Shopping for a romantic card is new for me. There are entire sections in Atticus, racks of greeting cards labeled “love” or “relationship,” dangerously close to the “anniversary” and “new baby” cards. I avoid making eye contact with the smiling mama bears and focus on the array of neon dinosaurs, cartoon pizzas and puppies in front of me. The taglines range from silly and adorable to intensely romantic.
I love you more than there are stars in the ocean on a summer’s night.
I want a pizza you!
I didn’t believe in soulmates until I met you.
You’re my otter half.
None of them feel right, and although some make me smile, others make me recoil instinctively. A card toward the bottom catches my eye, a slogan adorned with a pastel blue toilet: “Sorry, I’ve been shitty.” That feels a little too honest.
I dig through a plastic bin of discount cards, and I think about the cards that nobody buys, the occasions nobody at Yale must celebrate. Many of them are outdated, hyper-gendered: “Girls’ night out!” or “Happy Birthday, Princess!” There are many anniversary cards in the box, and one street-art style Hanukkah card.
There are only women shopping in the cards section today. I try not to think about that.
I pick one, not because it’s the most beautiful or the closest to what I feel, but because it makes me smile. A watercolor gray owl, clutching a fake arrow to his chest while he swoons. “You take my breath away!” A little dark? Perhaps. But at least it feels better than the sickly sweet cactus next to him, assuring me that it’s still stuck on me. The pink and red cards are reeking with insecurity, with hope, with the tiny voice that says “Ah, yes, maybe this time we got it right. Let us show the lover we care by presenting them a physical token of affection.”
Love letters (and cards) are a strange concept, because we’re supposed to compose beautiful expressions of how we feel, seal them in a paper envelope, and never look at them again. Sometimes I want to make copies of the letters I write, so I can have them to look back on. Both to remember the person, but also to remember how I used to feel. Because feelings change, love changes, and the love you felt six weeks ago won’t be the love that you feel tomorrow.
I buy my card at the back cashier, and the woman rings me up without a word. I stare at the basket of activist buttons, trying not to make eye contact. Does she think I’m just another lovestruck college kid, blindly chasing after inevitable heartbreak? Am I just contributing to a capitalist perversion of love? I think most people have succumbed and bought a romantic card at some point. This probably won’t be the last time I steal furtively in and out of Atticus to spend a large cappuchino’s worth on a cheesy card. There’s beauty in the hopefulness. And a little bit of love too.
Abby Lee | firstname.lastname@example.org