In my earliest Valentine’s Day memories, I exchanged cards with all of my second-grade classmates. Never mind that we were all girls! In those days, it was possible to buy a booklet of inexpensive cards with perforated edges at Lamston’s (long out of business). I loved gorging on chocolate hearts and mini-pastel sugar hearts with messages written in red. I didn’t even mind suffering a stomach ache from all of the candy.
By the time I hit puberty, Valentines’ Day filled me with longing. I didn’t care about the candy any more. I wanted a boyfriend and real kisses instead of the kind wrapped in red foil.
At that point the only Valentines I received were from my parents. (So uncool!) I looked enviously at older girls and women who received bouquets of red roses and silver trinkets from boyfriends and husbands. My parents always made a big deal out of exchanging sentimental cards. My mom always received long-stemmed roses with mushy cards covered with hearts. When oh when would it ever be my turn?
For my seemingly endless teens and twenties I wondered if I would find my forever Valentine. During those lonely years, Valentine’s Day seemed like another one of those Hallmark holidays (along with Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Eve), when I was an outsider (and outlier) with a miniscule family and zero romance. I watched enviously as dozens of red roses and colorful flower arrangements were delivered to different tenants in my building and other female co-workers in my office. Every February 14th, I’d silently lament: What about me?
On the brink of turning 30, I met Howard on a semi-blind date. Howard had gone out with a friend of mine who was getting divorced and not ready for another relationship. Not wanting a mensch to go to waste, my friend suggested “the perfect girl for him; petite and busty, whose claim to fame was painting fluffy clouds on the ceiling of a child’s room in the movie Kramer vs. Kramer. I was second choice: “too tall and too intellectual, but maybe we could share some laughs.” Howard decided my friend was “flaky,” and preferred to meet the woman who “was not his type.”
We met for the first time at a holiday party I gave for all my single friends, their ex boyfriends and mine, in the hopes that mixing and matching everyone’s discards might ignite a new romance. Into this dubious mix I invited Howard (whom I had not yet met, because we were both too busy with work). My intended date for the party stood me up, which turned out to be a blessing.
Now that I’ve been married for over 30 years, my perspective on Valentine’s Day is completely different from when I was a young woman. Howard and I always exchange two or three cards (numbered to be read in particular order) and he always brings me red roses. No longer do I look enviously at the flowers delivered to other women in my building. I have evolved from an outsider looking in to an insider looking out. Valentine’s Day is lovely, but with the passing years February 14th has gained new meaning. Hearts and flowers are nice, but cuddling up with my best friend 365 days a year is what matters most to me. Celebrating Valentine’s Day is just a reminder of all the ups and downs Howard and I have shared together over a lifetime.
When I throw out the dead roses and put away my 2019 Valentine cards a week later, I don’t feel sad. I know there will be fresh flowers and new cards next year.