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The Valentine’s Day Grinch

Published in ChicagoNow, February 11, 2016

How should a man who just broke up with his husband of 10 years celebrate Valentine’s Day? What should a woman do when her boyfriend is participating in a triathlon on Valentine’s weekend, spoiling the romantic dinner she had anticipated? How should a mother handle her second-grade son wanting to create handmade valentines for all of his classmates when they may not all reciprocate? Talk about first world problems.

These burning issues appeared in last Sunday’s New York Times Style Section, along with countless ads for jewelry and other romantic gifts. The advice columnist answered each of these questions seriously, using far too much verbiage and ignoring the true issue. Valentine’s Day can be a day of great misery for those disappointed by a lack of “love” in their lives, and has largely become a commercial holiday.

Where did this holiday come from and who on earth is Saint Valentine? The Catholic Church recognizes three Saint Valentines, all of whom were martyred before the middle ages for being loving people. As with many holidays, however, Valentine’s Day probably had its origins in a pagan fertility festival celebrated in mid-February and the church may have replaced it with Saint Valentine’s feast day. At any rate, the holiday is really old and became associated with sending missives of love as far back as the 1700s in America. Of course, someone saw the opportunity to make things easier for folks and also make money, and the Valentine’s Day card industry was born.

Pardon my abbreviated history of this holiday, but here we are in 2016 and cards are no longer good enough. We need flowers, extravagant jewelry, sexy sleepwear, and expensive evenings out in restaurants to express our love these days. After flipping through the newspaper pages featuring purses by Coach, Versace, Ralph Lauren, and Gucci, gold bracelets by Yurman, huge rings by Harry Winston, and Dior shoes with five-inch heels, I noticed The Social Q’s advice column by Philip Galanes, right next to a huge ad for Louis Vuitton. Since there was no way I was likely to receive any of the items in the ads, nor would I ever want any of these things, I decided to check out his advice for people having a hard time with Valentine’s Day.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a total Grinch. I get a card for my husband and write him a loving note. I send my grandkids valentines. But I feel compelled to write my own advice for the folks who wrote seeking help for their huge Valentine’s Day disappointments.

To the 40-year-old man whose marriage had just ended, leaving him with no plans to celebrate the holiday: I’m sorry for the pain you are feeling over the end of your marriage. But lots of folks don’t have plans for February 14. It’s just a Hallmark holiday, so please don’t let one day make you feel sadder than you already do about your situation.

To the woman whose boyfriend is running in the race: OMG, grow up. Tell yourself how lucky you are, unlike the man in the first letter, to have someone special in your life now. Do you really need a romantic dinner to validate your love? If the answer is yes, maybe rethink this relationship.

To the mother of the second grader making valentines for his entire class: I can’t believe there are any schools that permit children to bring valentines for friends only. Generally, it’s “bring one for every child or don’t bring any”. And these cards are usually not addressed to specific children. Rather, the teacher puts them randomly in each child’s valentine holder. This is fair and very PC, but it also makes me wonder, why even bother. I know some parents think it’s unfair, but the preschool I directed for many years banned commercial valentines. The kids just make one to take home to their families, and that makes perfect sense to them.

Sometimes Valentine’s Day can be totally precious. The photo at the top of this post is my granddaughter with her younger brother and her not-so-secret admirer, who happens to be her brother’s best friend. He wanted to give her flowers, and she was pretty pleased. No need for a fancy dinner or jewelry in a box from Tiffany’s. At least not yet. Hopefully never. Guess I am a bit of a Grinch about this holiday.

by Laurie Levy
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