Once upon a time, the phrase ‘single Awareness Day’ seemed a pretty cool gotcha. When Valentines Day becomes a neon sign to solos that screams “Nope, not you”, re-framing the holiday doesn’t feel like that bad an idea. Depending on your frame of mind, this celebration of love can seem sensational, saccharine, or just plain sad. This holiday of hearts can be a real kicker when you’re single. Valentine’s Day could use a slight makeover.
People exchange nearly 150 million Valentine’s Day cards a year, making heart day second only to Christmas in card-sending popularity. Legend has it that Valentine was a martyred saint, which might have something to do with why the holiday seems especially sucky for a widow. It’s said the tradition of love greetings came began when the day’s namesake signed a note to a young girl he pined for ‘from your Valentine’. Ever since, kings, friends and lovers have exchanged tokens of affection. I’m quite sure, though, all those loving notes cost significantly less than $5.00 a pop ready-made.
Like everything else, Valentine’s Day was once a simpler — and cheaper time. I can still remember those tacky school mailboxes we glued together with bits of felt and wrapping paper to stuff cheery class cards in. Those were the days. We painstakingly wrote, what seemed like a million little cards to every classmate; then waited nervously for our own return windfall.
The love drama starts early.
Though sprinkle-topped pink cupcakes, a Valentine staple in third grade, have been replaced by allergy-free snacks, not everything has changed. Remember those chalky tasting candy hearts with all the sayings? You still have to burrow through an entire box to find one pastel heart that appeals. Nothing tasty there.
Today, TV commercials inundate us with ideas for that perfect expression of love-with-a-price-tag. Hallmark and 1-800 Flowers are guaranteed to make our significant other swoon. But, seriously, if Jane Seymour designs one more ‘open heart’ piece of jewelry, I will truly lose it. And, by the way, what husband, despite the deep discount, would be foolish enough to make a washer/dryer his Valentine’s Day gift?
Roses are usually a safe bet for most girls, but then I’m not most girls. A child of one-time florists, my memories of stripping thorns, bagging and arranging, makes them less a ‘wow’ than a ‘meh’ for me. Besides, knowing their rather short shelf life, rose don’t seem the best widow gift, right?
This Valentine’s Day is the third without my sappy heart guy. It would be perfectly understandable had that former reporter been reticent in flowery prose. His propensity for editing, and crisp copy (the facts, ma’am, and only the facts) would nail him as a no-frills kind of dude. (Well, he did have that extremely annoying habit of reminding me, mid sentence, to ‘get to the point’.) But give than man a holiday like Valentine’s Day, and he left no stone — or stuffed animal unturned. There was the singing gorilla that twanged “Wild One” and the pink polka dot light up frog. Be-ribboned carnations and foil-wrapped chocolate dotted each stair leading to the bedroom one year. And one Valentine’s Day morning, I woke to a veritable treasure hunt where little goodies and single roses were found in every place he knew I’d eventually be. (Good thing I looked first before nuking my breakfast that year!) Five days after heart day, I opened up a cabinet to find a grinning red bear holding an “I love you” sign. Clearly, I’m not quick on the uptake.
Thankfully, I have always believed Valentine’s Day to be an equal opportunity celebration. Even when there wasn’t a significant other object of love, I had my kids, who were and always will be, my forever valentines. Of course, now my grands have elbowed them out of the spotlight a bit, but still. Back in the day, I hung tacky hearts all over the house, baked sugary iced pink cookies and made sure my little valentines had small red-themed chatzkas. Love and Hallmark always found a place in my house, though both are now conspicuously absent.
My husband defined Valentine’s Day in a whole new way. He made choosing a mushy card, what at times in my life was an awkward process, what it always should be. (Hallmark really needs to up their game with some Valentine ambivalent or disappointment cards.) My handsome guy was a pro at doing the ‘little things’ that make small moments big. He brought home flowers ‘just because’, and actually read every word on a greeting card before he wrote another whole message on it. He was my later in life Cupid. Lucky me.
Since he left the building, I avoid the CVS card aisle on holidays, especially this one. The rack of love-to-the-max cards written to ‘husband’ is a landmine. Just spying one that exclaims devotedly “You’re the one I want to grow old with” can wreck my otherwise blithe search for six pack of paper-toweling or volume shampoo. It can morph an otherwise calm, mundane shopping trek into a furtive purse grab for unused tissues. Valentine’s Day arrows shoot right to the heart – and we are sitting ducks. But then, real love isn’t on a Hallmark card or in a diamond bracelet. It’s in every memory, kooky, funny, sweet or heartfelt, that is ours alone and knowing we’re lucky as hell to have hold it, even for awhile.
When I see the guys making last minute grocery store runs to grab the first thing that smacks of Valentines Day, I have to ask “Really, dude?” A leftover wilted, bouquet? A dented, stale Whitmans? I want to yell “Did Valentine’s Day just sneak up on you? It falls the same exact day every single year!” Nothing says I THINK I love you more than an afterthought. Then again, maybe I’m just a cranky former Valentine who had a guy who showed how it’s done.
This year there is no Valentine décor in my house, not even one tiny red heart. No excuses; no apologies. Just not feelin’ it. (Hey, I didn’t put up blinking sign that says: SPOILER ALERT! – ‘The End’)
Being truly loved is priceless. It’s a feeling you never not crave, never not remember. The “me against the world’ will always be sweeter when it’s ‘we’. I have a ton of sweethearts in my world – my kids, my grands, my friends – but no one fills the hole left by a spouse. But, while that vacancy can’t be filled, I can do the love thing with those Valentines, knowing how short life is and how fast little ones grow. Nailing the little red fire engine, puppy heart cards and sugary heart cookie thing with my delicious munchkins seems like a pretty good way to celebrate unconditional heart day. I’ll toast their parents, who were my first loves and my friends who make my world warm and gooey. (you all know who you are!)
It will always be impossible not to think of or miss ‘that guy’ but I don’t need Valentine’s Day to do that. And yes, it’s still easy to cry my stupid eyes out, remembering the goofy Valentine elephant tucked in the medicine cabinet waiting to be found – a week later. But now I smile, too. Blame it on the chubby, diapered baby with the arrow. I know my husband would.