love psych

300px 2007 02 030

I can’t be sure of the grade, but it was back when cubbies were in vogue. Our names were laminated on primary colored construction paper, taped to a space for our books. Girls wore ribbons in their hair and pulled their socks up over their shins. I was still at an age where my mother had us fit for good shoes and each year bought us a new dress coat. Something wool. And as young as that I remember disliking Valentine’s day. Which says a lot, actually, considering my… gravitation toward food. Valentine’s Day has to come in as a close second to Halloween in terms of candy, unless you celebrate Easter, in which case, it slips into third. Those candy hearts that all taste like chalk, the boxes of chocolate laid out like tiny jewels, self-contained, hidden sometimes behind a leaf of brown paper. It sounds exquisite, but it wasn’t. It was a holiday of rejects.

While I enjoyed the arts & crafts of it, the white paper doilies glued to red and pink hearts we’d cut by folding our paper in half, I still had a pit in my stomach when I looked at my cubby. So I tried not to look. I was casual about it. No big deal. What a silly holiday. Mostly, I wanted what everyone else wanted: to be liked, but more especially, to be loved.

My father brought us home roses, for his favorite girls he’d tell us. We’d wisely remind him, "we’re your only girls." Then we’d twirl. It was sweet actually. But it never felt sweet at school. There was too much expectation, and it all came down to one four letter word: FROM.

Our teachers had us make a valentine for every single person in the class, so no one would feel left out. Which is mighty fine thinking. But then kids wised up and began to bring in special valentines for their favorite friends and crushes, so it got to the point where the "mandatory" valentines didn’t count. Even if they were cupcakes. Okay, the cupcakes counted a little.

"Look how many valentines you have!" My mother would cheer as I dumped my knapsack on the kitchen floor.
"They don’t count." They were hads.

I’m sure there were others in there, from Meryl Glass. Something from a best friend. But what I didn’t like about Valentine’s day was that it didn’t seem to make you feel special, no matter how many nice things you did for other people. It just had a way of emphasizing what I didn’t have. It’s one of those comparison holidays, where you’re left to assess how liked, how wanted, how loved you really are. When I was little it came down to amassing construction paper hearts even if they were signed FROM instead of LOVE. Even if some were written…

Love always,


In college it meant walking through the lobby of my dorm and seeing roses with the security desk, wondering maybe if they were meant for me. It’s that one holiday where when you’re unattached you can’t help feeling unloved. And when you’re attached you just wonder what your love will do to surprise you and if you’re doing enough to make the other person feel included, special… enough. It’s a holiday of comparisons and courses. It’s a love competition where a little part of you wishes for more and feels dissatisfied. It’s the chinese food of holidays.

A YEAR AGO: Supermarket Love
3 YEARS AGO: Injaculation



  1. I had the same thing with valentine's day at school when I was a kid. It never really upset me though because I guess I never expected to be someone who'd get a lot of cards.
    God, how much therapy do I need.

    At my college the Vday thing got sort of messed up because the admin focused on the newer "Domestic Violence Awareness" thing for the day. Which is positive, just …. kinda cynical if you think about it.

    Anyway, Happy VDay
    a fan

  2. In first grade we didn't have the equity rule and there was one girl who wore a diaper (now we know about bladders and growth rates and all that) and on Valentine's Day she received exactly three cards. They were from those of us whose mothers made them write out a card for everyone. I'll never forget that day and the look on her face. And my own guilt for not wanting to have given her the card because she was different.

    The older I got, the stupider the whole card thing got. Sure everyone gave everyone a card due to militant rules but the really cool kids gave the other really cool kids candy, or they gave us non-cool kids conversation hearts and the other cool kids got suckers. There were still so many not-so-subtle ways to mark who was "in" and who was "out."

    And the teachers never awarded the blue ribbon to the most creative or best box (which, believe me, mine never were) but it always went to the most popular kid, no matter how stupid (or obviously parent-made) their box was.

    That's why I wrote the whole holiday off. It's like class elections–a giant popularity contest.

  3. It turns into a day of comparisons and disappointments for most of us, at some point. But last night I was reminded of when it is innocent and pure. I helped my first-grade son address his Valentines (storebought SpongeBob, one for each kid and no candy rule applies.) I pre-sorted them for the messages I thought were more appropriate for him to send to his guy friends (no mushy "I'll be so seasick if you won't be my Valentine" for them.) But he didn't care about that and picked "Be Mine" for the bully. There were two in the box that were bigger than the rest and he saved those for his best friend and a certain little girl who has a soft spot in his heart. She wore a black Darth Vader tshirt to his birthday party (a sure way to impress him) and came to his rescue one day when he was being picked on. His heart is wide open. And I know that someday someone will break it.

  4. What is worse than grade school valentines are the ones you get at more "mature" age from your long-time "steady".

    Any valentine that doesn't come in a ring box calls for a pint of coffee Haagen-dazs.

  5. I, too, went to a women's college. Valentine's Day meant that every woman walked by the security desk praying that some of the many flowers were for her. I never got any. But, then again, maybe I appreciate flowers more now as a result.
    I remember how my college boyfriend treated me like crap, and the men who have appreciated me since.

  6. Just sent my oldest two today with the "required" number of valentines for their classmates… But this year a new twist! My oldest, 10, has developed his first crush. So cute. He bought a special card for her and after much consideration, picked out a Lip Smackers gift set – strawberry lip smacker, gloss and pink nail polish. He was so adorable, and I'm waiting right now for him to get home from school so I can hear how it went. Seems like he was just a little baby.

