A few years ago, my boyfriend and I Acknowledged Valentine’s Day. And before you skip past my deliberate capitalisation of the event and miss its monumental implications, let me tell you this: we were the sort of couple who had relegated terms of affection to acronyms and shorthand, declaring magnanimously, but not too frequently, LY, lest the expanded version, I love you, placed shackles upon our unconventional souls and tainted the purity of our connection. Which, actually, words often do. But anyway.
I use a sarcastic tone in the telling of this because I am a hypocrite, but I liked it. It was who we were, together. He was M, I was D, and we L(oved)E(ach)O(ther). We still do. But for all the love that was never in doubt, we quite categorically did not acknowledge Valentine’s Day. We didn’t need to. We LEO every moment (we broke life down in moments, not hours or days) and what was V-Day, anyway, but a grossly commercialised blah-blah designed to create feelings of inadequacy in the non-conventionally-coupled and paper over the cracks of millions of broken relationships with loveheart-adorned sticky tape while generating profits for the cold-hearted capitalists who care nothing for our actual happiness, which, no matter how nicely your wrap it, will never be found in a box of chocolates and a mass-produced card stating, boldly or calligraphically, “Be my Valentine”. FFS.
Sometime in the late afternoon of that particular Valentine’s Day, which I was actively Not Acknowledging and very deliberately expecting nothing, I received two photographs on Skype. (M and I were living in separate countries at the time, and conducting our non-shackled relationship entirely over Skype.) I opened them up and I cried and I had to sit down for a moment, because nothing in all the years I had known M had prepared me for this. Because the man who had once felt the urge to buy me flowers and found it so alarming that he practically threw them at me, had on this day gone to his local café and spelled HAPPY VDAY DAF in sugar sachets. And got the barista to draw a heart in his latte. Because we are all hypocrites. All of us.
So I cried, and typed WTF into our Skype chat, and waited for the dizziness to pass, and then I drew a little V-Day themed comic strip, acknowledging our acknowledgement of the occasion, and admitting defeat. I took a photo of it, and sent it on its way, and imagined the ping on M’s side of the connection, imagined how he reached for the mouse and clicked on the image to enlarge it, how he looked at it and smiled and looked away and looked back and smiled again, how his shoulders sagged with something like relief, a momentary letting down of his guard, and how he felt, how much time he gave himself to feel, how long he allowed that moment to last, before unfolding his long body slowly out of his chair and walking away, into the next moment, into yet another day where there were things to be done, just another day in the month of February, as significant and insignificant as any other.
I imagined all this, because we never talked about it. We never said, hey, that was weird. We never said, perhaps we’re a little more conventional than we’d like to think; perhaps we’re defining ourselves more than we know with our lack of definitions. We never said, perhaps all those acronyms aren’t really protecting us from anything, after all. We never said, fuck it, I fucking love you on Valentine’s Day, you complete fucking hypocrite that I chose for the love of my life. We never said. And I can only imagine what might have happened if we had. What sort of story I’d be writing now, and whether I’d be looking forward to tomorrow, to a Valentine’s Day that I was free to acknowledge, albeit with a knowing smirk to indicate my awareness of the grossly commercialised blah-blah. I’ll never know what might have happened if M and I had been brave enough to step through the door we’d opened on that day, because, just like that time with the flowers, many years before, we pretended it hadn’t happened at all. And it didn’t protect us, in the end. In the end, things happen, whether we acknowledge them or not.
We are all hypocrites. And not saying I love you because it’s Valentine’s Day is just as hypocritical as only saying it for the occasion. Not giving a card when you might want to just as empty of truth as giving it because it is expected. Not spelling your feelings out in sugar sachets, not buying flowers when you have the urge, not expecting anything, not crying when you get it, not letting your shoulders sag with relief when you take a risk and it’s reciprocated, not acknowledging your most basic, most conventional need to be loved, fully and openly and in so many words, on any day and every day – none of it will protect you, in the end. Squeezing your feelings into acronyms does not make them any smaller, and not speaking of things because they are implied has implications of its own. And admitting to all of this doesn’t make me any less of a hypocrite because, I can promise you, if anyone asks me, even now, how I feel about Valentine’s Day, I will assume a carefully cynical expression, half-amused and half-offended at even being asked, and dismiss it as grossly commercialised blah-blah that I have no need of. And I will not say how the man who was once the love of my life is now someone whose everyday life I can only imagine, and how little it bothers me, and how strange that feels, how it is both sad and liberating. I will not say how I wish that my own everyday life was such that I could be looking forward to tomorrow as a day that I had expectations of, or that I were in a position to climb to the highest peak of this island I live on and scream, fuck it, I fucking love you on Valentine’s Day, and on any other fucking day in February or any month you care to name, for everyone to hear. I will not say how my careful cynicism did not protect me from feeling this way again, or from making the same mistakes. I will not say how my unconventional soul longs to be tainted by the most conventional simplicity of a love that’s so clearly defined, so straightforward as to be spoken of openly, in all the words. I will not say any of this, and tomorrow will be yet another Valentine’s Day that I do not acknowledge.
But maybe next year, maybe next time. Maybe next time someone brings me flowers, I will graciously, gratefully accept; maybe I’ll let him see me cry. Maybe I will step through the next door that is opened to me; maybe the next time I find myself in a position to spell my feelings out for all to see, I will. Maybe I’ll bring someone flowers myself, or a card with lovehearts on, on Valentine’s Day. Not tomorrow, but maybe next year, I won’t give a shit about being unconventional, only about being happy. In whatever wrapping it comes.
Happy Valentine’s Day. Whether you choose to acknowledge it or not.
And because I am not immune to the grossly commercialised capitalist blah-blah, let me just mention in passing that both the above books are love stories. And available to buy on Amazon, if the urge takes you. On this or any other day.