I love Valentine’s Day. But I didn’t always. I had a tragic love affair when I was ten, with Mike Devlin, a boy in my class. He had blue eyes, freckles, and an adorable cowlick. We lived in the same apartment building and hung out together after school. One day, on a patch of grass behind the apartment, he gave me my first kiss. I was in heaven. I knew we’d be together forever. With Valentine’s Day coming up I was sure I’d get a big fancy card from him when the cards all of us brought to class were passed out. But all I got was a little flat one like he gave everyone else.
I was cynical about love after that. It took me a long time to grow up about Valentine’s Day. I was self-conscious and shy and introverted, especially in high school, and the big day usually found me dateless, flowerless, and candyless. It was a difficult time. I became more outgoing in college and dated a bit more but also became deeply interested in my journalism studies and didn’t worry about Valentine’s Day so much. When I graduated and began working, sometimes I had a significant other on the big day and got goodies. I always hoped a box of See’s Chocolate would be in the mix.
Sometimes I was on my own and then I bought my own Valentine gifts for my own bad self. I had gotten smart. And I didn’t fool around either. Nice things like suits for work (even a Chanel once, in my salad days), opal earrings, the best my money could buy. Sometimes I’d even wrap them for myself, when I was really into it. Or I got together with those indispensable, essential companions in my life: girlfriends. We’d have a Valentine potluck and drink wine and give each other nice stuff and laugh about having a better time than we would on a date.
At thirty-five I gave birth to my daughter and the true spirit of Valentine’s Day sprang to life for me. When Michele was five, she wanted a Care Bears backpack for school. Valentine’s Day was coming up so I bought one, and gave it to her as her first Valentine gift. When she opened it she shrieked and jumped around and wore it all day and evening. I gently pulled it off when she was asleep. That’s when I learned the true meaning of Valentine’s Day—the deep joy found in giving joy to someone you love. Michele’s desires back then were so charmingly simple. A new Ginny doll, going to a movie in a theater, a Little Mermaid umbrella. Her joy was spontaneous and unrestrained and beautiful when she opened her gifts.
I don’t get too caught up in the romantic hype of Valentine’s Day. I have my memories of those days with Michele to keep me warm, and now I have my young niece and nephew. My husband, believe it or not, forgets Valentine’s Day occasionally. I don’t understand how it’s even possible for him to do that in the face of all the incredible nonstop blasting media hype, but I don’t get upset. I know he loves me. Okay, I lied. I get a little upset when he forgets. I like it when he remembers and brings me candy. I may have moved beyond the commercialized sentimentality that is so attached to Valentine’s Day, but I haven’t moved beyond chocolate. And make that See’s, please.