Monday, February 14, 2011

Love In The Time Of Valentine's Day

All right, let's get this over with. Valentine's Day is upon us, so let us make the traditional noises of contempt and get back to our regularly scheduled programming. Pink and red? Lame. Hearts? Barf. Candy and flowers? Snore. We all know the drill: Valentine's Day is a soulless Hallmark holiday created by merchandisers to fatten up the February sales ledger and hook millions of unsuspecting consumers into buying crap they don't need for people they probably don't even really love. Right? Okay. Where are my Cheetos??

Confession time: I secretly sort of like Valentine's Day. Not for the hype, and not for the pressure. We all know there's a lot of pressure around V-Day. If you're single, pop culture tries to make you feel like a total loser for not being able to get in on all the his-and-hers gifts, and like not dating someone is the K.O.D. for your social life. I've been single for most of my adult-life Valentine's Days, and there is a humiliation that comes out around that date. And it's not easy if you're in a relationship, either: finding a great gift that reflects your exact level of love/commitment is apparently like wading through water infested with tiny, romantically inclined sharks. One false move and you lose a toe....and you're sleeping on the couch.

When I was a kid, I used to come downstairs on February 14th to find a valentine from my mom waiting on the kitchen counter. It usually came with a little gift - a water bottle or a book, a thoughtful token of affection that just said, "Hey, kiddo, I love you, and I thought of you." To me, that is the beginning and end of what I want from Valentine's Day, and if I don't get it, it's not a disaster. My mom has given me a lot of love and a lot of traditions, and celebrating both with my parents (and one day, my kids) is the best kind of Valentine I could imagine.

It's weird that this whole mid-winter sub-industry of folks shilling lingerie, jewelry, flowers and sweets. To be honest, I'm not friends with a lot of buy-me-things women (you know the type: the girls who post pictures of their engagement rings on Facebook, who have a collection of party dresses from all the formals they attended when they were in a sorority, and who instinctively understand how bridal registries work. My genetic heritage includes a father who was once photographed wearing a ringer tee emblazoned with the slogan "Walkerton: where the men are men and the sheep are nervous" and a mom who sewed her own wedding dress. I come from granola-hipster stock, and man, I have done my parents proud), so I am a little mystified by how, exactly, one is supposed to "celebrate" your love for your mate by simultaneously wearing tiny clothes and eating fatty foods. I feel like V-Day is for folks who don't know how to use their words: the best thing a person can hear on Valentine's Day - and any other freaking day - is "I love having you in my life, and I adore the person you are, and I feel like a better person when I'm with you."

Can we make a pact? I don't want chocolate or flowers, and I really don't want an undergarment that incorporates a heart shape into its design. I feel that the insanity of Valentine's Day can be mitigated by a collective acknowledgment that nearly everyone has some kind of love in their life, be it romantic, familial, platonic, unrequited, or the special kind of love a man feels for a side of extra-crispy bacon. Can we just back up and celebrate those, too? And, uh, can we do it all year long?

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