Throughout my childhood, Valentine’s Day used to mean gleefully depositing the valentines I had my mother purchase onto the desk each and every individual in my class. A mandated reciprocity that required little prompting of us all, after receiving the class list with the names of each person, we would arrive to school prepared to shower one another with campy cards filled with messages of affection often communicated through a series of puns.
Not to mention, a bounty of chocolate and candy accompanying said cards gave birth to a ceremony that often carried the promise of watching a movie, utilizing class time that was usually intended for the practicing of our long division of multiplication tables. I delighted in this day. What’s not to love? It solidified in me a trifecta of pleasures that to this day I still value immensely: Candy, Puns, and Not Doing Math.
However, this did not last for long. The practice in school seemed to dissipate just in time for the emergence of pubic hair. There was no longer a mandatory suggestion the each and everyone was to receive a valentine, but instead school dances were introduced where the gymnasium lights would be at fifty percent with a sad disco ball spinning with psychotic consistency in the corner while someone’s parent volunteered to hand out cans of soda purchased in bulk from Costco.
The disappearance of the communal Valentine’s Day seemed to vanish overnight. Gone were the days where February 14th represented a time where all reveled in delight of a mutual exchange of harmonious affection, now that I had emerged from my cocoon of naïveté about what it really means to ask someone to actually, “be yours”. Romantic love, the kind that was explicitly to be shared between two and two alone, became the new norm. Being deemed a tall, awkward, and uniformly undesirable candidate for this monogamous display, this presented a problem. Standing alone as K-CI & JoJo’s “Crazy” crackled out of the gym’s sound system, sipping my off-brand cola and watching as those couples slow dance in tiny circles, I could not help at as a cynical teen to promptly call bullshit on the entire affair.
This cynicism continued throughout my high school days where candy grams were sold and given out in homeroom. Undoubtedly a barometer for popularity, those classmates who were deemed the object of affection were awarded the sweet treats as the rest of us devoid of romantic engagement stared down at our agendas ready to face the day without the sugar rush of young love. I lamented for the days that my friends and I could exchange candy without them thinking that a foil wrapped chocolate heart meaning I wanted to get busy with them. I gleefully decided to cheat the system, purchasing myself a chocolate bar from the vending machine—a whole fifty cents cheaper than the coveted gram.
As I entered university and my early twenties, all I can to see the ugly side of Valentine’s Day. To me it was (and still is) a Hallmark holiday constructed by big business to sell products to the masses at a time right after the holidays where retail sales are notoriously low.
“I hate Valentine’s Day” is my typical attitude, even when I had a full time in-it-for-the-real-thing bf, which I did for seven years. My romantic life has never tainted by the practicing of any rituals around the martyred St. Valentine, and my reasons were soundly based in the idea that picking just one day to be all like, “I love you let’s go eat expensive tapas.” This invented holiday causes so much pressure for those scrambling to get dinner reservations or the perfect present, and alternatively isolation for those who find themselves single. Not mention the heteronormative gendered messages that dictate that because I’m a woman I like, really want a diamond, and the message to men if you don’t get her a present she’s gonna super pissed. Why is it okay to portray women as some sort of mythical goblin creatures whose thirst for gold must be appeased lest you incur their wrath? Or, you know, that if the offering of shiny gifts and smelly soaps ensures unlimited access to my tasty bits.
Traditionally speaking, it’s a day where I mount my soapbox, foaming at the mouth: “It’s all a scam! Don’t you people see what’s going on here? Laura Secord just wants your money! This day is STOOOOPID.” But I will admit I buy the candy when it goes on sale.
But there is something bothering me this year, more than any other. Something like an itch, an urge, a prick like a cupid’s bow stuck in my ass. There’s a tickle on my lips as I scan my social media looking at the faces of my family, friends, and acquaintances. The email my mother sent me this morning from her iPad reading, “Happy Valentines Day” produces a slightly uneasy feeling in my gut. It’s something on this day I have tended to repress or even ignore.
This feeling comes from an unabashed and sincere realization: I am in love.
I have been in love for years, decades, as long as I can remember.
It’s something that’s a part of me.
I am in love with my family.
My parents who gave me life (thanks!) but also loved me creatively, distinctly, and fiercely. My sisters who are unique and brave and connected to me in a way I can’t put into words. I am in love with my brother, the sweetest and most caring person I’ve ever encountered in my life. He has Down Syndrome and is non-verbal, but for someone without the use of words, I have never felt someone tell me that they love me so intensely and so honestly. I am in love with my extended family, living far away but constantly send words of encouragement over FaceBook and email. I am love with my family members who have passed away, forever leaving me with their wisdom, humour, and memories of affection.
I am love with my friends.
Without them I would die. Or be a weird shut-in lady who eats her own toenails and documents the dramatic goings on of the roughly twenty cats living in her bachelor apartment. My friends are beautiful, smart, sexy, funny, silly, brave, and dynamic, among other things. They let me be weird. They listen to me when I’m PMSing so hard that I start to cry about my childhood dog that passed away eight years ago (RIP Max), or when I’m excited about something. They don’t scold of judge me when I make mistakes. They make me brunch. They encourage me when I accomplish something. They celebrate when I am strong. They are there when I am fragile. They give me nourishment.
I am in love with perfect strangers.
Sometimes for only a few seconds. The woman I pass on the street and we exchange a smile. The man who tells me that I’ve dropped my TTC pass. The woman who let me stay at her home when I was visiting New York. The artists I see get up on stage and risk it all. I fall in love with their mystery and kindness. It happens all the time. I fall in love and simply put it out there, where the world can have it.
I suppose this is the day to reflect on that love, to put a magnifying glass on the ways that I love and how I am in love DESPITE what a dictatorship this holiday has about how we express out affection. Perhaps I’m drinking the pink coloured Kool Aid that is the aggressive marketing campaigns of multi-million dollar companies. I suppose I am too tired to rant against something that’s obviously not going to go away.
I’m an atheist and every December I give gifts to my loved ones and wish a, “Merry Christmas” without the slightest interest or belief in Jesus Christ. I have a problem with the institutions of religions, a discussion I’m happy to have with my peers. But every Decemeber 25th instead of going to church and thanking the lord, I sit with my family and drink wine and eat stuff and enjoy their company.
In the same vein, I’ve decided this year that I won’t put any stock into the idea that this day is just for the coupled, just for romance, just to get your money. Instead, in the most secular and inclusive way possible, reminiscent of the days of my childhood, I want to wish all a very Happy Valentine’s Day, because even though there’s a lot to hate about it, what’s not to love about love?