Last night we dumped out the contents of a pale pink paper bag that came home from school with our girl from the East. Onto the rug spilled squares and rectangles and heart-shaped greetings. Some were store-bought. Some were home-made. Mixed in were heart-shaped lollipops, foil wrapped chocolates and one homemade heart-shaped sugar cookie coated in pink icing.
This is the idealist’s Valentine’s Day: a magical day that stands along Halloween, Christmas and birthdays, when treats are handed out in equal measure and intentions are sincere.
The reality of Valentine’s Day emerges with a crush or first love. The day becomes an exclusive event between two, no longer shared with the masses.
Depending on the state of your love life, February 14 can swing between elation and misery. Break-ups, unrequited love, divorces and dry spells deliver bouquets of crushing loneliness tightly wrapped in agony.
I’m firmly planted in the middle this year. A decade into a marriage, the crazy overkill of new romance is behind us. Yet over dinner last night (and a bottle of wine) our eyes locked and we shared a moment of joy realizing that we are still together and going strong. We don’t need cards or candies to confirm that. Still, cards and candies are always nice.
It hasn’t always been so good. Here’s my list of good, bad and ugly valentines.
The good: My first serious boyfriend, who gave me my first real bouquet of red roses and a big heart-shaped box of chocolates. Together we gave our parents serious stress. We stayed together a little more than 3 years, split amicably and still talk occasionally.
My husband — who still gives me “that look” even after all these years.
The bad: Opening an excessively romantic card bleeding with explicit intentions, from which spilled a stack of cheesy candid self-portraits, from my long-distance boyfriend, whom I had broken up with days earlier by phone and called off our Valentine’s Day romantic weekend/reunion. I’d called without knowing of this package working its way through the U.S. mail system. He’d sent it my way, unaware of my intentions to break it off for good. Awkward. Painful. Embarrassing. It was the right thing to do, but I felt like such a jerk for hurting him when he obviously didn’t see it coming.
The ugly: Having the dubious distinction of being the only woman in the office one year who didn’t receive some token of affection to display on her desk.
Dating someone who didn’t believe in observing Valentine’s day or any other so-called “Hallmark holiday.” Likewise, being in a relationship with someone who tosses a gift at you that is so obviously an afterthought that it’s offensive, such as a pair of garish earrings still in the bag with the receipt, showing the cheapness of the gift as well as the fact it was purchased within the last 30 minutes.
I’m glad my Girl from the East can enjoy this day as something pure and sweet, like the sugar cookie she devoured immediately after opening the pink bag. I’m relieved my Girl from the West hasn’t had her heart broken yet, but I hope that when and if it happens, she’ll feel comfortable enough to come to me. Finally, I’m grateful that my relationship stands on solid ground and that I’m past the days of bad and ugly valentines.