Wednesday, February 9, 2011

In Defense of Valentine's Day

Candy hearts, paper doilies and boxes of cards emblazoned with loving images of cartoon characters. It all used to turn my stomach. Yes, I was an anti-Valentinian for years. Make that decades.

In fact, I can't remember a time in childhood or young adulthood I actually liked the big red holiday. Even in elementary school when every child was required to give a Valentine to every other child in the classroom, I didn't get it. I had a few playmates but for the most part I was a loner, and while we didn't use the term back in the day, I endured more than my share of bullying. Was a little piece of paper with a picture of Strawberry Shortcake hastily signed "Love, X" or a chalk-flavored candy heart with the words "Be Mine" supposed to change that? Even a 6-year-old wasn't born yesterday.

It was never a big holiday at home, either. My Egyptian parents are probably the most generous, loving people you will ever know, but the particular expression of love in the form of balloons, cupcakes, cards and other assorted sundries is just not part of their cultural vernacular. It was a quiet day at our house, much like any other.

In high school, I remember the infamous flower deliveries that would take place on February 14th. At some point during Algebra II a student from the National Honor Society or Key Club would show up at the door bearing a bundle of red and pink carnations they'd been selling at a table outside the cafeteria. They'd call out the names of the lucky recipients, with the pretty, popular girls ending up with a veritable bouquet on their desks. That's when I'd start fumbling through my Trapper Keeper, trying to look busy in an attempt to hide the obvious fact that I wasn't getting any of those blossoms.

So I quickly learned to loathe the annual February love fest and began dreading it as soon as the Christmas merchandise hit 75% off and the store shelves turned red. In college and grad school I buried myself in my textbooks and did my best to pretend it didn't exist. One year, the pipes burst in my apartment on Valentine's Day (an appropriate homage to the gushing tears of loneliness?) Another time I arranged to have my wisdom teeth pulled on February 14th. It seemed like the perfect occasion for a painful procedure (in particular one accompanied by prescription drugs). But the year my neighbor's Valentine bouquet was accidentally delivered to me was the last straw. Stupid Hallmark holiday, I muttered to myself as I transported the giant blossoms back to their rightful owner.

So that's how I came to be a Valentine hater. By the time I was in my late 20s I was fully convinced the day was a commercial conspiracy designed largely to make me feel like a lonely, incompetent fool. Until one day I realized, it wasn't. I'm fuzzy on the exact date but I think it was around the time I lost a friend in a horrible accident. Or maybe it was when my mom was diagnosed with a horrible disease. Or when my dad was diagnosed with a horrible disease. It might have been the year I finally said "no more" to a relationship that was painful and unhealthy. No, I didn't have a boyfriend, I still didn't have anyone asking me to be their Valentine, but I did have love. Love for others, for life, and perhaps most importantly, for myself.

One husband and two little blessings (with a 3rd on the way) later and I'm a convert, a full-fledged Valentine-o-holic. Our house is decked out in red, we've baked heart-shaped cookies and gotten our fingers covered in pink glitter glue while making cards. Yes, it's a bit much, and yes it's a bit silly, but I don't care. I've finally learned what unconditional love means, and I'm not afraid to wear it (along with assorted other sticky things) on my sleeve.

Don't get me wrong, our love and our life are far from perfect. My two adorable little Valentines throw more than their fair share of tantrums and most days leave me feeling so completely drained I can barely drag my giant, pregnant self up to bed. And after 7 years of marriage I fear my husband and I have become a wee bit too comfortable, and more than a tad unromantic, as evidenced by a clear violation of bathroom etiquette in each other's presence. Our day to day life is hardly the stuff that fills a Lifetime for Women Valentine Movie Marathon. But I love it anyway.

If you still hate Valentine's Day and argue we don't need a special day set aside to show love, I can only hope you feel that way because your life is absolutely overflowing with love already. But even if that's the case, what's the harm? I refuse to believe this is a case of "less is more." But if on the other hand you are feeling like I did for several decades- that love hurts, that love is something for others to enjoy, and that Valentine's Day is just a chocolate-coated reminder of it all, I understand. And my Valentine's wish for you is that you find the love you're looking for inside yourself.

Because mate or no mate, kids or no kids, it really can be a happy day.

Cross my heart.

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