Stupid Cupid, stop picking on me! Or should I say, stupid Hallmark. You invented this dumb holiday, took a perfectly boring feast day of a perfectly obscure saint (that’s Valentine) and turned it into an opportunity to sell cards. Lots of cards. Some funny, some sentimental, some bizarre and some that do nothing more than inspire breakups. (“Um, Greg, there was an anthropomorphic hippo on the back flap — Just what are you trying to say?”) It has never been scientifically measured, but I venture to say Valentine’s Day, with its silly cards, causes more anxiety and bitterness than it does love. Valentine’s Day? Humbug.
Valentine’s Day a humbug, Eric? Surely you can’t mean that. Surely you can’t hate a day with such a noble purpose. To you, I say, keep Valentine’s Day in your way, reader, and I will keep it in mine. And that’s just the problem, isn’t it? How does one observe Valentine’s Day when it seems specifically marketed towards couples? Love has a thousand meanings, so today of all days there should be as many ways for a single guy to show it. What’s sad is that most of us who aren’t a yin to someone’s yang, who aren’t part of a couple or a freaky menage, probably won’t be doing anything special.
When I was a kid, Valentine’s Day was one of my favorite holidays. From kindergarten to fifth grade, I gave a card to everyone in my class every Valentine’s Day. It was standard practice; everyone did it. We didn’t dare discriminate, lest someone have their feelings hurt. I gave cards to the popular, the smelly, the pony-obsessed, the scratchers and the biters. I even gave one to the girl with the eye patch, whom everyone teased mercilessly. (Reader, have no pity. That ugly duckling grew up into quite the swan.) And of course, I gave valentines to the other boys. We all did. All in all it was an innocent time for children, before the onset of the dreaded puberty. Love was as sweet as candy stuffed in little envelopes you yourself licked closed. Love was as simple as not leaving anyone out.
Then Love had to go and make things so complicated, as we discovered our peculiar set of interlocking parts. Suddenly, everyone wanted to touch everyone else’s junk. People got together, people broke apart. And when relationships ended, bad things happened. We knew this was serious business. The word love took on such a weight that only the truly reckless used it lightly. The truly stupid put it in the senior pages of their high school yearbooks, forever immortalizing relationships that dissolved the day after the book went to print.
Love became a scary word when we learned its power and had to renegotiate the terms of its use. We didn’t say it unless we really meant it, or when it was obvious we were exaggerating. (“I love it when TD has Asian Sesame Ginger!”) Sure, I loved my family and would say it freely. I even loved my friends, but only with considerable trepidation did I manage to tell a few of them. What if they got the wrong idea? Just what does anyone mean by, “I love you”?
American youth, when we want don’t want to commit to too much, use like. The beauty of like is that it is used so often that its meaning is always ambiguous. We use it to take up space in our sentences, like, when we’re, like, thinking of things to say. We use it to soften a request, as in “Could you, like, turn the music down?” In matters of affection, “like” is all-purpose. “I like you,” can mean 100 things. “I love you,” however, means about three. Kids learn to express the amplitude of their affections in degrees of like. (“Do you like like him?” “No, I just like him. I don’t like like him.” Yeah right.)
If we were back in kindergarten, no one would be complaining about Valentine’s Day. We’d all go out to Roomba for dessert, not merely those lucky dyads, and we’d sit at one huge table. It would take some wrangling, but everyone would go to bed with everyone else at the end. No one would feel left out, not even the girl with the eye patch. Utopia. What’s that? Not a good plan, you say? We can’t all pretend to like each other anymore? Potential for disease? Noted. Hum — well, how about we take the opportunity today to celebrate Love in its many forms — friendship love, erotic love, platonic love, compassion, infatuation. You like your iPod, you like like that boy in section, you love your Mom. Give ’em all a valentine. They’ll thank you for it. Well, maybe not your iPod.
EE ? JLM