I will never celebrate Valentine’s Day. Ever.
It’s not because I’m taking a stance against the corporate approach to the occasion. I love candy hearts and paper hearts filled with Reese’s Peanut Butter cups and I’ve never refused a Valentine’s Day card. It’s not because I’m bitter and single and I’ve sworn off all schmaltzy romantic things in some sort of silent, wintry protest. I don’t have that much will power. It’s not because I think it’s been degraded by the White Castles of the world who offer strange “Romantic” packages and tarnish it for the rest of us. I don’t begrudge anyone the celebration of their Valentine dreams – even if it does involve sludge burgers and chicken rings.
No. I’m swearing off Valentine’s Day because for years, I’ve placed it on a pedestal. And thanks to timing and my own romantic challenges, I’ve spent every February 14th without a special someone and miles away from that shiny pedestal. After a lifetime of trying to build my own makeshift holiday, I’ve decided to give it up altogether.
When I was in high school, the lack of a Valentine was tantamount to showing up on campus with your underwear showing through your skirt or spilling an orange soda all over your new Forever 21 blouse: it was absolutely the end of the world. My best friend at the time suggested we shirk the system and do Valentine’s our own way. We took ourselves out to dinner and exchanged goofy, self-depreciating gifts: I gave her a huggable heart pillow with arms and she gave a magnetic “Mr. Right” whose speech bubble had various phrases like “Have you lost weight?” and “Do you want to go shoe shopping?”
We were pretty sure we’d beat the system until we stopped for some ice cream on the way home and found ourselves smack dab in sea of all the handsy couples from school. We sulked home, just as sad as we’d been when the day began.
In college, I tried again. Studying abroad in London, my friends and I thought we might feed our brains instead of wallowing about the lack of cute, British men draped on our arms. We bought student tickets to the Royal Opera where Madame Butterfly was playing, and – feeling very smug and well dressed – waltzed right into a sea of opulently dressed couples. We were practically smacked in the face with thousands of red, angry roses. After learning my lesson about ice cream parlors in high school, my friends and I opted for a grimy London dive where the whiskey was cheap and the tavern dog flounced around begging to get attention and give kisses, which was a slight improvement, because at least someone wanted to kiss us.
In the real world, my singleton Valentine’s Days were less elaborate. One year, I let a friend take me out for platonic tacos and beer only to find out that in his mind, platonic tacos and beer on Valentine’s Day transformed magically to platonic tacos and beer and totally not platonic sex. Valentine’s Day was not so magical that year. Another time, I went to a single’s party and hit it off with the one guy who was (against all conceivable odds) there with his girlfriend. That year, Valentine’s Day was the celebration of letting a six-foot-tall theater nerd wrap me like a mummy in his scarf to distract from looking like an accidental boyfriend thief.
Another year, fresh off a weepy heartbreak, my best friend and I attended a sketch comedy show at Manhattan’s Upright Citizen’s Brigade theater. We both wore brand new red dresses, I added a childish plastic heart necklace to show just how laughable we found this whole affair, and when we found our seats in a sea of couples, we made sure to drink up lots of UCB’s famous five dollar bulk wine. That didn’t help though, because every sketch was romance or relationship themed and only piqued my already weepy, heartbroken sensibilities and I cried at a comedy show, which is basically my worst nightmare. My friend and I both made “work tomorrow” excuses and went home to pretend we weren’t just reminded why being single on Valentine’s Day is basically akin to being lactose intolerant at an ice cream social. There is nothing for you, and everything is designed to make you feel terrible.
Since then, the rule has been avoidance: stay away from anyone who might remind me what day it is, take on a big project at work, get the flu and sleep straight through it. But no matter what devices I’ve used to stave off the “sad singleton on Valentine’s Day” feeling, it’s always thrown back at me.
I order takeout and the guy at the counter gives me a sad, judgmental smile. A coworker asks what I’m doing, and when my reply is “I’m single,” they say “Aw, that’s okay.” No matter what I did, Valentine’s Day had this ridiculous cultural power to make me feel terrible for being single, for feeling independent, for trying to make it my own on this one, stupid day when that’s apparently unacceptable.
But the only way to let the silly holiday keep its power is if I was still hoping to one day ascend to its glittery, heart-shaped pedestal and have the most wonderful, romantic night of my life. So I let that longing go. Without that expectation, that ardent desire that I’d tried for years to pretend wasn’t there, Valentine’s Day has no power over me. It’s just another day in New York, where a dinner reservation is always hard to get, drinking champagne on a weeknight is permanently acceptable, and tasteful themed outfits are constantly encouraged.
So, when the time comes and I have relationship that manages to last at least a full calendar year, I won’t approach February like a kid ramping up to Christmas. It won’t be the moment I finally see what Valentine’s Day is all about, a grand affair worth waiting for. It will be just another day, like it should have been for my last 25 single Valentine’s Days. No expectations, no shiny displays, and no shoving our way into the fanciest restaurant we can find. Valentine’s Day consistently disowned me when I was single, so what reason do I have to own it when I’m not?