I once met a man who claimed to be not the least bit worried, ambivalent or spooked by Valentine's Day. Never having met a man so self-assured before when it came to the single most anxiety-inducing day of the year for most men, I asked him his secret. Turned out he was a priest in plainclothes. I felt both cheated and vindicated and left him pondering the question, "What would Jesus do to impress his love on such a day." I suspect the answer may involve a miracle. Nice work if you can get it.
Other than shepherd in wolf's clothing, I've never met any other man who wouldn't admit to being just the tiniest bit ambivalent about Valentine's Day. Straight, gay, happily ensconced in a long term relationship or on the prowl, VD is a time to wallow in the grab bag of mixed emotions, of highs and lows, of the slides up and down and in between, that are affairs of the heart. Amorè, dude.
Love hurts. Love is fickle. The path of true love, the shortest distance between two people, is never a straight line. The course of love is very much one Zippy the Dog follows through Whistler Village. A sniff here, a sniff there, something tickling that big nose of his and catching his attention from far away. Sooner or later, generally later, the rocky shoals of temptation, the paths of least resistance, give way and we make it to a comfortable destination. A secure port in a stormy sea navigated with luck, not skill.
VD was, for me, never easy. Somehow, organically, a twisted bit of rogue DNA made me prone to affairs of the heart at a tender age. Had the words sexual and harassment been linked during my childhood as they are today, I would have grown to maturity in a maximum security home for romantic delinquents.
I rarely met a five year old girl I didn't love. Each day, at nap time, I would jealously guard the spots on either side of me. The right side - the side of my heart - was for my amour du jour; the left, for my amour du tomorrow. I tossed and turned nap time away, fickle but evenhanded. I honestly believed I had a heart big enough for every girl in my class. I played the field long before I knew of the game, let alone the rules.
Using the precision of mathematics, a pool of sustainable self-delusion and a shamelessness that knew no bounds, I rose to the challenge each February 14th. The challenge being to leave every single girl in my class with the distinct impression that she was more special to me than the others. The only one who ever caught on was the teacher, herself flattered by my attentions and amused at my juggling act.
Only once did I falter. Hamstrung somehow with too many duplicate Valentines in the box my mother bought for me, I miscalculated and gave two girls who were friends the same Valentine... with the same hopeful message. It could have been worse. I could have mixed them up and given them the one with the wrong name. It was a watershed miscalculation. I'd either have to stop playing the field or at least narrow it down to a manageable number.
I couldn't keep this level of romance up. I was living, even then, unsustainably. My denouement denoued shortly thereafter. Following an emotional hurricane, culminating in the breaking of my engagement at the age of 7, I swore off girls, repressed any thoughts of love and Valentines, and threw myself, body and soul, into long division.
The precision of math comforted me. There were no quirks, no foibles, no passing fancies, just the occasional infinitely repeating remainder to make me wonder about the mysteries of the universe. And of course, enigmatic Pi, the Holy Grail of the numerate. Unknowable, unattainable, Pi became the metaphor of romantic love throughout the difficult adolescent years, 7 to 22 in my case.
But it couldn't last. The passion of my youth and the hormones of adolescence, helped along greatly by the sexual revolution, spun me firmly into the camp of love once again. On reflection, love may be too Victorian a word for what went on during those years. Romantic love was largely replaced by sexual gymnastics, often fueled by illegal substances, anonymity and group dynamics. It may have been love but it surely wasn't anything you could capture in a Valentine. I'm sure those were rocky years for Hallmark.
Age, and the spectre of social diseases that eat penicillin like steroids, fortunately conspired to put an end to that lustful repast. Lust, like leisure suits, were confined to the back of our collective closet. Romantic love found root in the conservative backlash of the '80s. But Valentine's Day never got any easier.
Valentine's Day will never get any easier. It carries with it a performance pressure that guarantees eventual failure. If divine intervention strikes and a brilliant assemblage of words, gifts and atmosphere converge to form an indelible love loop in the romantic memory of your heart, where do you go from there? What can you do that's better than you've done in the past?
Valentine's Day, like Paul McCartney's music, just proves God only gives everyone a limited number of good ideas. Eventually, your number's up. You're reduced to chocolate, flowers, sappy cards and dinner at some overpriced restaurant pushing oysters on the half shell as the Lover's Special.
If you're a hopeless romantic, you might drift through life avoiding this uncomfortable reality by trading utility vehicles for little red sports cars, old wives for new. Start the cycle all over again and use the same ideas, worry like hell that sooner or later, you'll run out of not only ideas but someone to reprise them on.
Or, if you're lucky, you might find your Perfect Partner. If you do, every day is Valentine's Day and February 14th is just the middle of the shortest month of the year. My Perfect Partner and I will celebrate tonight. We'll remember romantic VD's past, eat something chocolate - not because it's Valentine's Day, but because it's one of our basic food groups - and do something wild, crazy and unexpected. Assuming, that is, one of us can think of something between now and then we haven't done before and can stay awake to do it. Not that there's much pressure. The warm glow of each other's company is the essence of mature love.
I think I read that on a Valentine's Day card.