My first Valentine’s Day involved a second-grade class and a sheet of perforated Valentines. We had to give them out to every other kid in the class, and I’m pretty sure I gave them out to the boys as well as the girls, and signed “Love, Mark” at the bottom of each one. Even in the midst of Freud’s latency period I felt a vague uneasiness, but did not see how I could discriminate.
My phrase of choice that year was “Holy Baloney,” which I said every time the teacher told me I answered something wrong, or assigned another project involving construction paper and paste. One girl in my class laughed out loud every time I said it, and on her Valentine to me wrote “Holy Bologna” just above the salutation. I was touched by the thought, and figured that I could accept her even if she did not know how to spell.
Valentine’s Day was so simple in the second grade. No flowers, no dinner reservations. I even think my mother bought the sheet of perforated Valentines, and instead of chocolates we snacked on those little hard and powdery candy hearts that said “Be Mine,” “I Luv You,” and “We Need to Talk About Your Choice of School Bag.”
But Valentine’s Day was not always this romantic. There were many a year where Valentine’s Day was spent seeing how many beers I could drink before the pile of dirty laundry in the corner of my bedroom looked like a work of modern art. If was lucky, there would be a friend who was also single, and we would go to the local dive and watch ESPN with the sound off, hoping that with each round we’d forget our loneliness and be able to read Mike Krzyzewski’s lips as he yelled at his players and, sometimes, the referees.
And then one Valentine’s Day I proposed to my now-wife, and my perception of this day of flowers and chocolate changed forever. I don’t see Valentine’s Day as an obligation. I see it as an opportunity. For 364 days of the year (or 365 days in a leap year, like this one), I sit in my house and look at my wife and think to myself, “She’s so beautiful and wonderful. I’m such a lucky man. I wonder what she’s annoyed at me for this time.”
I wish there were answers in the back of the book, or a teacher’s edition, but there are not. I have to make educated guesses of how to make my soul mate view me as less of a parasite who watches football. Could it be the glass I left on the kitchen counter instead of putting it in the dishwasher? Could it be that bowl with four floating Cheerios that I left in the sink instead of washing out and putting in the dishwasher? Could it be that pair of dirty socks that I left on her laptop instead of washing them out and putting them in the dishwasher? The greatest fear in any relationship is the fear of the unknown, and for a marriage that fear is codified in statute.
But for one day a year I am relieved of that fear, and handed a game plan with three simple steps: bouquet of roses, reservations at a nice restaurant, and then…you know…HGTV. It is as simple as snap, crackle and pop. My grandfather used to say that problems that can be solved with money alone are the kind of problems you want to have. I’m sure that he had Valentine’s Day in mind when he said that.
So fellow husbands and boyfriends, my brethren in arms and credit cards, do not fear Valentine’s Day, but embrace it and its obligations with gusto, and be thankful that for one day you get to enjoy the greatest pleasure you can enjoy in a relationship: not having to think.
And to the ranks of the single who complain that there is no single person’s day, I respond: every day is single person’s day.
Happy Valentine’s Day, especially to the students of Mrs. P’s second grade class. I meant what I wrote on those perforated cards.