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”?’
So there’s this group of brilliant women I know. They are smart, opinionated, ambitious, and funny. I know about their dreams for their lives as well as their fears, and when they’re having a shitty day dealing with their bosses/mothers/dentists/cars. Though they are busy, there is always someone ready to lend an ear or talk it off, whatever the situation calls for. They are exactly the kind of community I’ve always wanted to find.
I only wish I got to meet them too.
I’m talking of course about the loosely defined group of women who gather on Twitter and around various blogs who have assumed the name Nosy Bitches. I can assure you that name is meant to be ironic because we are nothing but unfailingly polite in our enquiries of each other. Let me demonstrate with a (hypothetical) sample conversation:
“How is your dear family? Enjoying the lovely weather?”
“Oh yes, very much. I can’t believe how pleasant it is! And how do you do?”
“Quite well, I do believe I may go for a stroll later.”
Yeah that pretty much captures the gist of it, I think. There is definitely no anonymous account for sex talk or confessions or anything.
So being the lovely, polite people that we are, we decided to exchange gifts this year in the Nosy Bitches Non-Denominational Gift Giver exchange organized by the brilliant Ms. Bunny of Bunnies’n’Beagles. Which was thrilling, because it proved that I’m not making all of you up in my head!
My recipient was Nicole of Grape Soda Kitchen! Doing some internet sleuthing to discover what she might like was a fun little project. I settled on making her some jewelry and was thrilled to hear she liked it and even got to put it to use right away!
Then this morning I checked the mail in my groggy, got-this-cold-just-in-time-for-Christmas state and what do I find but a lovely envelope from Sarah of Inconceivable Life! And the package jingled in my hands as I carried it into the house!
Sarah sent me a lovely piece of her hometown Tucson: a Ben’s Bell ornament! It’s a beautiful ornament but the message behind it is even more so:
Ben’s Bells are not for sale. They are created by the hands of many and are hung randomly in public places for unsuspecting people to find and take home as a reminder to spread kindness.
This is a Ben’s Bell ornament. It symbolizes the power we each have to change the world by committing to kindness, one interaction at a time. Your purchase allows Ben’s Bells to bring its kindness-spreading programs and activities to more and more people, and the ripple effect will be amazing.
Ornaments have a special place in my heart. Each year since I was a teenager, my mom has given me a beautiful Christmas ornament as a gift. I have garnered a good sized collection now and each year I hang them, I am grateful for this collection of love. This is such a perfect addition to it.
I decided it needed a more prominent place than the tree so I hung it right outside our front door. And since it looks perfect, there it might just stay.
So last weekend I finally managed to hoard together a handful of my friends for a belated 30th birthday dance and drink-fest. Luckily Vancouver still has at least one awesome dance bar that caters to Generation Catalano; there is a live band that always plays fun 90’s and early 2000’s music (so stuff I actually know), the average age is above 19, and most people are wearing things that I recognize as clothes.
Still though, it is a little disconcerting to be partying with, and occasionally get hit on, by people who are potentially more than a DECADE younger.* These kids grew up with Wikipedia instead of Encarta and a cellphone instead of a curfew. They have probably never even heard the comforting gggsssssssshhh-wheeeee-ting-ting-ting sound of a modem connecting to the internet. They have barely lived.
So there we were, a group of admittedly hot but highly married women dancing and singing away at the front of the dance floor. Various guys – many Movember-mustachioed and reminiscent of 70’s porn stars – made stops at our circle, testing their luck; we entertained them briefly while waiting for the next great dance song, at which point we had to turn back to more important things like swinging each other round and round to Home for a Rest.
One seriously overconfident kid, apparently unaware that he had yet to grow out of that awkward gangly teenager look, was extra entertaining. He approached a couple of my friends who quickly filled him in that we were there to celebrate my birthday. With his opening line ready, he made a show of looking me over and said – “hmm…. so you are turning….. twenty?”
For a brief moment I considered playing along. It would have been easy. Just like I could have earlier when the guys behind us in line had asked what birthday I was celebrating. Because I’ll admit, when that “thirtieth” came out of my mouth it sounded old. It sounded less desirable. And it didn’t quite sound right in a dance club, not even this one.
But in that moment, while he was apparently seeing me as just another young girl he might be able to impress, all I could think was: oh honey, I could crush you.
I realized that not playing along was going to be much more entertaining. So I smiled my sweetest smile and said “yeah I’m twenty…[this is where he is feeling completely superior with his pick-up technique]… plus a decade” while displaying my spread out fingers in front of him for emphasis in case he couldn’t hear me over the booming music. His pale face plainly showed his shock and awe that someone that old could still dance without the aid of a walker!
I do have to give him credit for persevering (perhaps he thought he was in the presence of honest-to-goodness cougars) and even dancing along enthusiastically to songs he clearly did not know, the best of which was when we all belted out “I’m a bitch, I’m a lover, I’m a child, I’m a mother, I’m a sinner, I’m a saint, I do not feel ashamed…” along with
Alanis Morrisette Meredith Brooks. He kind of reminded me of a puppy. Eventually he grew tired and left to chase some different tail.
We danced hard, drank hard and then left the bar at a respectable 11:30 pm because we were tired and had had enough of being crushed by a mob of sweaty, drunk people. We went home to our husbands, our tidy apartments and our cozy beds. It was a good night out.
*Drinking age in Canada is 19.