Eating lunch at the bar with a friend last week, I asked if he’d decided which of the many girls he’s been pursuing to take out for Valentine’s Day. I find his situation fascinating, and hilarious. How a winter holiday is threatening to turn one of his flings into something weighted down by the scent of romance. That kind of pressure could either be a blessing for a fickle one like him, or a disaster.
He asked me what my plans were, probably finding it just as strange that I’ve had a boyfriend (though not the same one) every V-day for the past 5 years.”I’m not a big Valentine’s person,” I tried to convince him, “It’s just so much pressure and makes everything feel weird and forced.” The bartender looked up. “You,” he proclaimed, “are the perfect woman.”
I could take Valentine’s Day or leave it. This is true, I swear. Unless…
This might get confusing. On one hand I’m a major sucker for mass-marketed holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas, even Saint Patrick’s Day (I once died the snow on our back porch green and convinced my little sister that our house was inhabited by leprechauns). There’s something about getting swept up in the collective spirit of celebration. Homemade holiday cards and cheesy surprises (bathroom sink full of Hershey’s kisses, anyone?) are just another opportunity to get creative and express to those I adore just how much they mean to me.
But I meant what I said to the bartender. Major holidays come with so much baggage (like that Valentine’s Day in the tenth grade when I walked out of class to find my first-boyfriend-ever and then love-of-my-life nuzzling up to my supposedly-best-friend) that there’s just way too much pressure to make things perfect and meet expectations (my own, not to mention a partner’s).
I explained all of this between bites of salad and wholly expected him to agree. Instead, my Buddhist friend decided to hit me with some wisdom.
“Chogyam Trungpa,” he explained (and I’m paraphrasing here), “would say that when we are presented with intense or highly-charged situations, we need to rise to the occasion. Not run away from it. What you are calling ‘pressure’ is an opportunity.” I get it. The commercial powers that be ask us to get all lavish and romantic, and we can then respond by expressing our affections however we think will best do them justice. There’s something sort of unsettling and scary about this (like “what if it’s not good enough” or “what if it’s the wrong thing”) which is always worth exploring. Still, I hate being told what to do and I’d prefer to express my love when and how I’m inspired to, and not on a particular day dead in the center of the most depressing month of the year.
Conclusion: a text from an ex-boyfriend recently pointed out that Valentine’s Day is the only holiday devoted solely to celebrating the way we love. Which is why—like love—it rocks, but also why it—like love—is confusing as all hell. At it’s best V-day is an opportunity to fuel up the creativity and express something special…but this requires, I think, all expectations and strings to be suspended. A holiday devoted to that is a holiday that I can get behind.