By Kortnee With-a-K
Aaaaaah Valentine’s Day, the one holiday of which I have never been a fan….. and for that matter, the one holiday that MANY women are not fans of. Valentine’s Day is the one holiday of the year that is more filled with hope and expectation than any other day of the year. Not the kind of savior inspired, heart-changing hope that comes with a holiday like Christmas… nope. This is a different breed of that thing called hope. It is hope fueled by the fire of expectation. This is the kind of hope that fills lonely, dreamy hearts with visions of jewels, flowers, chocolates, and diamonds. It’s the stuff behind Hollywood’s success, because without this breed of HOPE, not a single chick-flick would’ve ever made it to the big screen. There is a movie called “I Hate Valentine’s Day.” It is one of my personal favorites because it pretty much sums up the way I feel about February 14th… Or how I USED TO feel about Valentine’s Day…but I’m getting ahead of myself.
A bit of history…
Saint Valentine’s Day started out as a sincere and lovely thing. It is a celebration to honor St. Valentine, a priest in ancient Rome who was killed on February 14th some time “way back when” in that ancient Roman era. But, unlike the chick-flick stuff of Valentine’s Day in modern America, THIS story is the stuff of a good “manly-man” movie: fighting Romans, damsels in togas, bloody fight scenes and secret lovers. And like all good stories, there was an evil Emperor!
The Evil Emperor Claudius was having a tough time getting soldiers to come fight in his bloody wars. Claudius assumed that this was because all the guys didn’t want to leave their wives and families. It probably never occurred to him that his battle campaigns might’ve just simply been bad ideas and that they didn’t feel like being decapitated. Anyhow, he came up with the great idea of banning marriage.
He figured that if the men couldn’t marry their sweethearts then they would want to come fight battles with him. Odd man, this Claudius, and daft as he was, he literally cancelled all the engagements and prohibited weddings in Rome. What a grim time to find oneself in love! But alas, fear not! Enter stage left, romantic at heart, Saint Valentine! (Do you hear fanfare music in the background here: dun-da-da-dun!)
A Saint enters to save the day…
Now just to clarify one little detail, it’s safe to assume that SAINT Valentine wasn’t a Saint at this point since most Saints became saints after being martyred or killed in some terrible way. So, for now, we have a priest: Father Valentine who took it upon himself to defy the unjust orders of Emperor Claudius by secretly marrying those couples that were in love. Awww! Yes, this story has the makings of a GREAT movie. But sadly, when Valentine’s actions were discovered, he was brutally beaten and put to death on February 14 somewhere around the year 270 A.D. Wow. As a side note, I’m willing to bet that Jesus’ disciples’ great-grandkids were probably pretty ticked off by this: Beating and killing a priest? Probably NOT a good idea if you have any interest in salvation.
Other sources tell a different story
For the sake of being thorough and historically accurate, several other sources say that Valentine’s Day started with the belief that February 14 was the start of bird mating season. Over time, St. Valentine, having become the patron saint of lovers and love and romance, was associated with mating birds and fertility and love… blah blah blah… yaaawn.
Forget historical accuracy, the OTHER version of this legend is much more exciting. Regardless, either way, the result was the same: Sweethearts started exchanging “Valentines” to celebrate the idea of love. Handmade gifts and cards were all the rage until the beginning of the 19th century when mass produced cards caught people’s fancy… and as they say… the rest is history!
And then came the greedy Americans
Indeed, the rest IS history, because as soon as we Americans got our greedy little commercial hands on this idea, like so many other things, it morphed! Valentine’s Day got hi-jacked by the greeting card companies and the cheap chocolate makers of the world. We went from hand-made to Hallmark in the blink of an eye and then onward and upward to boxes of chocolates. From there the leap from chocolate to diamonds was inevitable!
It is a holiday founded in the idea of being sweet and loving; it is a holiday to honor love and loved ones. A day set aside to glorify and remember how special love is and can be. But ultimately, poor sweet Valentine’s Day lost its innocence as it spread its wings within a commercialized society. Instead of lingering as a day for sweet anticipation and gentle reminders of love and tenderness, for many it has emerged as a day that magnifies our loneliness and disillusionment.
Valentine’s Day is a holiday flawed by design to make women feel crappy and make men look dumb. Women dream big and HOPE big on this day… A whole day tainted by serious expectations. Women and men BOTH are victims on this day: The walking-wounded rendered weary by commercial ideas about what it’s supposed to be and what is supposed to happen. We are told as consumers of the American Dream what to EXPECT on Valentine’s Day. It is sold to us on every billboard, TV ad, sale flyer, and PTA fundraiser folder. As we tear into our third box of sweet confections we already KNOW what we ought to expect on Valentine’s Day. Yes! We are told to expect, to hope, to dream, and to believe.
And we women? Hoo boy! We do! We fall for it hook, line, and sinker! We do expect! We do hope! We do dream! Just look at all the TV commercials and movies; it’s all spelled out perfectly exactly what our expectations might be! We have Barbie-Dream-House expectations of the perfect Valentine’s Day. We dream that we’ll be awakened in the morning by a tender kiss and breakfast in bed served on a silver platter by a gorgeous man who looks perfect in nothing but his perfectly fitted PJ bottoms with his sun-kissed six-pack abs, glistening at us in the morning sunlight as we gaze up over a perfectly baked croissant, smothered in whipped butter, magically devoid of calories, and topped with dark chocolate that he had specially imported from Switzerland…
After breakfast and a three hour love-making session that leaves us feeling perfectly satisfied AND invigorated, we’ll be adorned by our handsome lover with a brand new dress with matching $200 shoes, and treated to a hot-air balloon ride with spectacular views of oceans and mountains while he plays his guitar and sings a love song that he wrote just for us on this special day. We will land in a field where we are whisked away in a dream car to a private dinner for two on a sunset-tinted beach sprinkled with rose petals and glitter. As we gaze in awe at the amazing sight, our handsome Greek God-soul-mate guy kneels in the sand and passionately professes his forever-love for us as he places diamond anklets, bracelets, necklaces, and rings on our quivering extremities. As we begin to gently weep, the passionate music of a privately commissioned orchestra swells around us and the breeze swirls our hair perfectly away from our beautiful face as we tip our lips to receive his perfect kiss.
