Valentine’s is here again with all its pink, flowery crap, its expectations, and its disappointments. And I’m here to once again plead for a different approach because I find the whole exercise so…. tired. I’m just not big on Mandated Feelings days. We already have plenty. Let’s give our poor psyches – which are already expected to perform on cue so much of the time – a break shall we?
So I’m here with a rerun – a public service announcement really – in hopes that one day Valentine’s could move past romantic love.
Hyvää Ystävänpäivää (translation = Happy Friendship Day)!
Yes, the ever-wise Finns* celebrate Valentine’s day with the far more inclusive name of ‘Friendship Day,’ an interpretation I still miss. Romantic love already gets celebrated through weddings, anniversaries, and countless quiet moments together – celebrations that have far deeper roots because they have actually grown from our own relationships and histories. Valentine’s Day only has the non-specific, idealistic demand of romance, now! And by the way, in case you weren’t sure, THIS is what romance looks like! (insert images of happy couples exchanging diamonds and plasma screen televisions – they are a modern, egalitarian couple after all – over a candlelit dinner while fireworks go off in the background.)
Not surprisingly, this singular mold for romance doesn’t fit most of us very well. I for one have never done well with the Grand Romantic Gesture that seems to lie at the very heart of Valentine’s Day. The thing is, my conversational repertoire mostly revolves around sarcasm and attempts at dry humour, so the purely lovey-dovey spirit of the Grand Romantic Gesture sucks all the wind out of my sails and leaves me awkwardly searching for genuinely nice things to say. It’s just unnatural. I far prefer romance that occurs in the company of sweatpants and u-brew wine, where my ironic and occasionally obscenity-filled expressions of love aren’t shamed into hiding.
I’m going to venture to say that on any given Valentine’s day, there are very few people who fit the romantic mold as it’s prescribed, resulting in each and every one of us, at some point or another, feeling in turn inadequate, stifled, fake, and self-righteous – sometimes all at the same time.
Celebrating friendship is far less loaded. Maybe it’s because friendship hasn’t been as rigidly defined by society; it takes many forms and we expect it to. It’s generally not as focused on a single person, thereby diffusing the expectations and the guilt-driven consumerism (somehow I think the jewelry companies would have a harder time convincing us to buy diamonds for all our friends, though I’m positive they would try.) Friendship is also thus far neglected in the schmorgasborg of honorific days – Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, days for various dead presidents/monarchs, the country’s independence day, and our own awesomeness day. But at no time in the year do we actually get reminded to express gratitude to our friends.**
Just imagine an alternate universe where planning for Valentine’s Day means getting in touch with all the people you always mean to call but rarely get a chance to, maybe getting a few together for a nice potluck dinner – not to hate on romantic love, but to laugh and drink and remind each other that you’re needed and loved by people other than your partner. This I think would be a holiday really worth acknowledging.
Despite my firm belief in the superiority of this alternate version, I’m not a Valentine’s hater. Valentine’s day, like weddings, has become a favourite target of scorn and derision among the Holier Than Thou. You know, the people who when you mention your wedding will describe, with barely concealed smugness, how they spent just $103 on theirs ‘because they don’t need a big party to advertise their love’.*** Those are the same people who will proudly tell you they do not have plans for Valentine’s, because their love is so far above such trivialities. Yeah that’s all well and good, but sometimes we mere mortals just like to have fun. Although smugness is admittedly satisfying, it has a bitter after-taste and on this rainy
Monday Thursday in February I’m quite happily going to choose a decadent meal and a bottle of wine by the fire in the name of romantic love instead.
But first, I gotta make some phone calls.
*In case you’re wondering, yes, I will continue to put all things Finnish on a pedestal because it gives me an easy vantage point from which to judge all things North American. And since no one I meet has actually gone to Finland to verify my claims this can go on in perpetuity. Haha! Just try and tell me we don’t ride reindeer to school and have Nokia cell phones with mind-predictive texting.
**I’m going to say I lurrrv youuu’s slurred over pumping Lady Gaga while spilling your watery vodka-cran on passersby don’t totally qualify for ‘making time to appreciate your friends’, though they do have their own undeniable charm.
***$100 for the license and $3 for bus fare. The bride wore a charity 5K-run T-shirt, the rings were made from twist-ties they found in the garbage together, and the wedding took place in the alley behind their house, witnessed by the blind, orphaned kittens they help care for in their spare time. ‘It was so special and intimate…. so what were you saying about your, uhm, “details”?’
- The meal planning website Plan to Eat. Last January, after years of attempting to meal plan by hand and failing miserably, I finally remembered I live in the 21st century. At the time we signed up for the Six O’Clock Scramble and it is not an exaggeration to say IT CHANGED MY ENTIRE LIFE. It worked wonderfully for us for many months but the recipes, while mostly delicious and reasonably healthy, didn’t match the way we want to eat in the long term. We want to eat more beans, less dairy, a wider variety of ethnic foods, and have the flexibility to use any recipe, not just the ones in their database. Enter Plan to Eat. It doesn’t make meal plans for you but it makes it ridiculously easy to make your own, dare I say even FUN? At least as close to fun as meal planning can get. It is basically just a very smart, clean interface for organizing all the recipes you collect from anywhere (their Save Recipe browser button automatically imports any recipe you find online, others you can enter in yourself very easily), which you then drag and drop into your calendar and then compile a shopping list. They have a 30 day free trial, after which it costs $39 a year. Try it – I dare you not to like it. (Clearly this post is not sponsored – who in their right mind would sponsor someone who blogs bi-annually?)
