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What does it mean to celebrate Valentine’s Day?

Is it terrible to say that Valentine’s Day is my favorite holiday? Because it is. My fave holiday, I mean. I love the anticipation and the ridiculously discounted day-after chocolate and the cardboard heart decorations popping into stores right after Christmas (I mean Chanukah … um, “the holiday season”). Those are, though, the superficial reasons for my obsession. I really love Valentine’s Day because of one big, fat certainty: every year, without fail, I am terribly, utterly, sourly disappointed.

I know what you’re going to say. That Valentine’s Day is a Hallmark holiday. That some mysterious yet often referenced “they” conspired to get love-struck morons to drop cash on impressing women who probably aren’t worth impressing. That stuffed monkeys holding “I’m bananas for you” signs are so 1992. And that I, for liking the whole shebang, am immature and impressionable. I understand. It’s turned into this enormous, pressure-filled, cavity-inducing holiday that nobody cares to celebrate but everybody is too nervous to dismiss. I am one of those nobodys and one of those everybodys.

Through my early 20s, I tried to create Valentine’s Day happiness with crushes and boyfriends and dates and female friends and the occasional stranger-off-the-street. And to their credit, all those crushes and boyfriends and dates and female friends and occasional strangers-off-the-street tried. They really did. I tried, too. But the expectations always sucker-punched the reality, and I’d go home feeling no more loved or loving than when I’d left. (Yes. There’s the possibility that I’m a teeny-tiny bit hard to please. I’m looking into that.)

Then I met my now-husband, John. We got along well on every front, from politics to toothpaste flavors, and he doled out a healthy dose of lovey-dovey goodness on a consistent basis. I was sure, come our first Valentine’s Day, that he would fulfill my absurd expectations. I was totally sure of it. So sure of it. What actually happened was this: Abso. Lutely. Nothing. John made no dinner reservations. Offered no rose bouquet. Gave me no gift. Oh, wait. I’m sorry. He did give me one heart-shaped lollypop, a treat he’d picked up from the billing counter at his dentist that afternoon, which I considered insufficient. (For the record, I did eat it. I also insisted he change dentists.)

“What’s the deal?” I’d asked in my most grump-tastic voice. “You better have, like, a string quartet waiting in the shadows to serenade me.”

“Trust me,” he’d said. “You’ll appreciate this soon enough. You’re so focused on the romance of the holiday, the kind that causes all kinds of slap-silly mayhem, and not paying attention to what makes us us. Our everyday love, I mean. We can’t confine that to a holiday.”

Crap, I thought. He’s kind of right. I was so caught up in the commercialism of it all that I bypassed our longer-term obligation to be partners in life, regardless of Cupid’s intrusion at the dinner table. (The old boy never wears clothes with that bow and arrow, anyway, which is a great excuse for skipping out on the tab.) In his round-about way, John wanted me to see that love hinges on more than stuffed bears and empty calories. His lesson, I later learned, was more consistent with the Israeli brand of love, the kind that values rationality over emotion. The kind that lasts. The fact that it took a secular holiday for me to see this? Kinda funny. Still, a lousy box of chocolate would have been nice. Preferably dark. With almonds.

In the five years we’ve been together, we’ve had five—count ‘em, five—no-frills Valentine’s Days. And with each passing year, I’m happier and happier about it. While I used to love the holiday for what it represents, I now love it for precisely what it misses. And in our own way, not celebrating Valentine’s Day is a celebration all its own. Or, you know. Maybe I just love my husband enough to make excuses for why he doesn’t buy me candy.

So, here’s to a terrible Valentine’s Day to all — and may it be your best one yet.

What do you think? Is Valentine’s Day a worthwhile holiday? Do we celebrate it for the wrong reasons? How do Israeli and American cultures differ on this issue? And does anyone have any extra chocolate?

Rachel Eddey finished her first memoir, Running of the Bride, and is waging a campaign to get it published. Because, you know. It's not too terrible a read. Please join the revolution.


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