It’s not that I’m against exchanging gifts or love in general. I actually love chocolate more than water most days. It’s just that I’m tired of the trite relationship paradigm when men won’t enter into relationships between December and March (Christmas-Valentine’s Day) and women pine away to find real meaning in their lives.
My theory on why so many marriages and relationships end badly is because of the false pressures of modern society. That’s why we have friends, families, colleagues. While a marriage is a delicate thing that needs nourishing (like an orchid) it also can be choked by too many demands. Playmate, lover, business partner – particularly when opposites attract, one person is not going to fulfill all desires nor should they. Because what happens – God forbid – if something happens to him or her? It’s no accident that in couples that have been married over thirty years, one spouse dies and the other soon follows—or remarries.
Learning to love oneself and be okay with being alone is a skill many of us never develop. And the pressures that fear of being alone put on the people around is often what sours otherwise lovely interactions.
I do love giving and receiving gifts but now most Christmas, birthday, or other holidays, I’d much rather donate to a meaningful charity than take something that I don’t need unlike fourteen girls that need fistuals which is my cause for this year.
I wasn’t always this paragon of global virtue or mindful of those who had less – after all during my grad schools days I often felt like I needed my own charity!
One Valentine’s Day, I got an education I needed –in true love. But first I ran the gauntlet of Hollywood and commercial marketing.
Six years, the four of my undergraduate degree and then two years of my Masters degree, I lived on an all female campus. The pain and consternation of not having a “valentine” on February 14 was so great, the college created a program called “Peanuts”.
Under this program, every student – woman – was assigned someone else that she could be nice to in the weeks leading up to Valentine’s Day. Faculty, staff, the college president, they were all included in Peanut Week which was a kind of Secret Santa program repacked.
This was because of the large white tables that had to be set up in the foyer of the former Confederate hospital that served as the college main reception. The table(s) groaned with the weight of floral deliveries on and before Feb 14th. Conversely, the Peanut pick up table tried to give it stiff competition. You still had to walk by the flower table of true love to get to your peanut however, knowing that while you may have a gift on this candy colored day, you really weren’t a woman because you didn’t have a real gift, from your real lover.
Being raised in a solidly Hindu household, I never dated much in high school. Adding to my cushioning was the fact I grew up with a male best friend with whom I often exchanged gifts. One year, maybe 8th grade when this all started, I think he gave a giant Hershey Kiss, the thing I had most wanted in the whole world.
But that’s not saying that I didn’t feel the pang of being odd one out most Valentine’s Days from first year of college onward. I was a brown woman living in North Carolina – not exactly the kind of goods with high value on that market – a fly in the nearly (then) all white environment of my college.
Then miracle of miracles: I found a Valentine on Valentine’s Day and he endured for six years. Instead of feeling loved, as all the commercials, vendors, and movies had led me to believe, I felt annoyed when our gifts weren’t exchanged on time or didn’t reflect equal thought.
Remembering these days is actually a lesson in how much women are willing to compromise for that ethereal promise of masculine love: I would purchase gifts on sale (for myself) and then tell him about it, so that he could gift it to me. And then smile when people complimented me on my ring.
Then in the early days of 2005, I was galvanized by a cause that touched both my family and the world: the unprecedented devastation wrecked by the Asian Tsunami that took my brother-in-law’s father in its wake.
Together with my Resident Assistant staff we planned a benefit dinner for an orphanage which was taking children affected by the tsunami in South India. During the planning meetings, when we were trying to decide which day to hold the dinner, a girl said: “Not on Valentine’s day. I don’t even have a man but I will find one to take me to dinner that night.”
We raised $3,000 dollars that night. And she was there, without a man.
In the five years since that amazing night, when we got donors to raffle items, and college students and faculty to perform dance pieces, I have moved to another country, married, and had a baby.
And now instead of thinking of myself on this day, I try to think of others. Not because I am a better person than the women who are having anti-men or anti-Valentine’s Day parties. But because I want to be a different kind of person. One who understands that the world needs what I can only give it. Rather than what it can give me.
Instead of going out and making my husband spend money on me, we are babysitting our neighbors’ three kids whom we adore, along with our own, so that their mother can go and have some much needed time by herself, doing whatever she wants to do.
There will be pizza, board games, a movie, maybe even some tears, as siblings tear into each other and need to be separated, but most of all there will be love.