I know Valentine's Day is a silly greeting card holiday that shouldn't really matter to me -- and yet, it does. As a single woman, all the hearts and flowers can be a painful reminder of what I don't have. As a divorced woman, they can be an even more painful reminder of what once was.
Our first Valentine's Day in 2004 was incredible. We had only been dating for six months when he surprised me with a trip to Boston and a weekend at an exquisite boutique hotel in historic Beacon Hill. Our room had a fireplace, a chaise lounge, and a marble bathroom complete with his-and-hers bathrobes. We ordered room service and had chocolate-covered strawberries and champagne. It was totally cliché, but I was in heaven.
The Valentine's Days that came after that weren't quite so extravagant, but they were always lovely. We'd usually plan a nice evening out with dinner and tickets to a concert or a play, exchanging cards in which he'd written something exceedingly romantic. He had a knack for making all holidays special, but Valentine's Day was especially sweet because it was a celebration of us, of our relationship and our love.
The first Valentine's Day after our abrupt separation was rough. It had been merely seven months since I discovered his affair, and already, he was jetting off to Puerto Rico to celebrate the holiday with his girlfriend. I pictured them sipping piña coladas on the beach while I was home taking care of our son and bemoaning my newly single status. Where were my flowers and chocolates?
But more than the trappings of romance, what I truly missed were the little ways we showed affection to one another -- not just on Valentine's Day, but every day. Little rituals like saying, "I love you" every night before bed, calling each other silly pet names and cuddling with our son under our fluffy down comforter. It had already been so painful to learn that he had trashed our marriage, which we had celebrated together with friends and family, but I was distraught over the loss of all those everyday rituals as well.
The next year, I decided I needed to find a new way to celebrate Valentine's Day. Instead of dwelling on what I no longer had, I would focus on what I did have -- amazing friends and a good sense of humor. With my ex-husband on parent duty for the night, I went out to dinner and to a Valentine's comedy show with one of my best friends.
I was planning to revisit my new Valentine's ritual this year, but when my ex and I made up our parenting schedule for February, he asked if our son could stay with me that night. He rationally explained, "I was on parent duty last year, so I was hoping you could be this year." He had a point. We usually try to be fair about alternating holidays, but nothing about this situation felt fair to me.
Not only did he have the opportunity to celebrate with someone else, but he was denying me the opportunity to go out with my friends and possibly meet a future Valentine.
"Can't you have a romantic dinner at home or celebrate on another night?" I asked, very envious of the fact that he could do both. I told him about my plans to go to an event where I might be able to meet single people -- and of course, I reminded him that he had no such need. Perhaps, I thought, Valentine's Day is more important for singles to meet one another than for couples to celebrate what they have and can enjoy every day.
In the end, my ex-husband agreed to be on parent duty, and I offered to help find a babysitter if he still wanted to go out.
Now, I find myself excited for a day that many single people dread. Sure, I'd love to receive flowers and chocolates from that special someone. Even more than that, I'd be content to do nothing at all on February 14th and celebrate a loving, healthy relationship the other 364 days of the year. I'm surprised that I'm not more jaded and am still open to feeling the sting of Cupid's arrow. But until then, I'll enjoy celebrating with my friends and all the other single folks out there.
Follow Annette Powers on Twitter: www.twitter.com/annettepowers