again, the abbreviated month is upon us. And while February
may be short on days, it certainly isn't short on hype.
For starters, the first few days are stolen by
Groundhog Day and all its associated hurly. Grown men and women
alike traditionally waste away the beginning of the month looking
for their shadows while small, furry rodents across the nation
develop acute scopophobia, the abnormal fear of being seen.
As if Punxsutawney Phil and his parade of shadow
stalkers aren't enough to taint this tiny month, St. Valentine's
Day finishes the job, landing heavily smack in the middle
of the month like a heaving blimp inferno. Yes, February
marks the month of love, when history recalls countless rituals
of feast and fertility.
Valentine's Day is a clean alternative to some
of the more bloodthirsty pagan rituals of spring, which the
Romans found so endearing. The days following the glory of the
groundhog build to crescendo as we scamper into the velvety
stew of passion, romance and fertility that is Valentine's.
This time of year, love lurks around every corner.
You'll find it creeping about alleyways, cowering under rocks,
lurking in hallways, napping in nooks, crannies and coveys.
You won't have to go rifling through your trousers to find love
this month. It will come to you in an e-mail, a fax or a phone
call. You will trip over it on your way to the shower, and it
will follow you in, watching you bathe.
Strange and ominous signs of love are abundant.
The likeness of Cupid, the ascendant of chaos, can be seen everywhere
during the month, drifting from singles bar to strip joint.
Sometimes he's wearing a diaper and sometimes a robe, but always
he is brandishing wares for your purchasing convenience.
is for sale in the grocery store; acres of people stand in line
to sift through scads of heart-shaped things that gather in
piles. Love is on the dessert menu at your favorite restaurant;
you can buy it in the men's restroom from a machine. These are
the modern symbols of love; distinct in their meaninglessness,
available for purchase and consumption by a lust-driven consumer
So with all of this love in the air, why do so
many of us feel so miserable? How many nights of dreamless sleep
are toiled away in the short and awkward evenings preceding
this annual festival of sentiment? While the romance ought to
coat our tongues with warmth and fuzziness, why are they instead
laced with the bitter taint of vitriol?
The reason, of course, is because Valentine's
Day too often is a winless proposition. Those of us lucky enough
to have an object for our affection feel overly compelled and
pressured to convey the right emotion, say the right words,
feel the right way, or, most importantly, buy the right thing.
Getting it right on The Big Day is even harder
than usual because of the myriad of logistical obstacles the
tradition places on love-givers. Restaurants are booked solid,
the price of roses triples and wax candles are sold out for
miles. You have to stand in line to buy chocolates at the mall.
Panic and hysteria own the streets. Even now, the pressure is
mounting. Can you feel the clock ticking?
So the big question is: What will you be holding
in your hand when the clock strikes twelve on Valentine's Day?
Will it be just the right thing, or will it be
something you scrounged up from the drugstore in a sweaty panic
with only minutes to spare? Perhaps it will be something you
made, or something you got from someone else last year.
What matters is that you give something good.
Because if what you give is not good enough, you can count on
having another Valentine's Day that you aren't going to be able
to forget, no matter how hard you try. Valentine's Day is often
pivotal for any relationship. Minor mistakes may inalterably
spoil your merriment for the rest of the week, the year ...
or your life.
Last year I spent the entire day hiding from the
love parade at the office where I worked. Every 15 minutes a
new and elaborate bouquet would arrive, borne by a bewildered,
overworked delivery boy. Flowers, chocolates and balloons flooded
the office. Wave after wave, love washed in with the restlessness
of the waxing tide. All the while, the riptide pulled me down
until I cowered beneath my desk like a reptile hiding from the
sun. The shame of being the only one in the office without a
balloon tied to his desk left me drowned and bloated with humiliation.
Such cruel punishment should be reserved for the
most perverse social offenders and thieves. But the horror of
Valentine's Day strikes too often at the unsuspecting and the
unprepared. In the end, I tuned the TV into love and spent the
evening kissing a box of chocolates that was left over from
Christmas waiting for the day to end and the sun to wash
away its memory.
This year, I think I'm going to call in sick.