Sometimes when I say, “Valentine’s Day has never meant much to me,” people tell me, “Well it’d be different if you were single” or (when I was single) “Sour grapes, it’d be different if you were attached.” But it’s never meant much to me.
I think this goes as far back as primary school, and making heart-shaped “mailboxes” to put on the bulletin board, and our parents would help us pick out some sort of commercial cheap valentine card, Speed Racer or Disney or something, and we’d have the mimeographed class list and carefully make sure everyone had one, write their names, stick on a box of conversation hearts or a heart-shaped lollipops, and … it felt sort of weird then. I’d come home with the envelope full of cards and candy, like swapped for like, usually, aside from the occasional heart-shaped homemade sugar cookie or card, and that was that. It was not memorable aside from as a thing that happened.
These days, kids (at California schools at least) turn it into almost a treat-bag swapping party. It’s way too much. I don’t want any part of it.
And it seems odd, to start this thing that involves lovers, or did originally, to start then. How careful are second- or third-graders to make sure that each child gets a correctly gendered card that doesn’t imply too much? What boy wants something too girly, or that makes you seem too affectionate?
At any rate, that lack of caring, the perhaps distrust of what seems so rote and obligatory (I gave her conversation hearts and she gave me a heart-shaped peanut butter cup, is that equitable?), sticks with me today, through two marriages and a few dating relationships and a lot of friendships. Casey and I sort of say “happy valentines day sweetie” almost as if we’re acknowledging the expectation rather than each other, and that’s about all we do.
I’ve tried to remember it when I’ve had partners who have celebrated the day, but I’ve disappointed them, as I forget as often as not. This is not half because I tend not to know what day it is at any given time.
This year, I’m helping Owen cut hearts out of his old finger-paintings and use glue-stick to make a few things for relatives and a couple of friends. (Okay, so I’ve accepted that it no longer has to mean “lover,” but that there can be a kids’ level that is more like “for a person I like.”) That sort of small-scale thing, without having a “must include these 30 people” list, feels better to him. I’d like him to feel as if it’s a fun game, not an obligation, an institutional (i.e. school) event, or a society-wide ritual. Paper and paste are enough.
Related: This is the first episode of Toopy and Binoo I saw, and it’s maybe the best, is gorgeous, and is a perfect representation of my ideal valentine.