Okay, I'm just going to say it: I hate Valentine's day. The obvious reason, which I usually mention when somebody asks why I'm wearing a black armband on February 14, is the fact that it's a fake. Stripped of its thin Christian veneer, February 14 basically celebrates the pagan holiday Lupercalia, which is dedicated to wolves and insanity, and which falls on the day that lovebirds supposedly choose their mates. I can get behind a wolf/insanity/lovebird holiday, but a co-opted one dedicated to a made-up saint? I'll take a pass.
To be honest, though, my real problem with Valentine's day isn't that it's inauthentic, but rather that the greeting card, floral, and chocolate industries use it as a cynical technique for generating revenue during the tough months between Christmas and Mother's day. This makes sense; after all, President's day doesn't inspire the same frenzied shopping and terrified soul-searching. Still, understanding the motivation doesn't make me any happier about the scam.
Valentine's is a day for excluding people who aren't in relationships and raising the blood pressure of people who are. For men who are dating, Valentine's day is an occasion for obsessing over the state of a relationship, worrying about where it's going, and trying to send a coded message to one's beloved. The messages generally are as follows:
Chocolate: I have no idea where we're going, what we're doing, or what I want. I've bought you chocolate because it's inoffensive and because women like chocolate. Based on the size of the box and reputation of the manufacturer, I am sending you a coded message about my feelings and how badly I want you to hang around. If I just gave you a tiny, four-piece Whitman's sampler, you might want to think about emptying out your drawer.
Flowers: You were expecting a gift, and here it is. I picked these up from a guy standing next to the freeway on-ramp.
Champagne: We're too sophisticated for all that Valentine's day nonsense, aren't we? Champagne symbolizes that common worries such as the state of the relationship and the appropriate present are beneath me. (Of course, this is just another technique for stalling an uncomfortable relationship discussion. However, you get extra irony points if the bubbly is pink.)
Lingerie: I'm a pig, but you knew that anyway. You get to feel superior, I get to see you in lingerie, where's the harm?
Maybe it's time to shortcut the whole Valentine's confusion. If you're tired of the standard Valentine's gifts, are unsure where your relationship stands, and want to stake out your own turf on the special day, why not try personalizing a candy box? Basically, most Valentine's day samplers are the same, but the prices vary based on the decoration. Rather than shelling out a lot of money for a box of chocolate covered in silky polyester, plastic flowers, and cheap lace, try buying the cheap sampler and decorating it yourself.
Before I was married, when I was still trying to figure out where my relationship stood, my girlfriend and I used to gripe about Valentine's day. Most of our complaints were the the ones I laid out above, and we would share our contempt for the simpletons who lined up like lemmings to fork over their money to Russell Stover and Godiva.
Still, contempt is one thing, but chocolate is another and, as the special day neared, I knew that I'd need to give a gift that expressed our shared hatred of the day and my confusion about where the relationship was heading. I ended up designing a Wednesday Addams Valentine's box. I took a standard sampler, covered the lid in black satin and lace, attached a few dried roses and a goth-style white metal necklace, and wrote "Virginia Rocks!" in silver paint on the top. The overall cost was about $15, and the time involved showed that I cared, even if I was still a little unsure about where we were headed. My wife still has the box tucked away somewhere.
A quick visit to a fabric or arts and crafts store will show you hundreds of possibilities for a personalized candy box. One word to the wise, however: the fumes from spray paint or spray glue can make the candy inedible, so either remove the top before decorating it or stick to non-aerosol decorations!
Bruce Watson is a former English instructor, sometime writer, and all-around cheapskate. A co-author of Military Lessons of the Gulf War and A Chronology of the Cold War at Sea, his work has appeared in The Journal of Speculative Philosophy, The Roanoker, The Brush Mountain Review, The Eccentric Monthly, The Best of Times, and College Daze. He currently blogs on Crankster.