I love Halloween. Ditto Thanksgiving. I am all about the Fourth of July—bring on the fireworks and hot dogs. I even enjoy a good April Fool’s prank. In fact, there is only one secular holiday that makes me break out into hives: Valentine’s Day.
See, St. Valentine and I have a complex relationship.
Pre-puberty, I loved cutting out construction paper hearts, dousing them in glitter, and writing a personalized message to each and every kid in my class. But soon life became more coupley and Valentine’s Day became 24 hours of anxiety over whether I would get a rose delivered during homeroom or not. Most years—not.
I met my first long-term boyfriend my junior year of high school and on our first V-Day together, he left a teddy bear and a box of chocolates on my driver’s seat Valentine’s Day morning. In actuality, the gesture made me uncomfortable—I mean, at what point in the night had he driven to my house and snuck down my driveway? Plus, the sentiment seemed so … canned. Like we were teenagers imitating what grown-ups do.
Throughout college and into my 20s, I dated a string of guys for whom ‘romance’ was uncharted territory. On Valentine’s Day, there were no flowers or dates—and I kind of liked it that way. If anyone ever asked me what I was doing for V-Day, I’d launch into a diatribe about it being a capitalist holiday created by Hallmark to sell a forest’s worth of cards. For years, Valentine’s Day was just a non-issue for me.
After three years together, we’d grown pretty distant. We hadn’t seen each other for more than hour in two weeks, so we decided to go out for dinner on V-Day. In our favorite restaurant, surrounded by couples holding hands and gazing into each other’s eyes, our conversation felt stilted. At one point, he dropped his fork, and sighed the kind of “woe is me” sigh that is only fitting if someone has died. The gesture encapsulated everything I didn’t like about him—his negativity, his inability to roll with life’s punches. I remember going to the bathroom and feeling my face flush. I just can’t be with him anymore, I thought, the Valentine’s Day poster taped to the wall taunting me.
He felt the same way. Later that night, we ended things. Instead of spending the night, he walked out my front door.
Ever since, Valentine’s Day day has felt like being waterboarded—the reminder of the fact that I’m not in love feeling like water filling my lungs.
I was prepared to spend this Valentine’s Day solo—I’d made plans with a group of friends to get dinner and shoot pool to make V-Day fun rather than miserable. But then I met The Young One.
We’ve been dating for a little over two weeks now and things just keep getting better and better. “Hey,” he said, on our walk to the subway yesterday morning. “Can I reserve you for Valentine’s Day? I’d like to take you somewhere.”
“Where?” I asked.
“So not telling,” he said. “It’s gonna be a surprise. But you’ll really like it.”
He pulled me in for a long, not-quite-appropriate-for-the-street kiss. I walked away smiling like a kid who’d just gotten cotton candy at the circus.
For once, I feel excited for Valentine’s Day. Not because I’m expecting a lavish gift, but because I’m with someone I’m looking forward to getting to know much better. Someone whose idea of romance feels perfectly in line with mine. Someone who knows that it’s not about objects or staid gestures you’re supposed to make, but about having an adventure together. I hope this is the first of many.
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