A few years back a colleague asked me to come up with slogan for a fundraiser he was organizing, a Valentine's Day reading of stories about awkward sex, disappointing relationships and terrible break-ups called "My Sucky Valentine."
I came up with "Sour Grapes and Bitter Chocolate: Good Writers on Bad Sex," and have never really been able to think of Valentines Day any other way since, married, single, or separated. I actually love both sour and bitter as flavors but they're not precisely the attributes most of us are looking for in a holiday.
So, Valentine's Day. Did everyone survive?
I know it should be possible, theoretically, to sneer one's way past a big fakey-fake totally made-up holiday celebrating a vision of romance many of us never really fell for in the first place, a holiday observed by the ritual consumption of frankly terrible candy and the second-ugliest cut flowers on Earth (carnations are worse) but of course it's never that easy. If you've recently faced the death of hope for your own personal vision of true love, having every TV show, magazine cover, and store window (including the chi-chi puppy boutique in my neighborhood) — valentines for your dog going "love, love, LOVE!" is going to sting, no matter how tough your armor or battle-hardened your defenses. You don't fit. It hurts.
In as good an illustration of that as anything, my team of advisors, usually so voluble and so quick with an anecdote, came up nearly empty on this one. How did the formerly-married spend their holiday, or how, in the past, did they get through the ones that coincided with undesired singledom, delivery of divorce papers, or recent break-ups?
"My first Valentine's Day after leaving my husband," offered Darla, "I got all dressed up (in a skirt, even!) and... went to therapy. My ex had dropped by earlier and brought me a dozen red roses, having never given me flowers before. I was caught between "That's a nice gesture, I guess" and "This doesn't change a thing, a-hole" and "By the way, I've repeatedly made it clear that I hate red roses" and "Aw, but that was a nice gesture, I guess."
Nobody else had anything really good, either. My friend Effie has just begun divorce proceedings, and even though she already has a boyfriend, it was hard for her to get up any enthusiasm for the Valentines idea. She has her kid this week, her boyfriend had a root canal.. eh, forget it. She'll try again next year.
"I consumed several bags of conversation hearts," said Ann, divorced less than a year. "Let the healing begin!"
"I recommend smashing them with a hammer, personally" countered Darla.
And my most reliable correspondent Charlotte, who always has a good story for me?
"Eh, I got nothin'," she writes. "All of my Valentine's Days recently have involved sweet cards from my kids and that's it. Maybe someday!"
I hope so! In the meantime, nothing wrong with a sweetly sentimental, poorly-glued valentine from the people whose love never disappoints, turns bitter or sour, or disappears. Failing that, there's always half-price candy.
I hope you all made it through intact. Back with the sex-talk next week.