The moment the calendar page flipped to February my friend was already thinking about it.
"Ugh," my friend sighed, looking at the blank 14th square in her calendar. "I just can't be disappointed again on Valentine's Day."
This was a story I had heard on repeat. Her boyfriend, so in love with her as he might be, had managed to let her down on one too many Valentine's Days. One year, his grand gesture was taking it upon himself to order Chinese delivery when he came home from work -- sans card, chocolate, flowers (not to mention a real gift) -- when he discovered she hadn't cooked dinner as usual.
"You know what?" my friend started, "maybe this is the year I take charge. Maybe I'll do Valentine's Day."
"I'll plan something special in advance, so I'm guaranteed to have something romantic going on," she continued, "And then I won't spend the next 14 days prematurely pissed off. And I won't be let down."
"Oh no, no, no, no," I replied. "This holiday is about you. He's supposed to plan something fun for you. You're not planning Valentine's Day."
Before I had the chance for conscious thought to kick in, I had unleashed a sentiment wholly incongruent with the feminist I thought I was.
What exactly was I saying here? That Valentine's Day -- a day I associate with showing love and adoration -- is a one-way street? That V-Day is a man's job? What kind of hetero-normative Hallmark crap was I spewing?
Certainly, I have showered men with love on Valentine's Day -- both the chocolate and card kind and the sweet mushy emotional variety. I don't actually think Valentine's Day is a unilateral event.
But despite my truly egalitarian belief about the exchange of gifts and attention, I find that I can't effectively or honestly challenge my advice to my friend.
I do believe the onus is on men for Valentine's Day.
There, I said it. Let my feminist self cringe. I can't help it.
There's something about the nature of the holiday -- perhaps thanks to those pesky chocolate ads and Kay Jeweler commercials -- that has imprinted in my brain the notion that, at the very least, men have an obligation to make Valentine's Day special.
Maybe I'm copping out here. Maybe my feminist foundation is cracking and crumbling in disbelief and disgust as I type this. I can see my favorite Women's Studies professor rolling her eyes -- hands on her hips, shaking her head. After four years under her esteemed tutelage, this is what results!?
Should I change my attitude? Can I work through the shame I feel over this disconnect between my feminism and this admittedly biased feeling I have about Valentine's Day?
I took some time to stew, letting all of this marinate -- thinking hard about the meaning I assign to Valentine's Day, about my friend's (rocky) relationship and my brand of feminism.
And here's what I've settled on: let's just all do Valentine's Day our own way. Some of us, like me, will have to accept that we simply want our partners to make the V-Day plans, despite our interest in participating equally in the gift- or affection-giving. Others, like my friend, can go ahead and accept the nature of her relationship and plan the day for herself. And still others can continue to just pretend Valentine's Day doesn't exist (you know who you are). Most importantly, we all just need to face and embrace our feelings about the holiday, and openly communicate our expectations -- to ourselves and our partners. Let's be real, a holiday based on love shouldn't be so full of angst anyway.
So this Valentine's Day, give yourself permission to do the holiday your way. You should get what you want.
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