Words: Carolyn Busa
Every Valentine’s Day, I ask myself, what snarky tweet am I going to write this year? I’m a comedian. It is my job to make fun of Valentine’s Day while everyone else obsesses and gives into the hype. But it’s time I be real with myself. Blaming my disposition toward Valentine’s Day on simply ‘being a comedian’ just isn’t true. If my brief stint in therapy has taught me anything, it’s that our lives are influenced by our childhood experiences. So why do I spend February 14 in a perpetual state of sarcasm? What did I learn about Valentine’s Day as a kid that led to my outlook on Valentine’s Day as an adult?
As a kid in school, Valentine’s Day was treated basically like another Christmas. It was a day we weren’t expected to work as much. We ate special treats. We watched a movie or played a game. In other words, Valentine’s Day was chill. We were kids. We’d never been on a date, or understood the concept of falling in love. Valentine’s Day was just a day of freedom. Unfortunately, that’s not the way it remained. As we got a little older, a different Valentine’s Day started to form. Some traditions remained (treats, movies) but a new tradition was added: the passing out of valentines. Suddenly, the stakes were raised. Expectations began to take shape. We designed paper bag ‘mailboxes’ for our desks, our creativity capabilities put on display. At the drugstore, we wondered what valentine cards would be coolest. And for a third grade Carolyn, those were the Lion King-themed ones.
I remember writing out my cards the night before my third grade Valentine’s Day. I remember I sat next to Jason. I liked Jason. He was funny and, yes, cute. I remember thinking this was an opportunity to take advantage of this new, card-giving tradition. We were required to give everyone a Valentine (even ‘Why-are-his-pants-always-wet?’ Aaron) but I could make my valentine to Jason seem more special, right? So I went with one of the more Valentine-y cards: a Simba and Nala one.
Written on it was the already direct question of “Will you be my Valentine?” but, to make it more special, I added underneath in pen, “Please?” The energy of Valentine’s Day Eve had me confident in this decision. Plus, we had already spent the first half of the year as desk partners in crime. Jason was my silly friend. My friend I was starting to develop a crush on, sure, but still, my friend.
The next day when it came time to deliver the valentines, I delivered Jason’s carefully. I wanted it so that when he got home and dumped his cards on the floor, mine would be waiting for him at the bottom of the pile — except that didn’t happen. Jason decided right then and there to dump them all on his desk. Despite my careful placement, mine ended up right on top. He opened it almost immediately.
“Will you be my Valentine?” he read. He look confused. “‘Please?’ Why did you put please, Carolyn? I don’t get it. That’s stupid.” Not only did he not get it, he thought it was stupid. That was the Valentine’s Day I learned my face can turn a deep, embarrassing shade of red. That was the Valentine’s Day I learned Valentine’s Day didn’t have my back. Never again would I put myself out there, be swayed by Valentine intoxication. Because if I did — if I made myself vulnerable like that again — I was only going to find my face as red as the heart I wore on my sleeve.
For The Jim Jefferies Show writer, Subhah Agarwal, it wasn’t a particular Valentine tragedy that stuck out to her. Her view on Valentine’s Day stems from the all-inclusive nature of the holiday she experienced as a child. “Everyone had to give you a little card and candy when you’re a kid. Valentine’s as a kid sets you up for disappointment. When you’re an adult, you might not be getting shit.” What’s her solution? “They should just not give candy to some kids, and when they ask why, tell them it’s because others are intimidated by their independence.” Maybe Agarwal’s right. Grown-ups think they’re shielding us from a cruel world by including us all, but what if an early lesson on independence wouldn’t make that world so cruel?
This lesson on exclusivity was learned in high school for author of New York Times piece A Year of 101 Rejections, Emily Winter. “In grammar school, you had to give valentines to everyone. In high school, you only got valentines if someone had a crush on you, or loved you, or you were generally admired. It was all so public. It made not getting a rose or a valentine make me feel invisible and unattractive. As an adult, that may be why valentines are so important to me and to us as a society. It’s our partner’s way of saying, ‘I see you. You’re beautiful.'” Winter’s point is exactly why throughout high school my friends and I shared a fake boyfriend, Kevin. Kevin was the perfect boyfriend because Kevin was whatever you wanted him to be. Kevin delivered roses to us in homeroom on Valentine’s Day because Kevin did see us.
What my friends and I couldn’t expect from others, we provided for each other. It’s why throughout my 20s (and now into my 30s) I still enjoy the act of giving out valentines, even if I do still protect and guard myself on the day. I no longer save my more Valentine-y valentines for certain people, in fact I usually design them myself — everyone gets the same. No one is Simba.
As adults, we get to choose what traditions of the holiday we implement in our own lives, and how we act them out. Valentine’s Day doesn’t have to be as intense as that of the past. I’m taking back the power of Valentine’s Day by giving it to those I know love me, and partying with them.
My experience with Jason certainly influenced one of the negative ways I look at Valentine’s Day. But I’m also not in third grade anymore. Valentine’s Day no longer forces unwanted honesty out of me like a drunk text disguised in a cute, folded card. Now I share my true feelings for the right reasons and, more importantly, for the right people. I’ve taken the power back of Valentine’s Day and you can too. Find the people in your life that love you and love them back. Have a party with them. Watch a movie with them. Eat some snacks with them. Enjoy your day of freedom.
I’m heartbroken for your 9 year old self, but it made me giggle! I remember thinking that certain valentines from boys had special, secret meetings- and the ones not signed. Obviously secret admirers! I’m impressed that you put yourself out there like that.