As a woman who's been single many a Valentine's Day, I've never succumbed to the staunchly anti-Valentine's camp. I don't resent the holiday, or spend 24 hours curled up in a ball in my apartment, eating Ben & Jerry's as I watch a pirated copy of "When Harry Met Sally" and weep (though if that does it for you -- hey, own it). Sometimes, though, after passing so many drugstores' tacky themed aisles and reading all of the frustrating "sad single women" articles that come out each and every February, I get nostalgic for simpler times: Valentine's Day, elementary school-style. As I remember it, February 14th was a whole lot better back then -- for several reasons:
You Knew You'd Get A Card -- Relationship Status Be Damned
Unless you were a particularly precocious child, having a boyfriend or girlfriend was probably about as appealing to you as having your tonsils removed. And though making 30 valentines must have been a parental nightmare, for us it was simply a guarantee that you'd get as much out of the deal as you put in. There was something safe and heartwarming about watching the brown paper bag you'd expertly decorated the day before fill up with Rugrats / Power Rangers / Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle-themed Valentines, containing oh-so-personal messages like "You rock!" and "Cowabunga dude(tte)!"
Plus, if you did have a childhood crush in your class, there was no chance of rejection. You were simply extra-thrilled to look at that card after you got home from school. Once middle school began, you were left to wonder whether or not you'd get anything at all, and unfortunately even in adulthood, years into recovery from the terrible tweens, the sense that Valentine's Day is not for you, grown up single person, can be a slight blow to your self-esteem. Including everyone back in the day meant that everyone got to feel appreciated. And really -- how hard is it to sign 30 pre-made cards?
You Only Had To Work For Half The Day
I'm not sure if this is universal practice, but my Valentine's Days at Oakland Terrace Elementary School in Maryland always consisted of finishing class a few hours early in order to have a party. We got to spend the second half of the day exchanging cards, eating delicious treats and playing group games. Let's be real -- little to nothing is more satisfying than leaving your day job (even if that day job is 3rd grade) half way through. Though your office may be having a Valentine's-themed happy hour, it's not quite the same as putting the work on hold altogether for some collective merriment.
It Wasn't Lame To Dress Up
Sometimes it's fun to be uber-cheesy and get a little too into a holiday sartorially. While I never showed up to school decked out in felt cupid appliques or similar, I did sometimes purchase a red and pink top from Old Navy to wear on the big day or a pair of heart-shaped earrings from Claire's Accessories, which had a strong chance of causing an infection by recess. It was a fun excuse to dress festively without judgment.
As an adult, I would never show up to work in too much Valentine's Day cheer -- pretty sure I'd annoy even myself. I do, however, let myself indulge in the V-Day style guides that pop up around this time of year.
The Rules Were Oh-So-Simple
In elementary school the rules of Valentine's Day were pretty clear. Get cards for your class, pretend to help your parents bake something festive and delicious for the party, and get an insane sugar high from consuming far too many conversation hearts. Worrying too much about buying the right gift and making the right plans just weren't things that you had to think about.
Now there are a million-and-one ways to commemorate Valentine's Day and an equal number of opportunities for misstep, especially for men. The stakes, apparently, are high: According to an infographic put together by CheapSally.com, nearly 53 percent of American women would dump a boyfriend if he didn't get them something for Valentine's Day. And if you're single, there are just as many options. The internet is full of "ways single ladies can embrace Valentine's Day," single-people events and parties, and "perfect Valentine's Day ideas."
Plus, all of these potential celebrations or anti-celebrations can take a serious toll on your wallet. (Those special one-night-only menus are an exceptional opportunity for restaurants to hike up prices.) The National Retail Federation predicts that Americans will spend $17.6 billion on Valentine's-related expenses this year, about $126.03 per person. Makes you long for the days when a five-dollar roll of cookie dough would have done the trick.
And Yet ...
All of that said, there's no going back to 3rd grade, and Valentine's Day isn't going away. So this year, instead of cursing it in all its overly-commercialized glory, let's just go back to basics. Use February 14th as an excuse to show your friends and family how much you appreciate them. I suggest giving out Power Rangers-themed cards to everyone in your office. If you also choose to wear that heart-printed sweater you purchased in 1999 -- I won't judge.
Follow Emma Gray on Twitter: www.twitter.com/emmaladyrose