It’s St. Valentine’s Day, the day of love and hearts and flowers. Sigh. It’s not that I don’t love hearts and flowers and love, but I just don’t get the warm fuzzies. I have never been a fan of the day. I was thinking about it on my way home today, trying to psychoanalyze myself to reveal the root of my misgivings. What I discovered were some deep-seated emotions linking back to the days of elementary school Valentine’s Day parties. Those dreadful days when you had to decorate a shoe box with hearts and lace and take turns walking around the room and dropping little white envelopes into the boxes your classmates had sitting on their desks. My mother usually addressed all of mine for me, and I would be so embarrassed when she would make me pick out which ones to give to whom. I remember hiding in the bathroom at school and switching out cards so no boys would think I was really wanting them to Be Mine, not even the one I really did (insert smiley face here). Valentine’s Day was not meant for the selectively mute. The thought of sharing such heart-felt emotions like, Hug Me or I’m Yours, with my classmates was gut wrenching. What if no one gave me a Valentine in return? Afterall I was the mouth-breather with the Kleenex on her desk. Oh the agony I suffered.
Then there was the time when I was about 9 or 10. Let me preface by saying my parents were not affectionate people. Hugs, kisses, “I Love You"s were not freely given in my home. Not that I did not feel love and affection from my parents, it’s just that these things were not often said aloud or demonstrated. So when I was 9 or 10 I bought a red heart-shaped candle that said “I Love You” or some other mushy sentiment for my mother for Valentine’s Day. I was so excited to have a gift for her. I decided I would leave it out on the kitchen table before I went to bed so she would see it when she got up in the morning. She was always gone to work before I got up. However, because I did not really know how to express such sentiments I did not leave a note telling her who it was from. I guess I just thought she would know. Needless to say she never said a word about it. It just sat there on the table like a big white elephant in the room and got pushed around and piled up in other places. For a few nights in a row I would make sure it was back on the table so she would see it. Each day it was ignored. One day I found it shoved in a drawer and I was crushed. I finally asked her about it and she told me she didn’t know whose it was. She, also not being experienced in expressing sentiments, came across as annoyed, and I was embarrassed. That feeling of wanting to hide-my-face-under-the-covers-and-make-it-go-away has stayed with me, and it is the thought that comes to mind each February 14.
It is evident I have no good childhood memories of Valentine’s Day. But those memories are like happy walks in the park compared to my teenage years. Those awkward years of no boyfriends, no prospects, no happy Valentine’s Days. The years of the student council roses. Oh the horror. I dreaded those roses like the plague. I secretly hoped to get one from the boys I really liked, but knew this was NOT going to happen. Instead I got nothing, which was humiliating, or I got one from a friend and hid it so the boys I really liked would not see it and think I had a boyfriend. The angst of teenagedoom.
It wasn’t until I was in college that things started looking up on Valentine’s Day. Well, after my freshman year anyway. Freshman year was when I finally took a stand and boycotted Valentine’s Day officially. I wore black on February 14 that year in protest to all those loveless years.
Eventually things got better, and then I got married so I was guaranteed a Valentine forever. And he has been a good one, always remembering me and making my February 14s special days. But with marriage came children and the cycle started all over again. The shoeboxes reappeared and this time I was the mother addressing the little cards and asking my children which ones should go to whom. I wonder if they ever hid in the bathroom switching cards and envelopes. I was so relieved when my children finally outgrew the shoebox parties so I didn’t have to relive those days again, twice, every year.
I don’t know if I will ever have a fondness for Valentine’s Day, but my feelings have softened over the years, and at least I try. Regardless of how I feel, I still want everyone I love to have a happy and memorable day. So if you find a red heart-shaped candle sitting on your kitchen table, light it and pretend its the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen.