Valentine’s Day may be a BS holiday, fabricated to serve the Hallmark industrial complex, but some people still see it as a genuine opportunity to celebrate their relationship — an occasion for marriage proposals, romantic getaways, fancy dinners, great sex, etcetera, ad nauseam. I was never one of those people. When I was a kid, Valentine’s Day rituals assumed the peculiar sweetness of those cutesy black-and-white photos of children posing in romantic embraces. My classmates and I would march our parents to the drugstore, pick out boxed cards printed with our favorite fictional characters (Peanuts struck the right chord for me), attach a package of cheeky candy hearts to each card, and place them in each other’s construction paper mailboxes at school. Unless you were particularly cruel or a social pariah, everyone gave and received in equal measure. As puberty dawned, the holiday served to bring my otherwise generalized sense of confusion to a head. The kiddie rituals were gone. In their place were a few awkwardly earnest couples and a whole lot of envious stares, only half concealed behind locker doors. This was before I had distinguished the difference between a close friend who’s a girl (as all of my close friends were) and a "girlfriend." I may have been "going with" my best friend when February rolled around, but any nudge to show more than platonic affection left me numb. In fact, said BFF famously dumped me after a particularly cold arm’s-length slow dance at a basement Halloween party. She later confessed that my look of misery from under the cowl of my Grim Reaper costume told her all she needed to know about my boyfriend potential. Once I reached high school and realized that I was gay, Valentine’s Day became an acute reminder of everything that was off-limits to me — and what was so new and exciting for my straight friends, who were fumbling into their first “serious” relationships. A day specifically set aside to celebrate something I was sure I’d never experience contributed, as pretty much everything did, to my extreme angst. (Fiona and Alanis timed their debuts perfectly, and sang, of course, directly to me.)
Once I realized that I was gay, Valentine’s Day became an acute reminder of everything that was off-limits to me.
When I came out to my classmates at 16, I was the only openly gay student at my small, Midwestern school. If there was a girlfriend in the bunch who didn’t find herself paired up for the next formal dance, I was glad to be her guy and find myself included. There were no potential valentines to set my sights on, and I wasn’t adventurous enough to broaden my search. Then, suddenly prospects were everywhere. I still maintain that I didn’t actually know I was going to a "gay school" until I got to my chosen college on the East Coast. Gay, straight, queer, whatever — everyone seemed more comfortable with themselves than I’d ever been. It was incredible, and more than a little intimidating. Aside from a short-lived romance freshman year, I mostly watched from the sidelines and invested in close friendships instead. Fortunately, an overall distaste for social norms meant Valentine’s Day either flew by unobserved or was marked by debaucherous, not-so-romantic costume parties. That changed senior year. On February 14th, I accompanied a longtime friend to the Rufus Wainwright concert in the campus chapel. Rufus Wainwright in a chapel, for god's sake. I shouldn’t have been surprised when he tried to kiss me afterward; I had always known in the back of my mind that he was interested in me. After I demurred, I spent the rest of the night terrified that I’d destroyed our friendship, cursing the holiday for bringing this on. And yet, I recognized the longing in his voice when he said, “C’mon, it’s Valentine’s Day.” Once I was finally (sort of) an adult living in New York, I was out of excuses for spending the holiday alone, and I did everything possible to avoid doing so. I dabbled in short-term relationships and (mostly) ill-fated hookups. I had physical connections with guys I resisted dating, and a best friend I had unrequited feelings for (ah, karma). My observance of Valentine’s Day ranged from commiserating over too many drinks with friends to desperately searching for overnight company on crowded dance floors to gathering my single friends for Sex and the City marathons.
I can honestly say that drugstore holidays have little impact on my life.
My friends may argue with me on this point, but I know I’m not Carrie Bradshaw (or at least that life isn’t just one giant season of SATC). As I’ve reached my 30s, I can honestly say that drugstore holidays have little impact on my life. My attitude toward Valentine’s Day can now best be described as one of hard-won, total indifference. Whether I mark it with friends or spend it alone on my couch watching The Good Wife, it’s just another mid-winter day. I eat the office candy, and feel nothing more than a brief sugar rush. Now, with mid-February fast approaching, I find myself in a relationship with a great guy for the first time in a while. We met 10 years ago, during one of those drunken dance floor quests for company (not on Valentine’s Day — this isn’t a Nicholas Sparks novel). We spent the night in his hotel, and the next morning, he returned to Boston, where he spent half his life. For a time, I wistfully thought of him as the one who got away, and I never forgot his huge grin. When we matched on Tinder last fall (you guessed it!), I knew it was him. He had just moved to New York for a job, and yes, he remembered that night. The rest is recent history. So, what now? I've spent so much of my life running from Valentine’s Day, trying to shut it out, drowning it in booze, dressing it up as a bonding experience with single friends, and, more recently, allowing it to pass by completely unobserved. To “celebrate” it at this point, even though I finally feel as if I have something worth celebrating, would feel cheesy at best, and disingenuous at worst. In place of a fancy dinner, my boyfriend and I are planning a fancy lunch (so punk rock, I know) — and we’re doing it on the 13th, because something about the unlucky number feels appropriate. We’ll wake up together the morning of and eventually go our separate ways. Since Valentine’s Day falls on a long weekend this year, I’m planning on finding a dance floor with friends Sunday night and having one too many drinks. Not in the hopes of filling a void or meeting someone new, but to remind myself that any day is what you make of it — whether it’s some made-up holiday or the day you finally land a second date, a decade in the making.