Valentine’s Day is around the corner. For the last 2 weeks I have been closing my eyes; enduring the inundation of ads, candy, and flowers that are everywhere; and trying to hold back the hurtful memories of Valentine’s Days that are long in the past. Maybe it’s time to give the memories free reign; keep the good and let the bad ones go.
From grade school on I was one of the girls on the side lines watching the beautiful, popular girls receive what seemed like dozens of cards; while we wished for just one boy to notice us. In 8th grade I really hit the Friend Zone when a male friend came and asked my advice on what to get my best friend for Valentine’s Day. He spread the word and after that my talent for choosing the right gift for the right person was sought out by all my male friends. I always did my best, all the time wishing that just one of them would look at me as something other than their buddy. Or think about giving their friend something too. Valentine’s Day is about more than romantic love.
Freshman year in college, a vase full of red and white carnations was delivered to my dorm room. I was astonished and delighted. Who could it be from? I didn’t have a boyfriend. I wasn’t expecting anything. I opened the card and it was from my pen pal of the last 3 years, who lived in Houston, TX. I had met him when he and his friend were back packing in Europe and I was with my girl scout troop. “Too my good friend and confident”, the card read. I called to thank him and he apologized that he couldn’t afford roses. I told him that I didn’t really like commercial roses (they have been over-bred) and that I loved carnations. “You got it just right” I told him.
Four years later I had a boyfriend and got earrings and we went to dinner. The following year I got flowers from my now fiancé. The next year we were married and I asked what he wanted to do for Valentine’s Day and he said “I actually think Valentine’s Day is stupid. You should show someone you love them all year round not just on one day.” I agreed but said that there was nothing wrong with having a day to celebrate in a special way. He said “Isn’t that what our wedding anniversary is for?” I brought up the fact that Valentine’s Day wasn’t just about romantic love and he countered saying that I could do what I liked with other people but he didn’t want to celebrate it between us. “What about the last 2 years?” I asked. “We weren’t married then” he said “you would have thought I was strange if I had told you how I felt.” Now I thought “What else have you kept hidden about your true feelings?” Then for the first time, I heard what I came to hear often over the next 13 years “This is how I feel. If you love me you wouldn’t ask me to change.”
Six years later I was pregnant with our second son, working in the forestry department at Mississippi State where he was a professor. I got a call to come to the office and there were a dozen red roses; from my husband. I took them back to my office and sat there looking at them. I wasn’t filled with delight. I didn’t believe he had had a change of heart. Just last week he was making disparaging remarks about the holiday, so why in the world was he sending me flowers. More people than usual dropped by my office to say “hi” and most remarked on the lovely flowers. I was suspicious of all this attention.
When we got home from work I asked him why he sent me flowers for Valentine’s Day. He said that Alex, Don and Steve had been on him for not getting me anything, especially when I was pregnant. Then I asked him why roses when he knew that I didn’t particularly like them.
He said “I know you’ve said that but you should like them, all women like red roses.”
I remember looking at him for a moment and then saying “So you sent me flowers to get your friends off your back, you had them delivered to work so that they would all know, and you sent what they expected you to send not what you knew I liked.”
“Yes” he said “that’s right.” “You don’t see anything wrong with that?” I asked.
“No. Why are you upset? You got flowers for Valentine’s Day. There’s just no pleasing you.” He replied.
I shook my head and said “Don’t ever send me flowers or buy me a present unless YOU are the one that wants me to have it.”
The next day I took the flowers over to the nursing home and donated them. Throwing them in trash would have given me momentary satisfaction but I thought, it wasn’t the flowers fault and they could brighten someone’s life even if they couldn’t brighten mine.
Five years later, we were divorced (you probably saw that coming).
Two years later I started dating someone in the fall. At the end of January he said that we had to break up until after Valentine’s Day. He made it a point not to be going out with anyone at that time because women got the wrong idea about things. He’d call me around the first of March. Seriously? Don’t bother, because I won’t be answering. As it turns out, he isn’t the only guy to have the same rule.
This weekend I hosted two musicians who were in town to play in the Spring Awakening concert with the Savannah Philharmonic. They were both talking about what they had planned to get or do for their respective mates for Valentine’s Day. I was suggesting a couple stores that they could try if they wanted to go shopping and I mentioned that my ex-husband had thought the whole holiday was silly. We all agreed that it’s very commercialized but really there’s nothing wrong with having a day to show love and affection for people that are in your life in whatever capacity.
One went out for a few things and came back with flowers to thank me for my hospitality. So cute in their red vase with brightly colored petals. A few hours later, the other one went out to get some supplies for his drive back to Atlanta that night. I went into the kitchen to start dinner and there were chocolates, a card, and a bottle of wine sitting on the counter. How sweet and kind they both were. This is the kind of thing that I do for other people else but it never occurs to me that I might be the reciever. How fun it was.
As I looked at my little gathering of Valentine’s thanks I thought “This, Monique, is the memory that you need to carry in your heart. And the one of Dan’s flowers from college days. Let the bad ones go. Hold to the ones that bring joy.” And so I will.