Another year, another Valentine’s Day, another 24 hours to pass waiting for all of that amazing chocolate to go on clearance…
I’m a strange creature: I’m driven by emotions, but emotional displays make me queasy. I watch movies and get choked up over declarations of love that would make me cringe if they happened in my living room. I turn my nose up at the type of big romantic gestures that I secretly hope for. I’m the queen of mixed signals.
Valentine’s Day can be a loaded time for anyone, but when your last good Tinder connection ended up leaving this mortal coil (for more on that, and my thoughts on “being single and happy,” check out Episode 4 of Miss Jaye: The Renovation HERE!) the day can feel like a candy-coated emotional minefield. The world isn’t very kind to single people on the average day, but this 24-hour marathon of candy hearts, cherubic matchmakers, and syrupy sentiment feels like it goes out of its way to make those of us who are uncoupled feel even more incomplete without our “other half.” And now that the corporate crap machines have figured out that the merchandising for this holiday can extend beyond just candy and flowers, we’re bombarded with the holiday even as stores are clearing away the last dregs of their Christmas clearance.
Sure, there have been some attempts to salvage the day for more than just a showy display of romantic platitudes, most recently with “Galentines Day” – yet another marketing ploy to convince single women that if they don’t have someone to shower them with presents they can still contribute to economic prosperity by getting together with their other single gal pals and let the Beyoncé-independent-woman-with-a-weary-credit-card tokens of affection rain down all over them like capitalist bukkake. But so many of these redefinitions are still organized around the idea that you can gauge the love in your life based on the business transactions that accompany it.
I have a somewhat complicated history with the conflation of love and money. I’m the overly emotional black sheep of a family that wasn’t big on talking about things, especially icky, uncomfortable, squishy feelings kind of things. It’s not that we didn’t all love each other; quite the opposite. But there wasn’t a lot of talking about it. You knew that you were loved because you had a roof and you were fed and clothed, and if you needed something, really needed it, someone always found a way to help you get it. More often than not, they’d also help you out with some of the things that you “needed” that weren’t really needs, but just really big wants. We didn’t talk about feelings much, but your oil was changed, your tire pressure checked, and if your car broke down there was always someone to help you get it fixed or, if the damage was beyond repair, find a replacement. When you don’t have a lot of money, how the money you do have is spent says a lot about the relationships of all parties involved.
That kind of cushion is comforting, but it’s hard to appreciate when you’re a closeted kid with a flair for the dramatic who spent most of my teen years wanting to talk about (or more likely, yell about) every thought and feeling that entered my brain…except for the really big ones. The ones that were the most true.
It’s kind of like the difference between chocolates and candy hearts.
It’s hard to mess up chocolate. I mean, obviously you can fill it up with something that’s not very good (personally, cherry cordials make me gag a little), but chocolate itself if sweet and uncomplicated. It’s a guaranteed sugar rush. You might love a dark chocolate that’s a little bit more complex, that has its sweetness tempered with a little bit of bitterness, but it’s still a sweet treat that is probably going to satisfy. It’s easy. Unless you’re eating baker’s chocolate and…well, that’s a mistake you only have to make once.
Candy hearts are different. They still have that sweetness, but they’re a little bit harder to navigate. Some of them are rock hard, threatening to break a tooth with each new “True Love” and “First Kiss” and “Say Yes.” Some of them are softer, so less risk of an immediate dental emergency, but those often tend to break down into a chalky sludge in your mouth. All flavors are not created equal; if your favorite is yellow, then I’m here to say, here and now, that you are a monster.
And then they have those cute little sayings on them, trying to pack as much meaning as they can into only a handful of letters. Those little messages are not meaningless, and they certainly aren’t harmless. Who hasn’t gotten a valentine from their secret crush, hoping to find a “Love You” or a “True Love” or a “Say Yes”…only to open the card that immediately pushes you to the friendzone, painfully punctuated by a petrified, chalky heart that says something like “LOL” or “See Ya”? No artificial strawberry flavoring is going to pull you out of that hole.
But still, they are sweet. And some of them are even hopeful! “Got Luv?” “Marry Me?” How can you help but smile at that sort of naïve optimism? And they are nothing if not succinct, like a confectionary Twitter. “You Rock.” What else is there to say? Love poems are nice and all, but sometimes it’s as simple as letting someone know: “U R Hot.” And that optimism, that simplicity, is what keeps you going through every yellow heart, through every sentiment that’s mismatched to your level of affection: knowing that just around the corner there’s probably a blue or a pink heart just waiting for you, and the message will be the “Be Mine” or the “Puppy Love” you’ve been hoping for.
Chocolate is nice, but it’s not sustainable. It’s not the truth. I guess it can be nice every now and then to make a big display, the grand gesture, but you know the truth of love when the road gets rough, when things get stretched thin, when life serves you up a yellow heart or a square of baker’s chocolate. When you’re feeling like nothing, and someone is there to hand you a green heart, your favorite, and you turn it over in your palm and it reminds you to “Dream Big,” because the world is bigger then you know when you’re sitting in your room, Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill album on repeat for the 9000th time, wishing you had the words to ask for what you really, really need.