Breaking from the silly romanticism of Valentine’s Day gifts

Illustration: Ian Racoma

We can all agree that Valentine’s Day is B.S., right? A commercialized faux-holiday created to generate maximum profit for candy/jewelry/paper-purveyors while making everybody who isn’t in the flush of new love feel like crud (not to mention reinforcing retrograde gender stereotypes).

Obvious stuff. But I’m a straight girl who’s been conditioned since third-grade card exchanges to connect the receiving of gifts with belonging and acceptance. Since I’d spent most of my life single, February brought feelings of intense shame and loneliness. I’d slink around like a fugitive hoping that nobody would know.

Here are some of the places I felt excluded from the regular drift of humanity:

• The aisles of Walgreens.

• Street corners where entrepreneurial truck owners hawked carnival bears out of their flatbeds. They sold similar packages on Mother’s Day, but those displays didn’t bother me (because I have a mother).

• Whole Foods, with its yuppie take on romance: sales on steak, red wine and essential oils. (Note: I don’t think these sales actually existed, but my brain filled in any gaps in complete societal exclusion.)

It all boils down to my lizard brain screaming, WHERE ARE MY PRESENTS?! And, more tragically, What is wrong with me that nobody is gifting me anything?

Valentine’s Day, sophomore year of high school: During a science test an office aide entered the classroom to deliver a card and present. Could it be for me? Unlikely. The popular girls received jingling, flashing, helium-filled tributes to their desirability. But I was a single girl who’s friends explained my inability to get a date with the phrase, “You don’t play the game.” But I want to play the game! Tell me how to play the game!

Turns out Valentine’s dreams do come true—the present was for me. I pushed aside my test and opened the package to find a heart-shaped necklace. In the heart-covered card, an inscription read, “Your friend ... ????”

I spent that night at home with my mom wishing the mystery man would call. I wore the necklace to school until the chain broke a couple weeks later. The admirer never revealed himself.

When I finally found real, true love just a few years ago, the scales fell from my eyes. I realized that 99.9 percent of this stuff was cheap junk, completely irrelevant. Envying something sold from a street corner? What was I thinking?

Yet it wasn’t as simple as swearing off Valentine’s Day. Relationships are vital to mammalian existence, and there’s real value in pausing to honor them. But how?

Last year I suggested to my boyfriend that we celebrate by going disc golfing. We hiked through an isolated course on a forested mountainside in Kingman, Arizona, and then watched a spectacular sunset on the way home. It was so romantic.

This Valentine’s, I suggested an after-work hike. But the BF doesn’t want to hike in the dark. I told him we had to hike to match this essay, which he then read and responded thusly:

“So you’re saying I can just pick up a roadside teddy bear on the way home and be done with it?”

Photo of C. Moon Reed

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