a little ode to valentine's day

I hear extreme attitudes about Valentine's Day all the time. That it is fake -- it's a marketing ploy and campaign to get people to spend money on overpriced roses and chocolate to win points with their spouse. That it's pointless -- the nose-up attitude of people who say, "I show my love all the time, not just today." That it's amazing -- it's a chance to enjoy a special date night out, to give each other mushy cards and gifts. That it's depressing -- if you're single or unhappy in a relationship, this day only makes you more aware of your loneliness.

I grew up celebrating Valentine's Day with my family. My sisters and I annually received a chocolate rose, a card, and a little present from our parents, and that tradition occurred as we transitioned from girls to young women. For a long time, my mom and dad made a point of acknowledging the holiday and making us feel loved.

Did I know that they loved us on the other 364 days of the year? Yes. Did it feel good to receive such pointed love on a particular day? Yes. 

When romantic love came into the picture for me, it too varied. My 7th grade "boyfriend" gave me a card that said "I like you beary much," which he signed with his first and last name, I guess in case I forgot who he was. (We also talked maybe twice on the phone during the length of our relationship, and held sweaty hands once at the skating rink.)

My first high school boyfriend wrote me a sweet love poem with flowery words more intense than his age, and eagerly watched me unwrap heart-shaped earrings that I still have in a little box somewhere. The kid I dated after that checked all the boxes each year -- but it's funny, I can't remember the details of any of those moments. I'm sure he did what he thought he was "supposed" to do as the guy, and I recall comparing notes with my girlfriends at the time to see whose significant other was "better," which seems harsh but we were young, we tried to quantify love whenever possible to make sense of it.

For a while, I prided myself on not being the type of woman who cared about such silly things like V-Day. Probably because I had a partner who ignored the holiday entirely because he didn't "believe" in it. Then a blur of a period when every day felt like February 14, like I was the most precious person in the world, until it all came crashing down in lies. I learned to be cynical, to refrain from putting trust in anything that seemed too good to be true. I learned that all the flowers, all the lovely words, all the smiles, could not make up for what was already disintegrating.

One time my mother bought me expensive white, red and pink heels just because we had seen them shopping and I said I liked them. When I opened the box, I wanted to cry that she had noticed and went out of her way to make me feel special; I wondered how she knew that, then, I often felt small. The shoes, each time I wore them, made me stand taller and feel pretty, two powers for which I longed as a young woman. That was the same year where someone I loved asked me to go out for a drink. We walked in the cold to a French restaurant down the street and sat by the windows and I could tell as the minutes ticked by that he worried we'd been seen as we sipped red wine. He suggested we go someplace more private, and we did, where we ate delicious food and talked for hours. It was a date, and it wasn't; there's nothing quite as sad as realizing you are being used as a temporary stand-in for the real thing.

And then, several heart-shaped holidays in a row that lacked any pomp and circumstance and yet remained full of simple loves. Today I woke up to my husband, whom I adore for his sweetness and practicality. We kissed. He took the dog out so I didn't have to. I read in the dim morning light, surrounded by pillows and blankets. He brought me coffee in bed. I made breakfast for us: over-easy eggs and buttered toast and raspberries and orange juice. He put two red cards on the counter for me, two because he "couldn't decide which one to get." I tried not to cry as I felt our baby, a week out from being due, move and shift in my belly. We sat on the couch in our pajamas and I wrote and he watched tv and it was nothing and it was everything.

All of that sounds really nice, right? And then I remember that the day before, we argued over how to make pizza, and I got sassy about how late he went out with friends for drinks, and he rolled his eyes at me, and we huffed and puffed in annoyance at each other. Those unfiltered moments are real, too, and they're the ones that nobody puts on social media with a photo and caption, not ever and especially not on Valentine's Day.

This day can take all forms and shapes; it's not one size fits all. It can be an excuse to dress up and go out for a fancy dinner with your main squeeze. It can be a moment to show love to your Galentines, your kiddos, your parents. It can be an opportunity for copious amounts of chocolate and funny cards shared. It can be full of tears that honor what you've lost or linger upon what you're missing. It can be ridiculously sexy or boring as hell. It can be a completely regular 24 hours; it can be a small window to focus on the love present in your life. 

The thing is, sweetness overflows some days and dries up on others, and it's nice to have a little reminder to celebrate the blessings of love lost and won, given and received. It's not perfect and it's not supposed to be. Just like all of us.