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This post is part of my 2022 Word Project. You can read what that’s about here.

Monday, February 14, 2022

It’s Valentine’s Day, that made up corporate holiday that requires you to dig deep into your capitalist soul to come up with something that says love better than you’ve said it on the other 364 days of the year.

Or it’s the day you eat chocolate and drink wine.

In honor of today, Valentine is the perfect word, a little three-syllable gift that means I don’t have to think of a word at all. It doesn’t even have any calories.

Here’s what Ralph and I do on Valentine’s Day: the same thing we do every other day. We’re not the presents and cards type of people, not for Christmas, not for birthdays, not for Valentine’s Day. We buy stuff for each other when we want to and go places when we feel like it.

We discovered long ago that Valentine’s Day is a terrible day to go out to dinner. Most places have a prix fixe menu and want to turn tables over as fast as possible. It’s crowded, it’s loud, and it’s too busy to hang out and chat with the bartenders.

We would much rather go out on any random Thursday in March.

The last time we went out for dinner on Valentine’s Day I’m pretty sure I ate a quail egg because that was my option.

My mother bakes heart and cupid shaped cutout cookies for Valentine’s Day. Much better option.

I don’t remember when Valentine’s Day became all about calories but somewhere in my life there was a shift from big, heart shaped boxes of chocolate to no, don’t buy me all that stuff, I’m on a diet.

In my family there is a rule that birthday cake has no calories. So on your birthday you can eat as much as you want without consequence. Pretty sure that extends to Valentine candy. Still, we’re all very busy trying to minimize the calories on Valentine’s Day while simultaneously eating all the calories.

Here’s how you have to eat Valentine candy: with a knife. Because who knows if you’re going to get some nasty jelly thing or a really good, squishy caramel? Most boxes of Valentine candy in my life ended up full of half cut pieces. It’s a wonder nobody ever sold half candy so you can see what’s inside before committing. Given how many calories are in Valentine candy, it’s not worth the bite into some gross orange flavored gel to find out you don’t like it.

The only person who still buys me Valentine candy is my father. Not the mystery kind in heart shaped boxes, though he bought me those for many years, but sometimes a box of See’s, and most often a giant Reece’s peanut butter cup in the shape of a heart. I can hear my mother on the opposite side of that gift saying, “Don’t send too much, she’s watching her weight.” As we all are, as we all say we are. But we always eat the giant peanut butter cup, most times in one day.

I mean, you’re going to eat the calories anyway, what’s the difference if you have them all on one day or a few every day for a week?

Valentine logic. Birthday logic.

My father has always bought me Valentine gifts, for as far back as I can remember. When I lived with my parents, he brought home boxes of candy and tissue paper full of flowers. When I went to college, he sent flowers to me, and to my roommate, too. When I got married, he started sending me a single red rose with a card and a giant peanut butter cup in a FedEx box, to make sure it got there on exactly Valentine’s Day.

One year they were out of roses or something, and he called me in a panic to tell me that the box was going to be late that year.

Sometimes I get a Hello Kitty or a stuffed bear or something cute and cuddly. I have a vast collection of cute-and-cuddly things with many pressed flowers and a stack of cards in a box in Brigantine. An archaeologist could carbon date me just by sorting through that box.

Sometimes my mother throws her two cents in. It’s usually a lot healthier. This year it was a jar of sunflower butter. Some years it’s a pair of earrings. Sometimes tea.

I am absolutely terrible about sending gifts and cards. This year, in an attempt to be slightly less terrible about it, I sent a gift to my father. He got it two days early. I sent a gift to my mother. She’ll get it three days late. That’s a total win for me, even if the only cards involved were the little gift notes they stick for free on the outside of the delivery boxes.

Some of my best Valentine’s Day memories are of opening the door and finding that year’s Valentine from my father. I remember once in high school one of my friends telling me that I couldn’t marry my father. Clearly she missed the whole point of FedExed roses.

In high school they had a terrible, horrible, awful Valentine program that involved selling carnations so you could have them delivered to whoever you liked. In high school, the word “like” means a whole other thing.

There were three colors, and whether the rules were determined by the people doing the selling or the collective insipidness of cliquish teenagers, you were supposed to send yellow to your friends, pink to the person you “liked” and red to the person you loved.

Most of my worst Valentine’s Day memories are of waiting for the carnations I would never get. All the popular girls walked around all day with armfuls of red carnations, and the rest of us hated them a little more. Even some of the boys walked around with carnations, but only the very jock-ish type who could afford to carry a carnation and not be mocked ruthlessly.

One time I got either a pink or red carnation, I can’t remember which. I probably tried to block it out. It came from quite possibly the nerdiest guy I could have dreamed up. He was not the kind of guy who would have been permitted to carry a carnation.

We were sort of friendly acquaintances at the time, and I don’t know if it’s my memory making up the fact that his glasses were held together in the middle with tape, or an actual fact, but even if they weren’t he was definitely the kind of guy who could have been wearing glasses held together in the middle with tape.

It was alternately quite nice to receive a carnation, and quite terrible to receive one from that guy.

He was a nice guy, as far as I can remember. I think I even liked him, not in the like-like way of high school, but in the like way of being a human.

But did he have to be the nerdiest guy on the planet?

Thinking back to the amount of courage it probably took that guy to buy a carnation for some girl with big hair and bigger earrings, I kind of wish I could find him now and tell him how amazing he was.

I’m pretty sure I thanked him. I’m pretty sure I subsequently avoided him. I’m pretty sure my friends and I snickered about it behind his back. Hey, I never said I wasn’t one of those cliquish, insipid teenagers. Sometimes I’m a horrible human being.

Who knows, maybe he is happily married with many children, some of which are lamenting the fact that they only received carnations from the nerdiest people this Valentine’s Day, and maybe he is telling them to have a soul and not be so insipid.

I also know that some of the popular girls who carried around the most red carnations didn’t have such a good go of it after that. Some got divorced. Some had insipid kids. Some still have big hair.

But every year I get a giant peanut butter cup, and every year Ralph eats half of it.

Ralph and I wake up the morning of February 14th, like we do every other morning, and one of us remembers the date and says, “Oh, happy Valentine’s Day!” And the other says, “Oh yeah!” Then we hug and wait for my father to send candy.

I can totally understand why people have a love-hate relationship with Valentine’s Day. One too many yellow carnations will push you to one side, but a few cute cuddly things can sway you to the other. So whether you’re enjoying chocolate with someone you like, or binge-eating Ben & Jerry’s on your own, it’s a good day to remember that somewhere, someone in the world loves you, even if they are terrible at saying so, and almost never send cards.

Photo: a few Hello Kitties who may feel guilty for eating all the marzipan.