Yes, I know its January..
Back when my world was made up of bell bottoms, horrid cable knit ponchos and questionable striped shirts, I celebrated Valentines day. V-day was the highlight of the year with the sending of hand written notes and much snickering in the corridors. Since paper ‘Valentines’ originated in the UK, we were taught that February 14 was the day you wrote a note to someone you liked, admired or were ‘sweet’ on. Poem optional. The only rules were that you didn’t sign it, and it was meant to be from a ‘secret admirer’. Cards were quickly assembled that day from lined paper torn from workbooks and the sentiment was pretty limited to ‘I like you’. The odd extrovert might draft an ‘ode’ of love, but generally this was limited to boys called Graham with lisps and affectations involving scarves. The receiving of the card was pretty darn exciting, but trying to work out the chicken scratched author was intoxicating. Hoping that it was who you hoped it to be.. (..and equally terrified that it might be him)..and hiding your disappointment when you realized it was actually from Damien with the big mole, not Spike with the cool hairdo. Valentines day didn’t need a sugar high, it was full-on ‘CSI’ at our school by 3.45pm. The one day no-one wanted to leave school.
As we got older, the exercise pretty much stayed the same but complexity rose with age and fear. The notes became cards (still often hand made), the senders anonymous (pushed through his mailbox in the early evening dusk followed by Lance speed pedaling) and the analysis of his projected interpretation, detailed (oh the hours trying to figure out what he’d think!). We rode our bikes 6 or 7 miles to make sure that our Valentine couldn’t identify the correct postmarked source (yeah, guys lie awake wondering about that), wrote 17 drafts to hit just the right note of flirtatious innocence, and wove clues to our identities more deftly than Shakespeare. I swear that in 12 years of school not a single guy ever knew that Valentine he received was from me, (and if he did, he’s currently working for Mi5). In hindsight, I don’t think we quite got the idea quite right.
The Valentines we received were up for public debate and interpretation. Green ink? Must be Gareth, he was kind of ‘alternative’. Spelling mistake? Clearly Andrew- he never could spell ‘February’ correctly. The drawing of the filigree heart? Definitely Chris – everyone knew he was the best at ‘drawing’ in the school. Huge dirty fingerprints? Got to be ‘big John’, after all he was always playing rugby during break. Clearly the guys put 1/100th of the effort and time into the act of composing and exchanging notes, but they didn’t seem too fazed when we figured it out. I guess for them it was the point.. duh.
In a school of less than 600, you generally knew exactly who liked you and who thought you were dragged through the ugly bush so your options were limited when it came to imagining, but ending the day with the notion that someone out there thought you were the cats pajamas was awesome, even if you couldn’t be sure. No note? Clearly it got lost or he was too shy (hey, girls start making excuses for guys from birth). Maybe next year he’d work up the courage. Yes, that’s it.
By the time I was in college we were too cool for notes and too poor for gifts, so we got creative. My roommate Sarah spent 3 hours cutting potatoes into hearts for her boyfriends dinner (sadly he decided to help out and mashed them right before she served dinner), and I decorated my boyfriends car with flowers I stole from the campus gardens (much to the hysterics of his roommates). Cheesy? – beyond measure. Fun ? Totally.
At age 23 someone delivered a 6 foot fig tree to my door and then offered to help me iron my work shirts. At 26, I re-papered a boyfriends walls with cut out red hearts (which unfortunately left pink stains everywhere) and greeted him wearing nothing but a paper heart of my own design. Cheesy? You betcha. Fun? he laughed like a drain. Especially when he realized I was stained red along with the walls.
Now that I’m 40ish and living in a different country, I don’t recognize Valentines day at all. Yes its commercial, its a hellish shade of Pepto pink and seems to be dominated by demanding, expecting women. That actually doesn’t bother me a jot. But what I don’t see is the fun. When did it stop being fun? I hear women complaining about roses that didn’t get sent, over-crowded restaurants and even dismissal of the day entirely (‘we prefer to declare our love every other day of the year’). For some it reinforces the agony of being alone and others use it to celebrate girlfriends. Women seem to be the recipients, rarely the initiators. Cards are used to accompany flowers or forgotten altogether and the notion that it might be silly or lighthearted seems to be something left behind at school. And no-one seems to be having much fun.
Me? I still believe in the fun of Valentines day. I think that everyone needs a little excitement as part of their day, implications be damned. So I’ll be spending the next 2 weeks composing my anonymous love sonnets, finding the perfect card and cycling out to parts of Colorado hereto unknown to deliver a chicken scratched note or two. He won’t know its from me, but I’ll have fun and this time I won’t need to repaint anyone’s walls.