It’s that time of year again. Time for high expectations, the most obnoxious commercials on television, nauseating packs of Russel Stover’s, stuffed animals toting gut-wrenching puns, and if we’re lucky, History Channel specials on gangland massacres.
A lot of people hate the hell out of Valentine’s day. They point out- and they are absolutely correct- that it’s a completely artificial and commercial creation designed to milk the bucks out of couples looking to prove something for food, booze, candy, cards, flowers, and jewelry. They point out that it makes single people feel like shit for being single. They point out that it puts a big ol’ anxiety hammer on couples, especially those who haven’t been together too long, to suddenly become psychic in order to figure out what their partner’s expected level of acknowledgement is. And, of course, it creates a great big land mine for anyone with a tendency to date-related absent-mindedness that can lead to tears, rage, and bad backs from sleeping on the couch. All of these things are true.
All the same though, I can’t really work up a hate-on for Valentine’s day. The truth is that I like getting a little extra romantic affection, even if it’s not out of the blue. So what if it’s not? I don’t see a damn thing wrong with setting a predictable date for a ritual acknowledgement of something important- be it your mother, your significant other, or even yourself. It gives people time to prepare and an assurance that you’re going to be on the same page, instead of one of you thinking they’re going to spend the day off somewhere else working or indulging in a hobby. If it’s an empty gesture? Then yes, that’s a problem, but just because it’s scheduled doesn’t mean it has to be empty- if it’s empty, you’ve got another problem that’s absolutely not Hallmark’s fault.
Rachel has managed to tap into a vein of rage on the expectations some people have of men plunking down ridiculous sums of money for what amounts to a woman-mounted shiny object in order to “prove” his love or his status or what the hell ever. Watching even one of this season’s commercials from Jared or Kay or DeBeers makes me feel pretty much the same way- especially the slogan “Every Kiss Begins With Kay”, which takes the whole “sex for jewelry” implied message present in all of them and amplifies it into even the smallest gesture of affection being rooted in the regular supply of shinies. (I’ve always been rather puzzled about the whole sex-for-jewelry message anyway. Honey, if you need precious metals and gems to get excited enough about him to have enthusiastic sex with him, why are you with him?) I’d be a hypocrite if I sneered at the idea of a gift being expensive but worthless except aesthetically- with me, it’s paintings- but it’s not that that bothers me, it’s the idea some people have in their heads (and these commercials exploit) that diamonds and other jewelry are some sort of universal currency exchange that equate in direct dollar values to love and devotion. The message: if you ply her with the magic rock, she’ll come instantly unglued at the knees and adore you. Sure, it’s expensive, but it’s a can’t-lose proposition!
I don’t wear jewelry that’s not permanently attached. If Stingray brought me home a diamond tennis bracelet, or a big rock onna ring, I would definitely have an overwhelming reaction: I’d be pissed off. That would be saying- with a big waste of our money- that he didn’t know me, he didn’t care to try, and that he thought I was both stupid and could be bought. Give me a diamond- sleep on the couch.
But, the thing is- and the reason I enjoy Valentine’s day despite the mountain of bullshit served alongside- is that he does know me. He’s blunt, cynical, can be rude, can be very crude, would never win a prize for slick charm or qualify as a screen heartthrob, but he knows me very goddamn well. When I was a college student, I found a first-edition copy of Alfred Kinsey’s Sexual Behavior of the Human Male in a used bookstore. I put it back on the shelf because at the time I was often living mostly on Ramen and Wonder Bread and couldn’t quite justify the price to myself, but I always regretted the missed opportunity. I mentioned this, in passing, probably while we were both several beers in, to Stingray. Once. Much later, when I was having an epically shitty day, he surprised me with a first-ed of not only Human Male, but Human Female as well. My reaction was roughly on par with what DeBeers seems to think it should be to several-carat finger-mounted monstrosity. It wasn’t a terribly expensive gift, but it was one that said he knows exactly the kinds of things that I treasure- and cares enough to make it a priority for himself, too. Needless to say, my lousy day was instantly and completely redeemed into a very happy evening.
It wasn’t a one-shot deal, either. When my father died, my stepmother, who is the sort of stepmother that would feel right at home in a German fairy tale, took the opportunity to hurt me in as many ways as she could. Tying up the estate and leaving it in limbo for years was easy enough for her, but that didn’t hurt so much as aggravate since we weren’t hurting for the money much. The other thing she could do- make sure I never got my hands on any possession of his that would have any sentimental meaning to me- that did hurt. In particular, the loss of the comic book collection we spent most of my adolescence building together- one of the few things we could bond over during an otherwise tense time- was painful. We liked a lot of obscure and independent titles that other comic book collectors didn’t, so I never could find most of them when I looked through the stuff that comic shops kept on hand. I wrote it off as lost. Once again, a few months after I mentioned this (once, in passing), I found a good-sized chunk of the lost collection- not the originals, but books he’d somehow found through an obscure comics-collector service- sitting on the coffee table. No occasion, he just knew it would make me happy.
That’s romance. It’s the reason I wouldn’t feel anything other than mild disappointment if he DID forget Valentine’s Day or any other of the calendar-set occasions. But, perhaps naturally, he never does- although I’m prone to it. (Embarrassingly, I’m not half as good at this stuff as he is.)
In the meantime, we’ll be, yes, going out to dinner. He loves fine food, I love fine food, it will make us both happy- and the place we’ve picked is downright designed to feel intimate even if it’s at full capacity.
There’s nothing left to prove.