Valentine's Day

Last year, for the first time in my life, I had a Valentine. We had begun dating just a few weeks before the Holy Day of Love, and I was excited to section off a piece of my calendar to spend that day with him—really, with anyone at all. So after a long day at work and an evening of rehearsals for a community theater production, I went to his house at 10pm, still garbed in my dress shirt and tie, and we celebrated in the most romantic way possible: by grabbing food at the Jack in the Box drive-thru window, popping in a DVD, and then going to bed. For sleep. To get up early for work. No candles, no roses, no mind-blowing love-making. And it was still something to be remembered.

I took this as a sign that my idea of courtship had evolved; I used to saturate my thoughts of love and dating in unrealistic romantic notions. In my junior year of high school, for example, I had a huge crush on a girl named Anna. She was spunky, smart, had an “in” with the popular crowd, and—the clincher—had great taste in music. That, and she came from the same ethnic background as I did; my parents immediately claimed her as my bride to be, the Filipina who liked Filipino food and had more of a Tagalog vocabulary than I did. She would keep me grounded in my culture, they thought, bring me back to my Asian roots after “straying,” as they might’ve put it, to the Latino and Black friends that largely made up my social circle.

I grew to like Anna. A lot. I had bought into the necessity of dating someone in high school after watching too many TNBC sitcoms and WB dramas. I perceived that that was what it meant to really live your high school experience. Thus, in the most innocent ways that I could have expressed, I pined for her: in my AOL Instant Messenger profile, I inserted lyrics hinting at my interest in an unnamed someone; in my journal, I wrote cheesy entries about how I’d treat her right if she were my girl; and for Christmas, I gave her the most expensive and thought-out gift I had distributed among my friends. At the time, I didn’t see the act of pining even remotely as the needy, embarrassing, and sometimes creepy signal it might represent to adults; it seemed like the appropriate response when you were enamored with someone for whom your fondness hadn’t been reciprocated. It was the physical and emotional manifestation of the butterflies you felt for someone. It was my na├»ve and superficial proof of being alive inside.

The culmination of my media-fed so-corny-I-want-to-barf enactments of romance: I decided that, after eight months of dropping too-subtle hints, I wanted to tell her how I felt. In my head, I aimed for the perfect moment: we would hang out afterschool, and as we walked out our classroom buildings (at sunset, of course), she’d find petals leading to a grassy hill just off-campus. And there we’d have a talk. (In retrospect, this idea of having that DTR-like situation without actually having a relationship to define seems exceedingly preposterous.)

As delusional as that sounds, that was the plan, and fortunately, I didn’t actually execute it. That vision was much too overwhelming, even for my immature adolescent self. I saw past it. Instead, I went completely in the opposite direction: cowardly, I hid behind a computer screen and screen name and told her everything online. She didn’t believe me at first, but eventually, she realized I was serious. And she broke it to me straight: an “us” wasn’t what she was looking for in our friendship. As she typed the words that broke my inexperienced heart, I did what Dawson or Slater or Topanga would do—I locked my bedroom door, fell onto my bed, boomed O-town’s “All or Nothing at all” (you’re excused if you need to vomit), and bawled.

Thank fucking goodness that I have grown up since then. My first relationships and sexual experiences have helped to de-mystify and de-romanticize the hype surrounding love. I came to understand the differences between a honeymoon period and the lazy motions of the day-to-day routine of seeing a significant other. Maturing past my stereotypes of what liking someone looked like helped me to ground and re-envision love not as fuzzy feelings stickered with hearts and arrows, but as simple and unquestionable comfort—a situation where a pairing only seems right and normal. I think this is different from being cynical about romance; indeed, I still appreciate roses and slow dances, flickering flames lighting a fancy dinner for two. The difference is that I now don’t see those signifiers as proof of chemistry; they’re more like its accessories—unnecessary but nice.

So this year, I’m making myself believe that having a Valentine on February 14th, a day that supposedly celebrates the idea of love, is sort of like that: unnecessary, but nice. I’ve heard it said before that everyday should be Valentine’s Day. Wouldn’t it be nice, people have asked, if everyone demonstrated his or her love as expressively as he or she does on Valentine’s Day? But now I want to understand that suggestion a little bit differently: maybe we shouldn’t take that to mean that everyday should be fluffy and commercial and conventional; instead, maybe everyday—the normal, the routine, and perhaps even the boring—maybe that should be the type of love we find worthy of celebration and value. Maybe everyday already is Valentine’s Day.

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