps you still don't believe that there is plenty of good in Valentine's Day. That's fair. Let me leave you with one more point, though.
AJ wanted to buy a card for a little girl at his school. We did and when we got home, he totally refused any assistance in writing the card. No help with sentiment or spelling. He did it all himself.
That's how I ended up with a Valentine for tomorrow. And every year until I die. The sweet wisdom of a five-year-old boy who's unafraid to say what's on his mind, who's unencumbered by society's version of the holiday.
And yes, I'm totally gonna use that line to pick up chicks.