My husband Sam and I have been married for 12 years, together for 16, and we’ve never celebrated Valentine’s Day. This is totally, hands down, the happiest I’ve ever been -- especially in February.
I’ve never been the kind of girl who looked forward to Valentine’s. Part of it comes from growing up without money; when you know giving out cards is going to be a financial stretch -- and you know you won’t have The Right Thing anyway, with the awful, stark consciousness of Having The Right Thing that most broke kids have -- it was just never an event I got very jazzed about. Valentine’s Day, as a kid, was this weird ritual exchange that we participated in without any explanation or expectation.
Then, when I reached high school, there was this flower-selling fundraising trend -- does anyone else remember these? We can’t have been the only school selling flowers to raise funds for band trips and football uniforms. There would be tables set up in the cafeteria selling carnations for a buck or two. If you wanted to send someone a flower you’d run up between classes, drop your cash, tell a runner where your target could be found and write a message to send along with your token of affection.
I’m pretty sure these flowers were leftovers, a tax write-off for a local florist, but they were ALL THE RAGE in my school. We had Flower Days for each and every holiday. St. Patrick’s Day? Green carnations. Easter? Pastels. Halloween? Orange! Seriously, I’m getting a little shaky just counting off the celebrations.
Waiting all day to see if anyone had sent you -- or your friends -- a flower on Flower Days was awful. Why? I DON’T EVEN KNOW. And the pressure to send a flower? WORSE. You were expected to send a flower to your best friend, obviously, because flowers, but if you were dating someone they were definitely getting one, too, unless, of course, you wanted to break up. These drooping, three-day-old carnations stirred low-level anxieties, frustrations and fears into simmering, sometimes screaming monsters. THIS. WAS. FLOWER DAY.
Now, friends, add in: Valentine’s Day. One year a buddy attempted to avoid Valentine’s Flower Drama by sending flowers to everyone in our friends circle, sans messages. You can guess how that worked out. There was a break-up. A reunion. A betrayal. Relationships crumbled. Friendships were ended. All over flowers and a random date in the middle of February.
I’m not saying high school and a perfectly decent fundraising idea turned me off of Valentine’s Day. I am saying it helped me clarify why I shy away from whole thing, though.
I have friends who like Valentine’s Day. They plan. They know what they’re doing months in advance because they’re just that stoked about February 14th. I’m excited for them. They have large and amazing plans. I dig the idea of people being excited about things. Valentine’s, though, it gives me a claustrophobic feeling, like I’m staring down the barrel of absolutely unachievable expectations and inevitable, powdered-sugar-coated failure.
Valentine’s Day brings up my own insecurities about relationships, about failure and force, other people’s expectations and my own stubborn desire to hand out affection when I feel it, as I feel it. I was the kid who meekly handed out hugs as ordered and hated every minute of it.
In other relationships I’ve watched Feb 14th approach with annoyance and done whatever possible to avoid even flirtation. I’ve picked fights over socks, taken on extra shifts, gone on business trips. Years ago, I broke up with a guy I was casually seeing years just because of Valentine’s Day -- and then started seeing him again in March. I mean, how horrible is that? I can’t handle my own anxiety, and I’m pretty open it, but that’s not OK.
There’s something about being expected to present a romantic experience on cue on a day that doesn’t have any real connection for me that makes me feel like I’m in a cage. And I think, to some extent, I am: There is this very real expectation that for some reason, I will just be happy and glowing and very much feeling in love on that day, no matter what, because I’m supposed to be, and… what if I just don’t?
Because in reality, it’s still just the fourteenth of February, which is damned cold here in Baltimore and not awfully romantic. What if I have the sniffles? Or if I didn’t sleep well the night before? What if I had one of those weird dreams where he did something horrible and I’m still pissed off at him for no reason and the 14th of February literally means nothing to me so it isn’t fixing a damned thing?
Nope nope nopetopus. All of that pressure and anxiety means I’ll go cold fish, and that isn’t fair to either of us. I close up when I feel like sentiment is being forced out of me. It all just rings off and wrong for me, which doesn’t mean it’s an evil, bad thing. It’s just really, really not for me, that’s all.
(Then there’s the pressure to out-perform the performances of the years before. Oh god. I just can’t. Yeah, opting out was a good idea for me.)
I chose a partner who is a romantic -- of course, right? It’s mandatory: Girl Who Fears Valentine’s Day Chooses Romantic Boy, I’ve seen the movies. A watches romantic-comedies, flower-buying, Dirty-Dancing-is-one-of-his-favorite-films sort of guy, that’s what I go in for. I like those things about him. He’s gentle, and kind, and sweet beyond all belief. That first year we were together, telling him that I wanted to skip the whole thing? That was almost as scary as the idea of going ahead with it.
He was good about it because well, he’s good about everything. At the time, he seemed unsurprised. I still wonder, sometimes, though. It’s a little thing, but I never want to have cheated him out of anything. He’s my best guy, my partner in crime, my favorite person, and I want him to have everything, always. Instead, we skip this silly holiday over my personal anxieties.
Does it matter? Not really, on the large scale, but why shouldn’t he have candy hearts and weird fondue dinners in cramped restaurants and bouquets of flowers along with everybody else?
Sixteen years later I ask him how he feels about Valentine’s Day and he tells me it’s a relief not to try to get a table on the busiest day of the year. He’s got a point. We spend nearly every day together working in a small business; our idea of romantic is a quiet dinner, exhausted, after working our tails off at a trade show, and we do that a few times a year. My inability to emotionally connect to the 14th of February doesn’t seem to have hurt our relationship; we still have our punch-drunk post-work dinners, birthdays and our anniversary.
So why do some folks still feel the need to press me about it? In my 20s, I had a guy at work harass me about my lack of V Day plans for a week straight. He would not let it go:You must be doing something with your husband. Everyone does something, you’re not doing NOTHING, that’s just ridiculous…
I wish I could say he was the only one, but really he’s just the worst offender. I don’t go on about how we don’t celebrate -- except when I’m writing for xoJane about it, I guess -- BUT IT’S JUST THIS ONE TIME, honest. I don’t get it. I can still be love my husband and skip a day in February, I swear.
I’m not the only one who gets anxiety over Valentine’s Day and the expectations of affection and performance that come along with it. Everybody feels the pressure to some extent; the truth is, some folks just handle it a lot better than the rest of us. I can’t hang, and I am (mostly) cool with that. What I’m not cool with is feeling weird about it. I’m aces with how my friends celebrate -- that they celebrate it at all, whether they go big or just stay home, it’s not a thing. It’s awesome to like things. It’s also cool not to like things, as long as you aren’t a jerk about it.
We can all get along. I’d like to talk about why this day makes some of us feel uncomfortable, though, because I think it’s important, and I think it can be discussed without invalidating the celebrations of others.
Talk to me, guys. Tell me your feelings on V Day, on pressure and expectations, and on celebrations, too. Who has ordered 100 balloons and three bottles of wine? (I love big plans. They’re like pranks with happy endings.) Who is hiding out, watching "The Last Unicorn" on repeat and making borscht all evening? (Answer: THIS GIRL RIGHT HERE.)