  7. Mom2boys — Your little guy sounds adorable, and the kind of guy I hope I can raise one day. I love that he gave the bully the "Be Mine" card.

    Marlee — Ditto on yours — I love Lip Smackers, and I'm 28!

    It sounds dumb, but Valentine's Day only ever meant something to me when I was single. Now that I'm married, I have to wonder who exactly is supposed to care about all of this if the coupled among us don't. It just seems cruel and stupid.

    Tomorrow we're having a Godfather marathon, and I'm making homemade toasted ravioli, sausage, basil and cheese lasagna and chocolate cherry pistachio bars. Sounds more romantic than obligated flowers from the grocery store and tired demands for jewelry, anyway!

  8. How about being 30 years old, new city away from home (NY) for the first time, rocky relationship…. and sitting at work for an eight hour day that consisted of the Sing Songy, perfectly perky receptionst PAIGING people ALL DAY to "please come downstairs," "there is a very special delivery for you at the desk…. Miss so and so." And each Miss, or Mrs. so and so would act like they had just heard that they won the Publishers Clearing house, or just been crowned Miss Queen for a Day… and flounced dounstairs, only to return with a glowing dozen, or two of the most wonderful flowers. Yes, just like being in the fourth grade. Wow, thank you,… one less therapy session. You rock.

  9. There's an interesting study that was just released that talks about how we value experiences more than things, and that the good feelings and memories associated with a particular event tend to last much longer than the excitement of receiving a gift.

    The report was on NPR's Science Friday today (excuse me while I dork out a moment), and the reporter suggested that listeners try replacing chocolates and jewelry this Valentine's Day with tickets to a show, or whatever — basically something that can be experienced, as opposed to consumed.

    In lieu of presents, my husband and I celebrated our birthdays this year with a trip to San Francisco a few weeks ago, and it was the best birthday I've ever had. I don't know if this is enough empirical evidence or not, but I certainly didn't miss the presents.

    Happy Valentine's Day to you and your sweet family.


  10. I guess it's a lot easier when you just don't care about Valentine's Day – though I don't know how to tell anyone else to do that. I can't remember the last time V-day mattered to me – probably elementary school.

    If it weren't for everyone else bemoaning it's arrival, I wouldn't have even remembered. I have a boyfriend who would gladly do anything I asked him to do, but I guess that's the point. Valentine's Day is about obligation… when you're talking about "had to", isn't that what Valentine's is? Can't you say "it doesn't count" about every single thing you receive on Valentine's Day because, even if it's someone who really loves you – be it a husband or a boyfriend, don't they kind of HAVE to, if they want to avoid the scowling and arguing afterward?

    That's how *I* see it, anyway. So I told the boyfriend that I honestly, truly, don't care. He surprised me, weeks ago, with a tripod for my camera for an upcoming trip. He pays the rent while these tough economic times are leaving me drained. He leaves little notes in my bag when I go away for work. He tells me he loves me and how happy he is all the time. These things are never "have to," and they mean far more to me than any flower or piece of chocolate he could give me on Feb 14.

    Honestly, isn't Valentine's Day more of a competition between women, anyway? "I got bigger flowers! nyah nyah!"

  11. Aw. This was almost heartbreaking.
    I never received a "psych!" but I definitely judged the "love" as compared to the "from" which I took quite seriously even as fugly as I was. Later I would learn even just one wonderful, outstanding, I'm-so-in-love and this-is-my-man holidays celebrating of Vday would be worth all the heartbreak and loneliness the media would make me feel.

    P.S. Fuck Valentine's Day!

  12. I always dreaded Valentine's Day at school, as well. I can't think of anything more painful than unrequited love and it seems we always long for the ones we can't have.

  13. Ahh…yes, the holiday that makes you feel rejected. Some popular person made this holiday what it is. Thankfully my girlie-q's get the "want to gives" not the "have to gives." But today, Valentine's Day 2009, I was being somewhat of a bitch (read: complete and total) and my husband dumped a bag full of chocolates from our delicious Chocolate Factory. A place he never goes, except I guilted him last week. If only it was from love instead of necessity. Oh well, maybe I'll pour myself a glass of sympothy and then knit. Happy freaking Valentine's Day! ;-)

  14. There never were any valentine projects – or any attention to the holiday even – in school (maybe it's mostly an American thing). But when I was in 10th grade the 12th graders organized a valentine mailing and distributed free red cards to fill out. I rallied a group of friends and we all send utterly silly messages to each other, so we all ended up with a ton of cards. Which took the attention away from the fact that none of us got any real cards. I never ever got a real card, the times I actually had a boyfriend on valentine's day they'd always be the type to hate the holiday or to plainly forget it. And even though I think Vday is silly, stupid and commercial there was always this tiny pang of disappointment at the end of the day "he didn't think of me".
    Oh, and kudos to Beth, I would've stormed out of the office or strangled the receptionist by noon…

  15. I've given up on finding someone who can beat those left out Valentine's blues- honestly, I'm just not attracted to the mushy type in general. So this year I treated myself to a new journal, a Doris Lessing book, a sweater, and "Coraline" at the movies. Probably the nicest batch of Valentine's gifts I've ever gotten.

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