A (personal) history of Valentine’s Day

Today, in the U.S., hundreds of thousands of Valentine’s Day cards will be exchanged. Americans will spend close to thirty billion dollars on Valentine’s Day gifts. Close to 300 million roses were grown just for this day. Scores of lovers will pick today to propose to their intended and many will feel, even if they know it’s stupid, crushed that they, today, don’t have a Valentine.

This is my 62nd Valentine’s Day. I don’t remember the first few, but have many memories starting in kindergarten. My mom–and she still does this–made each of her kids a homemade Valentine’s Day card that awaited us at breakfast. Every year, she’d list out, in a vertical line, the first letters of our names finished off with a complimentary word. One I’ve saved from some year says this:

D elightful

A lways Reading

B right

N ice to her siblings

E loquent

Y our family loves you

This sort of handmade card, drawn with big hearts, greeted me every Valentine’s Day I was at home. I get a little verklempt just thinking about it.

I am of an age when kids brought Valentines to school and the popular kids got the most. My family moved every two or so years and so I routinely got a small pile. I recall being trying to be sanguine about this. The teachers made sure I got a few as did, I recall, the moms who ran the PTA. Usually, every classroom had a card exchange at some point during the school day and, in my favorite schools, the staff gave every child a little bag of candy hearts. It was never a day I enjoyed.

By the time I got to double digit ages, I wanted a boyfriend. I remember the dumbfounding joy I felt when, in sixth grade, Danny Foster, my first big crush, said “Happy Valentine’s Day” to me in the hall. No card, but, oh, I was sure meant something.

I didn’t get a Valentine card or gift from any boy/man, however, until I was in my early 20s. When I was in high school, not only did I not have a boyfriend–other than a passionate summer romance when I was 16–and the holiday was considered uncool. In college, my friends and I gave each other cards.

The first truly romantic Valentine’s Day I ever had was with Dr. Feelgood. I still have the earrings he gave me and the card he penned. (The man really is a sap.)

For the first twenty years of our relationship, Valentine’s Day was a big deal. We always made our kids cards just like my mom had made for me. But the real focus was on our adult love. We picked out perfect gifts and wrote deeply romantic and occasionally erotic cards. We’d go out to dinner–I’d book a sitter weeks in advance–dress up, and hold hands across the table as we waited for our food.

Over the past ten years, we’ve done less. This year we didn’t even get each other a card nor did we mail our kids cards. I can’t imagine caring about the significance of the day in the way I did when I was younger, single, and hoping to find true love.

Perhaps it’s that my goal is to have a life of love, rather than a day. Today, when I speak to my family, my friends, and my husband, I’ll say “Happy Valentine’s Day! I love you.” I called my mom this morning and, hilariously, at almost 86, she apologized that, this year, she didn’t send out any Valentine’s. I told I won the mom lottery and did not need a card.

I wish I could go back in time and tell that pragmatic, lonely little girl that someday she’d have incredible friends she’d go through life with. I wish I could reassure teenage me that she’d find a great romance (or three) by the time she was 25. I’d like to tell my younger self that, even with all its ups and downs, I have the marriage I longed for. Mostly, I wish for everyone to know that they are loved.

How about you? Do you love V-Day? Hate it? Have a lovely (or sad) memory you’d like to share?

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