Since we’ve all been single at one time or another, I think we can agree that Valentine’s Day is the cruelest of celebrations. Even though I’ve been with my wife for almost 15 years, I continue to resent this holiday.
I can remember twenty years ago, living in Philadelphia (the City of Brotherly Love) after college with some friends, and watching my roommate take his girlfriend to dinner one February 14th. I couldn’t help but see them exchange gifts and sweet nothings in our living room while I tried to blend into the walls. And as they left, I popped my dinner in a microwave and sat down to eat it–alone.
Let me get this straight–I thought. There is a day set aside for couples to go out to dinner, to shower each other with love and affection, to prompt them to be intimate with one another…because…because…because they’re unable to do so the rest of the year?? This is bullshit! I thought.
This is a day for couples to rub it in our single faces that they have someone and we don’t. Look at us? Aren’t we just adorable? See us holding hands, all giddy with love? Why, yes, I DO see you. And I saw you yesterday, and last week, and last Valentine’s Day when I was single, as well. I see you and I want to take one of Cupid’s arrows and shove it right up your… whoa…take a deep breath, Ghost of Bachelors Past.
I’ve been with my lovely wife for a decade and a half. I have known the power, the beauty, the reality and the mundacity of love, yet I can still conjure up some anger and resentment over this stupid Hallmark Holiday. But that’s the frightening thing. This day was not invented by Hallmark–like Grandparents’ Day or Secretary’s Day. No, this day finds its beginnings in ancient Rome. In the article “The Dark Origins of Valentine’s Day”, NPR writer Arnie Seipel reports: Though no one has pinpointed the exact origin of the holiday, one good place to start is ancient Rome, where men hit on women by, well, hitting them. From Feb. 13 to 15, the Romans celebrated the feast of Lupercalia. The men sacrificed a goat and a dog, then whipped women with the hides of the animals they had just slain. The Roman romantics “were drunk. They were naked,” says Noel Lenski, a historian at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Young women would actually line up for the men to hit them, Lenski says. They believed this would make them fertile. The brutal fete included a matchmaking lottery, in which young men drew the names of women from a jar. The couple would then be, um, coupled up for the duration of the festival — or longer, if the match was right.
Jesus, this sounds like a ritual born of a marriage between The Hunger Games and ABCs The Bachelor. Shouldn’t someone tell Jennifer Lawrence about this historical travesty. I could see her in the movie now, standing up to the man who is about to whip her with a goat hide. Yet, I am strangely comforted by the bizarre beginnings of this feast–it is as Effed up as I thought.
I am not a complete curmudgeon, though. I do try to be romantic. I’m known to give cards. I’ve written my wife love poems. I even gave her a macaroni heart when we were first dating. And I will certainly accept every cut-out heart and homemade card from our boys while they are still naive enough to show their for affection for me–societal “norms” will scare them away from such gestures soon enough.
No, I am a lover, but I resent the fact that this day is so manufactured. Do people really need a day to be reminded of how to love or whom they love? If I don’t send flowers or buy chocolate, am I a jerk? No.
I would rather give my wife a card on a random Tuesday. I would rather bring her some flowers from our garden to brighten her mood while she’s doing dishes. And I would rather we not rub it in other people’s faces that we have each other and they don’t.
I knew I wasn’t going to be good at Valentine’s Day even before Pam and I were married. While still engaged, I played a cruel trick on her that I thought was hysterical.
I had stopped by my mom’s house to give her a Valentine card. When I walked in, I was met by a giant, four-foot high stuffed panda bear with a satin heart that said “I love you!”
“Mom, why do you buy crap like this?”
“Oh, I didn’t buy it. I won it in a raffle at work. Isn’t it ugly? I’m sure the grand kids will like it, though.”
I had an idea. “Mom, can I borrow your bear? I want to play a joke on Pam.”
I had gotten Pam some gifts, but pretended the bear was it. When I went home to our apartment, I knocked on the door. When she answered, I held the bear out in front of me. “Happy Valentine’s Day,” I called out in my best bear voice.
“Well, what do we have here?” she asked, clearly annoyed.
“It’s your Valentine’s gift. It was the last one left in the card store.” Pam searched the bear to see if their was a present attached to the fur or satin pillow. Diamond earrings, perhaps? Maybe a watch on its wrist? Nothing. She was pissed, but she never let on.
Hours later, when we got back from dinner, my mom called us on the phone. “What did she think of the joke?” she asked.
“I never told her.”
“Michael, you did NOT keep it going all night?”
“I did,” I said, laughing.
“You did what?” Pam asked, intrigued by my laughter.
“The bear was a joke! I was only kidding.”
Insert death stare here.
It was then Pam was certain; she was about to spend the rest of her life with a jackass.
Enjoy your day everyone! And just remember, if you’re not in love or in a relationship this Valentine’s Day, at least no one is going to try and hit you with a dog hide.
Artwork by Hayden (7)