- Stop Podcasting Yourself. I have been a fan of podcasts for as long as I’ve had an iPod, which is some number of years that I’ll certainly underestimate because that’s what happens when you get old. I can’t read on the bus without feeling like I need to hurl, so podcasts are my company and my stranger-chat deterrent. I have my classics that I’ll always love – The Savage Lovecast, This American Life, Planet Money, and The Bugle – but recently a new podcast entered the mix and quickly rose to near top status: Stop Podcasting Yourself. It’s just a couple of Vancouver comedians, usually with another comedian guest, shooting the shit. It’s like being the fly on the wall of a conversation among professionally funny people. Actually it is exactly that. They are my age so have lived through the same cultural experience – the same music, same TV shows, the same infiltration of the internet into every facet of our lives. Warning: listening may cause embarrassing episodes of audible snickering at inopportune moments on the bus, in elevators, in waiting rooms etc.
- Meeting bloggy friends. I exclusive read the blogs of smart, witty people so the rare time that I actually get to meet one in person is truly exciting, as it was last Saturday when I got to meet Jenny of Adventures Along the Way for a drink! She made me simultaneously curse the fact that teleportation hasn’t been invented and thank my lucky stars that the internet has. I also have her to thank for the push I needed to finally post something. ANYTHING.
- The book The Poisonwood Bible. I’ve read it before but have wanted to read it again basically as soon as I put it down. I have carried vivid images from the book with me for years. This weekend I finally picked it up again and am so happy I did. It is beautifully written and eye opening in the most unexpected ways. I’m appreciating it even more the second time around.
- My new purse. I am not a purse collector – I am a purse committer: I pick one and use it for YEARS. My old purse was starting to show serious evidence of that so I splurged on a new one. It’s a lovely deep green leather (the picture doesn’t quite do it justice), just the right size, and has both a shoulder strap and an over-the-body strap, which is undeniably brilliant.
My head has been sloshing around with negative thoughts lately but occasionally, little bubbles of positivity seem to rise through the sludge, somehow having survived. Since overthinking the negative is something I specialize in – and
rarely never gets me anywhere – I thought I’d instead entertain the positive.
Lately I’ve been feeling more my age. I turned thirty last November but you can’t really turn into an age in one day. It has taken many months to let this new decade – an undeniably, wholly adult decade – settle over me, for me to find its comfortable grooves. And just to be clear, this is a positive thing. Aging is scary, sure – but acceptance of where you are in life at any particular moment is always the surest way to feel content.
Here are some things that make me glad to be thirty and feeling it:
1. I’ve grown into wearing nicer clothes. Maybe it was being a student for so long, or living on the west coast, or looking younger than my age, but through most of my twenties I felt uncomfortable if I wore anything dressier than jeans and a decent top. Blazers, nice skirts and dresses, and tailored shirts all felt like playing dress-up. I still dress fairly casually – I work in research science after all – but now when I catch sight of myself in the mirror on my way out of the office bathroom, I sometimes spot a respectable-looking professional. And I like that.
2. My house is mostly clean, most of the time. We were never total pigs, but we definitely tested the “maybe if I put it off a bit longer it’ll magically get done” theory a little more (fair enough, it is worth checking that one out thoroughly). Nor have we since reformed into clean freaks; our kitchen cupboards are still grimy if you get up close, the floors will rarely be clean enough to eat off, and you’ll find all kinds of funky dust bunnies under the furniture. But in the last couple of years we’ve gotten to the point that if someone was to randomly come to our door, for example, to exchange a gold-painted rock for “something larger” as part of a game they were taking part in, I can have them step into my home without embarrassement. Our house looks lived in – there might be some dishes soaking in the sink, some crumbs on the counter, and a pile of unopened mail on the kitchen table - but it looks lived in by adults. Mostly. (We ended up giving them a box of tissues in exchange for the gold rock.)
3. I have gotten relatively comfortable having friends over for dinner. Because of my perfectionist tendencies, hosting will never be completely stress-free for me. I will worry about the food turning out right and at the right time, I will worry about our dog being a nuisance to non-dog people (she likes attention), and I will worry about how long these damn people are going to stay in my house because I’m ready to go to sleep now! But I feel comfortable that John and I can host a decent social gathering. We can cook some yummy things, we can trade off on kitchen duties without ever pausing the conversation, and we never take ourselves so seriously that our friends don’t feel comfortable grabbing what they need if we forget to offer. Oh and since the wedding, we have some kick-ass wine glasses too.
4. I’ve started to see the value in spending more for the things I use everyday. Maybe it’s realizing that I have arrived as much as I will ever arrive (meaning I’ve realized there is no such thing), but rather than grabbing the cheapest thing that will do the job I’ve grown more patient in waiting for the right thing and then being prepared to pay for it. For example, we bought a new couch a few months ago to replace the Craigslist find that had served us for six years. We thought long and hard about what to buy and ended up ordering a couch from a shop in our neighbourhood. The couch is made locally and in the fabric we chose. It cost more than an IKEA couch for sure, but not obscenely so and we felt really good about buying it because it was exactly what we wanted and we’ll be sitting on it practically every day for years to come (or more accurately lying on it – which we can both do AT THE SAME TIME!). Recently, I splurged on a nice powder brush and realized for the first time how amazing a quality makeup brush feels. It’s like a silky hug for every pore of my skin! I’ve since decided that each month or two I’m going to replace one of my worn, drug-store brushes until I have a good set. ”Spend money” is not the aging lesson I’m trying to convey here – it’s spend money on the right things. On the things that will add value to each and every day.
What are some things that you appreciate about growing into your age?