Some people love it. Some people loathe it.
I’d say I generally have positive feelings towards February 14th. While some may think it’s a Hallmark holiday, I like to see it as a simple day; A simple day for people to take some time and pour some extra love and energy into their relationships. Whether the relationship is a boyfriend, husband, girlfriend, wife, partner, friend, parent, neighbor or second cousin twice removed, it is a gentle nudge for those of us who may not otherwise take time to recognize the people or special person in our life. Even if that person is you, yourself.
Yes, Valentine’s Day is commercialized. (I mean it’s a 20 billion-dollar industry). But there are ways to commemorate the day without making fancy dinner reservations or spending hundreds of dollars. Oh, and yes, I cannot forget the folks who say, “I don’t need Valentine’s day. I show the person I love affection every day, so I don’t need some stupid holiday to remind me.” I hear that a lot; and that’s great. I think we could all learn a little something from you about how to bring our best each and every day. But even if you fall in that category, if you show affection so well throughout the year, Valentine’s Day is just another great reason to wake up and invest in your relationships. Not to mention, isn’t it fun to simply mutter the words, “Will you be my Valentine?”
I have enjoyed Valentine’s Day through many different phases of my life. I see the day as an opportunity to simply extend thoughts, care and extra attention into the love in my life; whether it’s with myself, my husband, family or a friend. I’ve celebrated Valentine’s, Gal-entine’s and everything in between.
One of my first memories of Valentine’s Day was celebrating with my mom, dad and brother at about the age of 5, before my little sister was born. Our ranch style home was getting wood floors put down, so we huddled around in one of the untouched bedrooms and opened Valentine treats and cards on the square, beige carpet. It was simple, yet so fun. And, I always loved waiting to see what my dad brought home for my mom.
In Kindergarten, Valentine’s Day was the infamous day when my mom found out I kissed Kurk Schulte, while playing house during one of our play dates. Actually, I’m sure my mom knew long before, but she was waiting for the perfect moment to turn it into a life lesson of sorts. I came home from school with my hand decorated, white bag of Valentines, and I was saddened when I didn’t see one from Kurk. I let her know that my feelings were hurt, and somehow it turned into a conversation about how we don’t just go around kissing boys. It was almost another ten years before I kissed a boy again. God, mothers have a gift.
Throughout the rest of grammar school, I remember going to Walgreens with my parents and siblings and choosing a box of Valentines. They were always very trendy; Spice Girls, N’Sync, Rugrats, Lizzie McGuire, Lisa Frank (remember that?!), Hello Kitty… you name it. This may be where my love of writing notes started. I could not just sign my name on these fine little Valentines; I had to write individual messages to each, particular person as well. It complicated the whole process when it came time to pass them out in class, but I enjoyed it so much. I found such joy in seeing how someone would react to my message, and I especially loved getting home and anxiously awaiting to see if my crush of the month had remembered to personalize mine as well. (That was a hard no.) And the years I didn’t exchange Valentines with classmates were the years my family would go skiing with family friends in Wisconsin, and we would spend the day on the slopes and eating yummy, festive treats and homemade pizzas.
In high school, Valentine’s Day always brought the infamous carnation sale. Carnations would be on sale for students to purchase before and after school, as well as during lunch hour. On that day, you would try to look your cutest, which for me usually meant swishy pants of some sort – I had something against jeans during that period of my life – and you played it off cool, while secretly hoping some secret admirer would appear. A walk through the hallway meant seeing all the girls twirling their pink and red carnations and wondering if you would get one. After a couple years of no carnations, I decided I would get clever and simply buy one for myself. I totally played it off smooth too, and twirled that flower around in the hallway and placed it purposely across my desk so all could see and wonder who got it for me. And the next year, my girlfriends and I all just decided to buy carnations for each other. I like to think we were doing “Galentine’s Day” before it was an actual thing. Back then, Target certainly didn’t have a line of Galentine décor with cards, banners, plates and props.
Valentine’s Day also always landed around TWIRP, the annual dance where “The Woman Is Required to Pay” as well as do the asking. I dreaded it, as I was not the most forward when it came to boys. I believe I asked a guy to TWIRP once – Brad Bruno. It took all the courage in me to ask him. I was so excited when he said, “Yes,” at the beginning of the day. However, by the end of the day, he changed his mind. He showed up at the dance with Shannon, a tall, blonde girl who perfected the art of flirting at age 12. Each year after that, I either asked guy friends from other schools to go “just as friends” or went with girlfriends instead. No matter, I always had a blast.
