My Scrawny Valentine

valentines dayValentine’s Day is quickly approaching. It is the time of the year when we are bombarded with all things love related. Personally, it is not one of my favorite holidays. A brief examination of the roots and origin of St. Valentine’s Day paints a very different picture than the one we are all familiar with. History aside, my apathy for this holiday dates back to my elementary school days and the celebrations that took place in the classroom.

Each year it was mandatory for the entire class to pass out valentines to one another. Even as a child, I was confused by the forced nature of the exchange. The only way to avoid it was if you were lucky enough to be home sick on that day. Quite honestly, there were many kids that I would rather throw sand from the sandbox on than give them a token of my love, affection, or like for that matter. There were plenty of “be mine” cards, but none that adequately expressed how I really felt toward some of my classmates.

I was a tomboy, slight in stature, not very popular, and suffered my fair share of bullying because of it. Being subjected to needless teasing, ridicule, and trauma at the hands of our school mates is an activity that is as old as time. I was tough, but would be lying if I said I was unaffected by it all. My name was a source of constant material for ridicule.

Thanks to some marketing genius at Proctor and Gamble, my name became synonymous with greasy, dirty dishes. I heard the sentence “Do you take grease out of my way?” more times than I can count during the course of my day. The ability to create an insult by rhyming a name was a favorite of my peers as well. Lawn. Fawn. Yawn. Pretty harmless. However, the one that stuck was Scrawny Dawny. Yep. Which someone of high social standing morphed in to Scrawny Buckets. This was the one that stuck.

My lack of enthusiasm for Valentine’s Day grew with every card addressed to scrawny buckets I found on my desk. What the hell was a scrawny bucket? It did not matter then. What mattered was this nick name confirmed every insecurity I had about myself. I felt weak, ugly, and different. The conclusions children reach about themselves are often influenced by how others see them. Kids lack the ability to separate the truth from fiction.

The truth was I could have taken any of them down, despite my small frame, at the drop of a hat. It was one of the few benefits I failed to fully appreciate as a young tomboy. My adult brain is capable of knowing this upon reflection, but at the time, I lacked the reasoning to come to this conclusion. Now, I find humor in the lack of creativity from these classmates, but at the time it was not at all funny.  Fortunately my self-esteem has improved substantially from when I was nine.

It seemed even more insulting that on this day the teachers had no clue what was going on. This was going on right under their noses as they served cookies and punch in honor of love and friendship. There was no remedy for the covert taunting taking place. The quickest way to invite an escalation of the bullying was to involve the teacher by tattling. Not much has changed on that front. Offering candy and refreshments did little to compensate for the overall discomfort and inadequacy I felt at the time.

I remember feeling conflicted with the messages of Valentine’s Day from a very early age. Shouldn’t showing love be a daily goal? If someone is important to you, why wait to tell them or do something special to let them know you care? In addition to the questions, I felt sorry for those who were without an object of their affection. I was oddly empathetic as a child. I am still that same person. I root for underdogs and do my best to make everyone feel comfortable and important, because they are.

Additionally, I had a keen awareness of the commercial and financial windfall for florists, chocolatiers, and especially jewelers. Valentine’s Day is the Superbowl of Love and is an extremely lucrative time for those who have skin in the love game. Wait, that sounded bad, never mind. I have nothing against those who go all out on February 14th, nor do I question their understanding of what the day means for them. To each their own.

It is just that the idea of pulling out all the stops one day a year seemed disingenuous to me. I am often called the Valentine’s Day version of Scrooge because life has taught me there are many instances where this seemingly innocuous day can go sideways. Underneath the surface of it all, I see many who end up feeling terrible, heartbroken, or sad when February rolls around.

As I matured into adolescence, my awareness of how disappointed people become when high expectations collided with lackluster performance. As an adult, I view the day as one more example of how commercialism has invaded our minds and purses at the expense of our heart and soul. Not everyone is a fan. Consider these five things you didn’t know about Valentine’s Day. Given its roots, it is also a reminder of how women have been historically marginalized and mistreated for the sake of religion. (note to self: file under topics to revisit that requires a separate blog post.)

It may seem harsh to those who view this as a nothing more than a harmless holiday filled with candy and love, but it is the truth. Many of our single friends absolutely detest this day and all it symbolizes. In many ways it promotes the illusion that unless you are coupled in some way, something is amiss. The opportunity to judge ourselves, and others, based on whether or not someone finds you worthy of their time or attention is present and often magnified on this day in particular.

My wife and I do not celebrate the holiday. It may sound rebellious, but our decision is not rooted in rebellion, feminist anger, or avoiding memories of childhood trauma. It is simply because we choose to express our love for one another throughout the year. We also believe that doing things rooted in expectation is not authentic when it comes to love. We spent many years operating with that mentality and it is no longer something we choose to accept as part of our relationship.

How many out there have been in a situation when Valentine’s Day happened to fall right in the middle of a rocky time in a relationship? When this happens, the absolute last thing you feel like doing is giving a spouse or partner, flowers, chocolate or a romantic evening out. This is the reality for many who are in relationships. It is ok. Rough spots happen for everyone but that is not the point here. Looking at the details can distract us from the big picture.

Remaining mindful of the importance of knowing how to express love for one another organically, frequently, and without expectation is the point, regardless of whether or not we are in a committed relationship. Love is simple yet often many struggle to understand the true nature of love. Love is a free gift that is intended to be shared with every person we encounter.

Even as a child, my wish has always been for everyone to love one another, without condition or expecting anything in return. Deep down, I believe this is our collective secret wish. I encounter many who are not on board with this plan. By putting my life out there, I know I invite critics who feel compelled to share their “love” and concern for how my actions, sins, and choices are hurting my children and my relationship with God.

Fortunately my reaction to those who condemn my lifestyle looks nothing like my reaction to the mean cards I received as a kid. Now, I reject the name calling because I learned and understand I am in charge of how I feel about me. My confidence in who I am is not dependent upon what other people say or think. I certainly is not contingent upon whether or not I receive flowers on Valentine’s Day. I am grateful to have learned this very freeing lesson.

I view the school yard bullying as preparation for the path my life has taken. Living authentically does not depend on whether or not someone is inclined to accept my words or to change their thinking about homosexuality. I am grateful for the words of these strangers because they motivate me to continue spreading my message of peace and love in the world. When we make the conscious decision to love in every situation, we choose peace, which outlives the prettiest of flowers and tastes sweeter than any chocolate. By the way, thought I would include a link one of our favorite sources for chocolate, since the mere mention of if has made me want some. Sappho Chocolates.