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 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.
So I’m 30 today. Yay! Though I have to admit I’m not in my best ‘yay-30’ state of mind.
I’m not having a third-life crisis or anything – the aging part of things is not exactly what has me down. I think I actually hit my noticeable-aging dip back at 25. That’s right around when I stopped being ID’d at the liquor store. Like one day it just stopped – I wondered if my face had actually fallen. It’s also when a slowing metabolism caught up with me and I added a bit of extra padding around the hips and waist, though luckily wedding-induced stress got that totally under control (and only at the price of limiting the enjoyment of my own wedding!). I developed aches where no aches were before and said aches took longer to heal. Dark days they were.
Besides this gradual slide into decrepitude, I’ve managed to keep my body mostly intact. I probably look better now than throughout most of my life, having finally discovered ways to make the best of my flat hair and makeup that doesn’t immediately slick off my face. I’ve also managed to find a pretty good balance of eating well while maintaining my enjoyment of cheese and wine, my face is still more bothered by acne than wrinkles (though having to deal with both absolutely blows), and since I dye my hair, I’m blissfully ignorant of any grey hair.
So aging shmaging I say. Been there done that, ready for more.
It is its closely correlated cousin – the growing up – that has me not quite feeling the ‘yay-30’ at the moment. It reliably causes people to move, build their own families, find busy careers, shift their priorities, and have babies. It’s all just so damn rude.
Last night I found out my two closest friends will not be home for Christmas. It’s the first time in all the years they’ve been living across the country. Even as we all started to drift onto paths that made other visits during the year tougher, I always thought I could count on Christmas as the one time of year we get to cozy up for quality time to reconnect. The realization that this was no longer a given was a real wake-up call.
Things are already changing and we haven’t even introduced the true game-changer into the picture yet. Hint: it poops and screams and leaves your body a fun-house-mirror version of what it used to be. From what I hear at least. And speaking of which, my sister-in-law just announced she’s pregnant (the other already has kids), which just leaves John and I as the targets of all future baby-making questions and rising eyebrows and lets-see-if-she-drinks-wine glances at the dinner table. My response: fingers in ears, la-la-la-la-la-la-la. Oh hand me the wine will you? La-la-la-la-la-la. Yeah, just pass the whole bottle. La-la-la-la-la-la.
All this growing up business means a different landscape on this birthday. My plans to celebrate with my friends, who are spread far and wide living busy lives with their careers and their partners, have thus far not panned out. I am still hoping to head out for a belated dancing night at the end of the month if we can find a weekend that works.
But in the meantime, there was no damn way I was letting this birthday pass by without a party – it’ll just be a very exclusive party of me and John. In Vegas. We’ll be partying it up there by tonight.