College brought Valentine’s Day at an all woman’s college. Miss Tina in the cafeteria would make extra special Valentine cookies, and she would also sneak me a little ball of raw cookie dough. My favorite! (I know it’s bad, but I have been eating it since I was a kid and have yet to get salmonella) My girlfriends and I would also take someone’s car down the main road of South Bend and treat ourselves to Starbuck’s Cinnamon Dolce lattes; it was a splurge on a college student budget. Then, most years, my dateless friends and I would walk to “LaFun” at Notre Dame and get yogurt covered pretzels from the convenience store at the student union. We would just sit and chat and people watch.
My sophomore year, a couple girls and I went Speed Dating at Legends on Notre Dame’s campus. It was a hoot, and I remember it like yesterday. We sat at tables and had two minutes to talk to each guy. When time was up, the guys would move to the next table, and we had to mark on our sheet whether or not we would like to see him again. There were guys at every level of expectations that night; those from the seminary who just wanted to talk about my relationship with God and those who were in grad school truly hoping to find their future wife. Then, there were some like me, just there for fun trying to meet new people and having some laughs along the way. Thank goodness for a little liquid courage beforehand and positive spirit; It was my first taste of the more “adult” dating world. I learned you need take some of it with a grain of salt. I also learned that it isn’t possible to mesh well with everyone. As for our future suitors, well… one of the girls ended up going out with a guy she matched with a couple times.
Senior year of college I was looking forward to my first “somewhat-taken” Valentine’s Day. I guess I didn’t know if I was in a relationship or not, but I had every reason to believe I was. (Come on… who’s been there?) I was headed on a road trip to University of Illinois for Valentine’s Day weekend, but a few days before, I discovered my Valentine had been seeing (aka sleeping with) his neighbor for months. It was a hard blow, and my heart was quite shattered. So instead of gallivanting to Champaign, I spent the weekend with my four roommates doing all the things; crying, drinking wine, sipping Starbucks, watching chick flicks and eating a ridiculous amount of cheese balls. (Gosh, I love the crunch of those things!) Thank God for girlfriends, right?
In 2012, I spent Valentine’s Day in Malaysia; A country where Valentine’s Day is not a thing. I was so excited to receive cards and letters from home, and I hung them on my bedroom’s wall, where I hung all my mail from home. Needless to say, my conservative, Islamic landlord was not on board with Valentine’s Day and removed my Valentines from my wall, never to be seen again. I cried and threw a little bit of a tantrum. So, my roommate and I made cookies and popcorn in our little kitchen and celebrated in our own little way; the only way we could in rural Malaysia. I was particularly grateful that I had my own Valentine that year, in the form of a confidant, friend and roommate.
The next year, soon after my return from Malaysia, I had met a guy while finishing my blog at the local Starbucks. His name was Nick. We had been dating for a couple weeks when I went to Vail for Valentine’s Day weekend to visit my brother who had been living there. My brother and I spent Valentine’s Day sipping fireball from a flask on the chair lift and skiing. It was almost a perfect day; but I ended up wasting time annoyed that I never even got so much as a text from Nick acknowledging Valentine’s Day. I was pissed; I was pissed at him and I was even more pissed at myself for letting him get to me like that. After that experience, I promised myself I would not let a guy, especially one I just started spending time with, get in the way of my good time and positive attitude.
The next few years I celebrated Galentines. One year I went to a chocolate café with my friend Carlie, and another year I made Galentine stationary with my friend Michelle. And, for a few years, I still lived at home and got homemade goodies from my mom & dad. I always went to bed feeling happy and special on Valentine’s Day, even if I was single and my Valentine was not in the form of a love interest. I really looked forward to it.
