By Iulia Gheorghe
It was the 14th of February 2003 and there he stood, tall and looking sheepishly at the door of my grandparents’ house with a fleecy, heart-shaped stuffed toy. I don’t remember what I said or what he said, but I do remember that I absolutely hated the toy, the gesture, the look on his face as if he cared or wanted me to care, this entire situation: he was my boyfriend and had to pretend that I was into him. In that very moment, I was doing it only to show off as any 13 years old adolescent with pimples and chubby checks would do (except those lean, porcelain-skinned girls who knew nothing about the guilty pleasure of extracting blackheads and eating Nutella sandwiches while your parents are sleeping).
However, even if his wet kisses didn’t make me shiver of pleasure, I was glad he was my boyfriend. He was 17 and I could brag about being in a couple to my mates who had never been kissed before (though they were mimicking it in the mirror).
On top of that, the plush heart had a strong scent. I think he poured a bottle of Axe after-shave on it. Years after and you could still feel that spicy sweetish fragrance! My mother laughed when she saw it, maybe because she knew how much I disliked everything corny back then. I was listening to Eminem and Metallica and reading Cioran, for God's sake.
From that moment on Valentine’s Day meant for me: a cheesy present from some doofus guy who I pretended to like because of peer pressure and hormones going crazy.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate romantic people. Somehow, I turned into a romantic myself. I believe in serendipitous coups de foudre. I happen to enjoy watching “Me before you” kind of films. One of my favourite albums is Nick Cave’s “Murder Ballads”, dark romanticism of course, but yet so sentimental - just think about “Henry Lee” or “Where The Wild Roses Grow”. I will forever cheer happy-endings. But the idea of inventing a day to celebrate all that, I simply don’t find it very appealing.
There is, of course, the typical Valentine’s Day grinch who fights it because of consumerism. Others hate it because they are absolute cynics; some are submerged by a wave of anti-Americanism. I tried to figure out in which group I could fit. At the end of the day, I was neither a cynic, nor an anti-American and I loved Christmas, which is a pretty consumerist holiday, too. I also love Easter and anniversaries, Mardi Gras and I didn’t hate Halloween. Why I was against Valentine’s Day then?
I found the answer in the reason why I celebrated all those other festive moments: conviviality. All holidays, except Valentine’s Day, are animated by a reunion spirit: we find ourselves together again, a glass in one hand, circling a dinner table, snatches of conversation, catching up, sharing a meal. Laughing at, then getting annoyed by the remarks of a tipsy uncle or severe mother. Feeling overwhelmed and blessed by our friends’ presence. That sensation of being part of a community, free to misbehave, because hey, everyone does it. There is no perfect family or perfect group of friends.
On the other hand, Valentine’s day is about two people who should strive to be a perfect couple, at least for 24 hours. There is nothing wrong in sharing a chocolate cake and walk hand-in-hand in the name of love, but it feels a little oppressive to do it on a particular day because you have to celebrate the idea of one kind of love, while we all know that there are a hoard of types of love. Everyone should be invited at the love party.
And probably, why Valentine’s Day pisses me off the most, is because it seems a little bit like an insult to my emotional intelligence. Firstly, I strive for more than “a cute moment”. Secondly, I clearly don’t want marketing “storytell” romance. I've been in a couple for eight years now and I know for sure that the steadiness of that intense feeling was not built on rose petals and Axe-scented plush hearts.
However, if you meet at a party, I’m not sure I will tell you all that if you ask me about how I celebrate Valentine’s Day. It’s such a long story, isn’t it? I would probably prefer quoting André Aciman’s wise words: “Whoever said the soul and the body met in the pineal gland was a fool. It's the asshole, stupid.”