It is that time of year when we are reminded that February 14 is designated as the day for romance and lovers. As a young girl, Valentine’s Day was about buying those fun cards, making a Valentine box, and having a class party. I remember carefully selecting the box of premade cards that were the standard practice of the day. Once home, I would open the box, go through the delightful task of sorting them into piles, and then carefully assigning which card would be given to each classmate. It was not a chore but an anticipated annual event. But with this, are perhaps some of my first vulnerable memories. I didn’t know how to risk sharing a sentiment that might be construed as too personal or overtly flirtatious. And what was appropriate to give to those whom I didn’t know that well? I identified with wanting to be told I mattered, and I wanted to let others know they mattered, too.
The sweetness of childhood and classroom parties turned to awkwardness in adolescence. I remember my 7th grade Valentine Dance and the thought of the likelihood of my first real kiss. The first tests of romance and expressing real or imagined love happened during those years. I sought to belong, to love, and be loved. It wasn’t just about boyfriends and romance. It included those friendships where I could truly feel the acceptance of a community of friends. Maneuvering through those tough years included sharing our experiences of not only Valentine dances and occasional boyfriends, but the ups and downs of discovering our sexuality and what that meant.
At 17 when Valentine’s Day came around, I was dating a 22-year old student from Saudi Arabia. We hadn’t been dating long, but he tried to fulfill his romantic obligation of the romantic gesture within the cultural norms as he understood them. So he game me flowers and jewelry. The flowers were silk and the jewelry was a crucifix. Neither one fit into my thoughts of an ideal Valentine gift. I could accept the sentiment as his desire to express his intentions of my being special, but I felt guilty for wanting real flowers and a necklace I would wear. As I reflect on this today, I think how this scenario plays out in a lot of relationships. There is one’s expectation, and another’s aim at meeting it. Dealing with the tension of perhaps not obtaining those goals is the rub, isn’t it?
I likely learned the expectation lesson early in my marriage because interestingly enough, I have mostly pleasant memories of Valentine’s Day with Tony. He was very dependable on acknowledging the significance of the day with flowers and a card, taking care in expressing an appropriate sentiment. There wasn’t a lot of romance and I don’t have any over-the-top memories as a couple but I was definitely remembered, and I knew I was loved. I also had someone that I remembered and for whom I expressed my love.
Tony and I chose to make the celebration a family holiday by including Will and later my parents. I have wonderful memories of Will giving cards with his expressions of love. I hold onto these and realize that Tony is not only a part of them but a big reason in how they became so special. He modeled and trained Will about the importance of showing our love for another.
So I’m not sure how I will feel this Valentine’s Day. I am a little ambivalent about what I may make of the day. I could wake up on the 14th and be sad because I know I won’t be that someone’s special Valentine. I have been that for a lot of years, even through the worst of times in our marriage. Or I just may wake up and feel joy because I am a lot of people’s Valentine. I hope I will choose the latter. It takes me back to my youth when a kind expression and some candy hearts was all I needed. We were all each other’s Valentines and that was enough, for collectively we shared in the joy of being special. And I got to make a pretty box to boot.