At the age of 25, I had my first ever Valentine’s Day date with my first official boyfriend. I felt like an ass before the night even started, because I got tipsy at a work event prior, which was held at a tiki themed speakeasy. I grabbed an Uber too late, and the traffic was so bad that I ended up meeting my then boyfriend at his place an hour late. We went for Thai food at a crowded restaurant, and we sat elbow distance from another couple. I remembered feeling a lot of pressure for some reason, but I also remember being so excited about the gift I made for him. I can’t even remember what it was now, but I was pumped! After dinner, he told me he got us tickets to a “show”; a burlesque show. I won’t lie; I had no idea what burlesque meant. All I heard was “show,” so I was looking forward to it. About three minutes into the show, I knew it wasn’t going to be my thing, and I was quite uncomfortable to say the least. I was thankful that I got to experience my first official Valentine’s Day date with someone I admired. However, that was the first time I thought that maybe Valentine’s Day isn’t what it’s all cracked up to be. Isn’t it ironic…
2015 was my first Valentine’s Day in San Diego, and (little did I know) my last Valentine’s Day as a single woman. I was 5 weeks into living in SoCal, and my new friend Ruki and I decided to go to Little Italy for a night of drinks and fun. We put on our best outfits, did our hair and embraced our “dateless” selves; we had an awesome girls’ night. And, coincidentally, we ended up meeting the same group of guys we had met while out the weekend before. We ultimately determined that Valentine’s Day is a great night for single girlfriends to go out, because it’s easy to spot the single group of guys, and vice versa. I also learned that whatever stage you’re at, you just have to own it; and own it with confidence.
By the next Valentine’s Day, I had met my now-husband, John. We had already been dating nine months. I was one month post-ACL surgery and still in a huge, unattractive brace, so he made me his delicious homemade lasagna and we spent the afternoon sipping beers, munching on chips and guacamole and eating lasagna. It was a perfect, sunny day. To top it all off, he wrote me a handwritten, Valentine’s Day card. Our second Valentine’s day was enjoyed with the same, blissful simplicity of our first, and John bought me adorable little ice cream bowls for our favorite evening snack; Tillamook ice cream! The weekend after we enjoyed a trip to visit friends in San Francisco and spent the weekend dressing up in Gatsby attire and making new friends across the Bay Area.
Our third Valentine’s Day was the first and only we celebrated as an engaged couple, anxiously awaiting our future together. We ate Giordano’s pizza that my parents sent on dry ice from Chicago, and he gave me the best Valentine’s surprise ever; I woke up to little notes all around the house. They were hiding everywhere; my toiletry drawer, the snack cabinet, my closet. Each one started with “I love you because…” I still have each and every note.
Looking back, it’s hard to believe how fast time truly passes. This year brought John and I’s fourth Valentine’s Day together, and our first as a married couple. It was a simple and special day, all in the same. I woke up to a beautiful rose bouquet, and wait for it… the Cards Against Humanity Expansion Pack! (I love that game so much) And, like each year before, we exchanged handwritten cards; this year made out to “My Wife” and “My Husband.” We enjoyed Costco lasagna, and we waited for my brother and his girlfriend to arrive from Michigan for their weekend visit with us. Just as with our three Valentine’s Days before, I was happy we commemorated the day and took another simple opportunity to express our love for one another. We say “I love you” each and every day, and we express our appreciation daily. In fact, thanks to the book The Five Love Languages, we continually reference our love tanks being full. However, it is nice to have a day to put a little extra emphasis on it.
To me, Valentine’s Day is about embracing the many different phases of life. Whether I have been a kid celebrating with my parents and classmates, an uncertain teen, a heartbroken college student, a confused and frustrated 20-something year old in limbo, a thriving and confident single, a woman in love or a wife, I have found a way to commemorate February 14th, in both elaborate and simple ways. You do not need permission to honor the day, and you do not need to write it off as a Hallmark holiday either.
No matter my phase of life, I have looked at it as “Invest a Little Something Day.” It’s a day to invest a little something into someone or some relationship in your life; It could be a friend, coworker, partner, sibling, parent, cousin, neighbor, or it could be a boyfriend, girlfriend, husband or wife. Each of us have someone in our life that we can extend a little something to on this day, whether it’s a handwritten note, a homemade batch of cookies or an ice cream bowl. There’s as much joy to be found in the simple things as the elaborate gestures.
And remember, a relationship with yourself is reason enough. Maybe it’s the relationship with yourself that you need to invest in. What do you need to invest in yourself? Do you need alone time? Do you need to buy yourself a carnation? Do you need a little pedicure? Do you want to read a new book? It’s up to you.
Valentine’s Day has meant a lot of different things to me over the course of my life, but in every season, I’ve embraced it and made it special in my own way. I’ve chosen to make it a day that feels just a little brighter and even just a little bit commemorative than February 13th or 15th.
I encourage each of us to embrace the season we are in, even if it means finding one thing to make this day at least a hair of an inch different than the days before and after. Identify that relationship you can pour just a little bit more into on February 14th (and every day after), even if it’s yourself.