I Didn’t Go To Jared’s and I’m Proud of It

bitemeI’m not really a big fan of Valentine’s Day. Back when I was a teenager, I could steal a rose from the neighbor-lady, make a mix-tape (some Journey, Foreigner, maybe a little Kris Kristofferson), and call it good. Even then, despite the larceny (or perhaps because of it), the day rang a bit hollow for me.

Obviously, things get a little more complicated the older you get, mostly because at 42 sneaking into the neighbor lady’s yard is much more difficult (and a little creepy) and the era of mix-tapes has gone the way of cassette and top 40 radio shows. When I was in college and my wife and I first started dating, she once told me “You don’t have to get me anything for Valentine’s Day.” I’m sure she meant it at the time, but when I took her at her word. .  . well, let’s just say there are plenty of people out there wondering why in the world she married me. That was probably an early warning sign. At least she can’t ever tell me I used to be so much sweeter. It’s good to manage everyone’s expectations.

I’m not someone who feels put upon by the manufactured holiday. There’s not really anything inherently wrong with setting a day aside to celebrate the person (or persons?) we love. A nice gesture, a quiet meal, even a small gift–these all seem appropriate as a way to re-commit ourselves. And, quite honestly, I should be in favor of any holiday that encourages the production and consumption of chocolate.

But I can’t stand V-day. There’s no horrific Charlie Brown moment in my past when I missed out on the Star Wars Valentines Day cards (“Yoda the One For Me”) or when I watched the girl of my dreams give someone an extra special cupcake. I’ve never been traumatized by a gag gift or mocked by the popular kids.

Like so many celebrations, though, I find this one increasingly commercialized at a level that lacks good judgment. My oldest son bought his girlfriend enough jewelry for three different gifts (four if you split the earrings into two separate presents) and he still plans on buying her flowers. Increasingly, and I’m clearly turning into a grumpy old man, kids like my son, are forced to up the ante when he buys a gift. He’s been raised in an era where everyone gets a gift on any given holiday. If you bring one cupcake, you have to bring 30. For those people you actually do care about, you are forced to do something distinctive that goes above and beyond. You must go to Jared’s (or face the wrath of a crowd of people who don’t have any business paying attention).

Like so many of our conversations and our past private lives, we have moved even our declarations of love into the public domain where they can be compared and judged. It begins in elementary school where we require that our kids make mass declarations of “love” and we bribe them with candy hearts and chocolates. Such events not only commercialize the day, but, in so many ways it also cheapens the day. I realize we all want love, peace, everyone to just get along, but valentines day, like religion, belongs in the home not in public education. More seriously, we do, at an early age, impose ideas about love and match-making on our kids, creating social and cultural expectations about how we “show” our love.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not arguing that we have to be overly sensitive to everyone’s feelings. I have great sympathy for the kid who knows he’s only getting a card from little  Suzy because she has to give him one. (I also realize, though, that little Johnny might prefer a card from Billy and this is the only time he will get one even if it’s not for the right reason.) I don’t disagree that bringing cards for one should require bringing them for all but if everyone is your valentine, then no one is your valentine.

I just don’t think we should institutionalize valentines day and reinforce the social and sexual expectations regarding gender, love, and sexuality.

For now, though, I just hope my neighbor’s roses are in bloom. (And she’s out of town tonight). It’s either that or go shopping.

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About John Wegner
John Wegner is a Professor of English where he also serves as the Dean of the Freshman College. He and Lana, his wife, have been married over 25 years. They are the parents of two great sons who (so far) haven't ever needed bail money.

4 Responses to I Didn’t Go To Jared’s and I’m Proud of It

  1. kirizar says:

    I loved the “Bite Me” candy heart. You know the sentiment is shared when someone invents a jpg image of it. In fact, perhaps what we need is a corollary to Valentine’s Day. Every four years we can unload our pent-up hostilities at the end of February. We can put it on February 29 and make it the “Leap Day for Hate” holiday. Black roses and bitter-flavored candies with hostile sentiments will abound. Is there a patron saint of bile we can use as our mascot?

  2. yourothermotherhere says:

    (smiling)

  3. I have to organize my daughter’s classroom party and I’m feeling really challenged. The kids are already starting the “who likes whom” phase of socialization in 3rd grade and some of the conversations I’ve overheard make me retch just a little.
    I like what you wrote “we all want love, peace, everyone to just get along” and am going to think about it for game planning – maybe something that focuses on cooperation and getting along.
    Maybe I’ll teach them how to raid a neighbor’s yard as a team.

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