It’s like a disease. A naked man, who needs a weight-loss plan, flies around shooting love-potion-drenched arrows into the hearts of unsuspecting, lonely humans. Every year, he infects millions, rendering his victims powerlessly in love. Why isn’t he clothed? Maybe he wants to resemble Michelangelo’s David, portraying something artsy and cultural. Back when Cupid was a kid, there were all kinds of naked statues, chiseled out from marble or granite, on display - “hard” porn. I can only guess he was affected by the culture of the day, and followed suit.
But for those who successfully dodge his arrows, February 14 can be a day when they want to hide their heads in a box of Russell Stover Assorted Fine Chocolates until the next day. The countless television commercials are enough to make even the happiest of lovers long for March; we wouldn’t know when Valentine’s Day was if advertisers didn’t tell us over and over and over.
Greeting cards for VD cover every kind of love - cards for dogs, cats, spouses, ex-spouses, bosses, mothers-in-law, nieces, cashiers, and toll-booth employees. Even one for the Maytag Man. But what about cards for people who wish to skip the day? Similarly to how Winnie the Pooh recognizes “unbirthdays,” is there an “anti-valentine” card? “For the woman who wants no man” or “For the happy, confirmed bachelor.” It could work. There could be a whole movement. Wanting to blend in with the earth to avoid being set up on blind dates, protestors could wear camo instead of red. They could don 14K-gold-and-diamond liver pendants around their necks, instead of hearts. Because there’s nothing remotely romantic about a liver. An entire marketing strategy could be built around “One” no longer being the loneliest number, but the number of choice by millions.
But, for now, love is running rampant. With flowers, jewelry, candy, stuffed animals, and candlelight dinners, we tell the world we love somebody. Not the kind of love that picks up your husband’s dirty underwear and wonders what he ate for lunch. No, this is about the movie kind of love - love where music crescendos when your spouse walks through the front door at the end of the day, fireworks go off when you kiss, and bathroom habits are never discussed.
And, let’s not fool ourselves; we're adults. VD is also about sex. We’re inundated with marketing that makes everything from tissues to drain cleaner look sensual; of course, chocolate has always been sensual. Victoria Secret’s sales skyrocket in anticipation of the one day of the year when everybody knows what their neighbors’ plans are for the evening. Suddenly, it’s socially acceptable to talk about the fact that millions of people will have sex on the same night. The other 364 days, we assume they are taking cold showers and eating those Russell Stover’s Assorted Chocolates.
But nobody talked about sex when I was growing up. Let me clarify that. Kids have been talking about sex since the first teenage boy in the Garden of Eden caught a glimpse of the first teenage girl wearing a fur tube top and leopard-skin hot pants. However, very few parents were talking about sex with their kids back in the 70s. At least, not in my house. According to my informal poll of my peers, mine wasn’t the only house reverberating with the sound of silence. The taboo on the subject seems to go way back.
“In the late 40s, the word “sex” was considered risqué, and its public use was just coming into vogue,” Mom reminisced. “The University of Texas bookstore had signs about books on the topic of sex, posted in the windows; it was very daring.”
One day when I was in fifth grade, the boys and girls were split up to watch films. Ours was about the menstrual cycle (always reminds me of the Renaissance period) - why we have a cycle and how this relates to having a baby one day. I still can’t get anybody to tell me what the boys’ film was about. I was sent home with a little packet about “Becoming a Woman,” or some equally ridiculous title. There was nothing “special” to look forward to – it was about “Aunt Flo,” and all those other delightful euphemisms. Soon afterwards, Mom attempted to talk to me about menstruation. But I quickly interrupted her, “Lylas already told me.” Thank God. I would’ve died of embarrassment if I’d had to have that conversation with my mother.
But Mom persevered. A few weeks later, she gave me a set of books called The Life Cycle. “Let me know if you have any questions,” she said. That was it. That was the closest to a sex talk I ever got, except for a friend’s telling me what the F word, written on the sidewalk, meant. When Mom was young, she learned about sex from a friend at school whose mother had given her a book to read. That book was passed around to Mom and the other girls in her group of friends. So Mom carried on the tradition of sex education through literature. I looked through all the Life Cycle books, hitting the diagrams first, of course. I don’t know why there were six volumes in the set; surely, the birds and bees didn't take that many pages to explain. Simple stick figures would have sufficed. At lunch recently, my friend Bebe said she was given the same type of books by her mom. Thanks to bold authors, what to do and how to do it was handed down to from generation to generation.
I long for the early Valentine’s Days, before the fifth-grade film, when things were uncomplicated.
In the early years of elementary school, the first step in celebrating the day was our making valentine’s boxes out of shoe boxes for our class party. Then Mom took me to the store to pick out mass produced valentines that would, I hoped, be unique when compared to others’ valentines. Being a girly girl, I couldn’t pick a superhero or a sports-themed box; that wouldn’t be a reflection of my true self.
Once home from shopping, I spread out all the valentines on the dining room table. I picked large “teacher” valentines for the nice teachers; the mean ones got my least favorite small valentines. But deciding which ones went to which friends was risky business. I had statements to make without hurting feelings. But I couldn’t lie, either. I had to sign a valentine for every kid in class, so I had to be careful. I could kill a relationship in the first grade by giving the wrong one to my best girlfriend. On the flip side, I didn’t want to encourage any unwanted solicitors. I’d never say “You’re puuuurrrr-fect for me” (from an animal themed box, of course) to the guy in class who was a pervert. As the pressure intensified, I reached for my candy cigarettes and took a few puffs.
Finally, after choosing for everyone else, it was time for the big one - the valentine for the boy I had a crush on. That was the hardest, most crucial decision of all; since I was shy, it was an exercise in terror. Especially because he hardly knew I existed. But I had to let him know I liked him; I couldn't miss my one chance for true love.
I picked it. “You’re the TOPS, Valentine!” It had a big lion in a tent. Something masculine.
I took my labor of love to school the next day. Everyone was waiting for the party to begin, getting high on candy of all types. We walked around the room, each of us dropping our valentines into each other’s boxes. I couldn’t wait to get home and pour them out on my bed to read them. It was all about finding the one from HIM.
My heart skipped a beat when I eventually saw the valentine with his name on the “From” line. I held my breath and said a prayer. But my dreams shattered when I opened the regular-sized GI Joe valentine proclaiming, “You’re A-1, soldier!”
Sigh. Oh well, there was always next year.
And so it goes. February 14 has always been complicated. The restaurants are swamped, and it can get pretty expensive buying for spouses and multiple children. When our kids got older, we moved Valentine’s Day to February 15. Oh sure, we gave cards to the kids on the 14th so they wouldn’t be traumatized, but the big payout was the next day. With all Valentine's items half-price the day after, everyone got a huge heart-shaped box of candy and stuffed animals larger than six inches high; my family adjusted quite well. On one occasion, when we returned to celebrating on the 14th, Zelda didn’t know how to react. “Why are we having Valentine’s Day today? I don’t remember ever having it on the 14th. Is everything okay?”
This year, on Valentine’s Day, Flash and I were obligated to go to a meeting that didn’t involve a candlelight dinner, soft music, candy, or any romance. Today, we’ll drive to Walgreen’s and clear out their 50-percent-off stock. Since we’re a little tired, we’ll go out to dinner for Valentine’s Day in March and avoid the rush for next year. It’s less complicated that way.