When I think of Valentine’s Day, I think of being seven years old and heartbroken. I was in third grade when I discovered a glittery greeting card (!) attached to a full-size candy bar (!) from my biggest crush (!!!) at the bottom of my Valentine’s Day mailbox. My little heart nearly exploded with shock and glee—he knew who I was! And he loved me! I raced around the room showing all my friends, ignoring their confused faces as I basked in the glow of first requited love. I had a Valentine!
It wasn’t until my best friend’s mother crossed the room a few minutes later, laughing and declaring that she herself had penned and planted the card, that I understood my friends’ puzzled expressions. No seven-year-old boy has cursive that fine.
When I think of Valentine’s Day, I think of last year as I stood on the frigid sidewalk watching men hurry home, clutching grocery bags with bouquets of flowers peeking over the top and women clicking home to change. Resolute not to sit in my bedroom alone, I wandered the East Village for an hour before stumbling into a juice shack and ordering a frozen fruit bowl. (I have no rational explanation for this.) Eventually, I surrendered to the fact that I had no plans and slunk home in the dark.
When I think of Valentine’s Day, I think of disappointment. Regardless of how happy you are in a relationship, or how thrilled you may be to remain unattached, Valentine’s Day holds Expectation. And Expectation, like pride, often serves as the stepping-stone for a great fall. Somehow this day is never as romantic as we hoped, fulfilling as we wished, or it just serves as a giant blinking cupid’s arrow pointing to our loneliness, and we end up feeling tricked and alone.
Strange, for a day set aside to celebrate love.
Because when I think of love, I don’t think of disappointment. I think about my mother’s soft hand on my back. I think about bear hugs and Christmas presents and skydiving. I think about dinners on the porch, playing by the fire, and feeling the summer wind kiss my knees at sunset. I think about story time and passport stamps and fresh chocolate chip cookies. When I think about love, I feel free.
Stevie Wonder once sang that, “Love’s in need of love today,” and when is that more true than on Valentine’s Day? This day we’ve elected to celebrate love, but often serves only to highlight its lack, needs more love. Love over expectation, love over disappointment, love over loneliness. If we’re really going to celebrate love, let’s forget the boxed chocolates and dinner reservations, and shake the wind through our hair. Let’s make out in the backseat, turn the volume up, buy a ticket to somewhere new — because a dozen red roses are a sorry celebration compared to laughing until tears stream down your face.
This Valentine’s Day you may be single like me, stocking up on ice cream while tapping extra appointments into your Blackberry. You might be dating and desperately hoping that he made a reservation or has something (anything!) planned. You might be married and praying he surprises you with anything but heart-shaped jewelry. No matter your status, you have expectations and disappointments and loneliness. But, you also have love.
Here’s to love.