It’s like a dream: a beautiful dream full of hope and bursting with expectation and run-on sentences.
Women DO think these things. Sorry, gentlemen, but we do. Any woman who says she doesn’t have crazy romantic fantasies such as these never had a Barbie doll and certainly didn’t grow up in the same America the rest of us grew up in.
Does every woman’s fantasy Valentine’s Day look the same? No, of course not… but every woman has one. And, frankly, put, every woman should. Men should too.
Why not have beautiful dreams? Isn’t this what our culture tells us? Why not hold out a tiny glimmer of HOPE that one day something amazing and beautiful might happen? Not only do we hope and dream and fill ourselves with expectation and anticipation… we even begin to BELIEVE.
But men don’t know this. Wait! Comment rescinded with apologies to all males. You DO know it. You just don’t “get it”.
And therein lies the problem.
Men aren’t trained for the unrealistic dreams women hold and they certainly aren’t equipped! But truly, how are the menfolk supposed to live up to these unspoken female expectations? Should they even try? (And where to seek counseling in the aftermath!?) While my fluffy little female brain is being stuffed full of images of diamonds and sunset beaches, the retailers are packing their aisles full of cheap chocolates and Styrofoam-pellet-filled plush toys sewn together by nine year olds in Taiwan. It’s a train wreck waiting to happen! Women hoping with quivering anticipation that this might just be the magical year that Valentine’s Day will be something straight out of a fairy tale story book.
While men stand lost in the aisles of Walgreen’s at 11pm on the 13th. Countless, confused men wandering through stores with dazed hypnotic stares, drowning in a sea of red and pink plush toys holding balloons and tasteless chocolate bars embroidered with corny sayings printed all over them: “I Wuv you” and “You’re Cute” and “You are Beary Special 2 Me” and “Eat me”. Mmm… how romantic. It’s no wonder the Testosterone-Bearers are confused: Valentine’s Day has become the annual pinnacle of being lost without a map in a foreign town called Estrogen. In case you don’t know where THAT is, you can find it on your GPS somewhere between Hell and Progesterone, just down the road from Unrealistic Expectations due south of Clueless.
It’s easy to see why Valentine’s Day ends up being a disappointment to most women year after year and it’s no wonder that men grow more and more disillusioned by it each year.
Is there a man out there who really even LIKES Valentine’s Day anymore?
Is there a man out there who isn’t completely baffled by it?
But despite all this, there isn’t a woman out there who has actually completely given up hope. To further complicate matters, there is that ONE guy out there who ruins it for everyone by having the uncanny knack for poetry writing, wine selection, and finding the perfect piece of jewelry.
Due to all the confusion and unmet expectations this “holiday” has largely become an obligation that many men might be willing to don a suit of mail and head for the battlefield to avoid! Mean old Emperor Claudius would’ve been thrilled to see this state of affairs but what would poor old Father Saint Valentine say about this mess? Would he start a lonely-hearts club or online instructional workshop for wayward boyfriends lost in the quagmire of cheap toys and gadgets?
Without St. Valentine himself to come save the day, whose job is it exactly to teach us the real meaning of celebrating and sharing romance on Valentine’s Day? It seems our mothers didn’t teach us; the members of the first-wives club failed miserably as well; clearly the media has left us muddled!
How are we to survive this annual certain mess?
After walking away from the blaring TV set and taking several deep breaths it is time to look within. Each of us, whether in a relationship with Mr. Right or Mr. Right Now, can find the truth WITHIN the day.
Within the day, there is love and there is friendship.
Within the day there is at the very least a joint sense of feeling lost in the woods together…. And together is right where we belong on this day.
When we stand at each other’s side and join hands it’s easier to find our way out of the woods. It’s easier to see our way through the lollipop forest, past the chocolate covered cordials and conversation hearts, out beyond the rainbow of tasty treats. It’s easy to see through the red cellophane and realize that the answer is really quite simple.
The answer, like most other things that have become complicated by fear, greed, and a few others of those nasty deadly sins, lies in love and the giving of love. The answer is to relish LOVE in whatever rare places we find it. Whether it is the agape love we feel for our children, the fraternal love we share with our closest friends, or the charity we show to the strangest of strangers; love and laughter shared is what would most honor Father Valentine’s sacrifice.
And, this shared love, is indeed what WE need most… But giving love is sometimes the hardest thing we do… particularly when we are so focused on receiving. Yes: we are indeed told to expect, to hope, to dream, and to believe. But no matter what influences there are upon us, we still have our own free will. We get to choose our own hopes and dreams.
This year, whether a fan of Saint Valentine’s Day or not,
Let’s stop being the victims of it;
let’s build some truth through our wishes and expectations that will actually matter to someone other than ourselves. Let’s find a way to share a little bit of love in simple acts of grace and kindness towards others just as Father Valentine did so long ago. You probably won’t become a saint, but, after all, it is in giving that we truly receive.