Thursday, February 14, 2002

I Hate Valentine's Day

I hate Valentine’s Day.

That may make me sound like an un-romantic slob, but the truth is that Valentine’s Day has nothing to do with romance.

Why have a single day set aside to express love for your spouse/partner/significant other? The answer, of course, is to sell more flowers, candy, and greeting cards – with which you can articulate your love by signing your name under sappy words written by someone else.

My wife and I have been together for a very long time, but I still remember that Valentine’s Day was the worst day of the year to be an unattached single person with no love life. No other secular holiday makes you feel so excluded. Every American can celebrate freedom on July 4th or give thanks on Thanksgiving -- and even if you don’t celebrate Christmas, you make up for it with Chanukah or Kwanzaa or whatever.

I asked a single man and woman this morning how they feel about Valentine’s Day. They told me they detest being surrounded by husbands moaning that they “have to get” flowers or candy for their wives, or wives who “have to get” something for their husbands. That notion really drives home the love aspect – feeling obligated to buy a gift OR ELSE!

On top of that, it seems to them that every sitcom has a Valentine’s plot and all the cable channels run “the most romantic movies ever made.” Even the supermarket taunts them with tie-ins to the love angle. Is there anything more sentimental than a single-serve burrito with a big heart on the package?

Then there’s that nonsense about how Valentine’s Day is really a holiday rooted in religion, so some school districts won’t celebrate it at all. Just as they’ve ruined Halloween, some small-minded parent has complained that it’s a First Amendment violation for a public school to teach about saints (or, in the case of Halloween, witches). Pure bull. No one says, “Happy St. Valentine’s Day!” Those holidays are celebrated today in a manner that has nothing to do with religion, and everything to do with kids and commerce.

That said, I do agree that Valentine’s Day needs to come out of the schools, especially those that treat it the way they do at the elementary school my daughter attends.

To prepare for it, the kids are instructed to be sure to give Valentine’s cards to everyone in the class, so no one feels left out. The idea is to avoid the kind of ego-crushing moments that were standard issue when I was a kid, as the popular kids got two dozen cards, and the dweeby dorks like me got a total of three -– all from the other dweeby dorks. This all took place right in the classroom, maximizing the embarrassment potential.

They don’t do it that way anymore. Instead, they hand out a list of names of everyone in the class. Then Mom or Dad goes to the store and buys a package of rectangular pre-processed Valentine’s cards. On each one, the child writes the name of one of the other kids in the class, and then their own name, until everyone is covered. Then they take them to school and drop them in the boxes the individual students have prepared and decorated.

By the way, the school can’t legally require the kids to do this, so they always tell the kids “only if you want to.” As if any second grader would want to be the sole kid in class who didn’t hand out Valentine’s cards to everyone else. Even the dweeby dorks would look down on them!

While I admire the school’s efforts to teach inclusion, I detest the whole concept.

First of all, the cards are not personal at all. They’re all commercially prepared, so they’re selling something (never miss an opportunity to make an advertising impression, particularly on the most impressionable!). In the pile my daughter received today, here’s one with Britney Spears and another with 'NSync. Here’s one with the Powerpuff Girls and another with The Crocodile Hunter. Here’s one from “102 Dalmations” and another from “Monsters Inc.” Only a few are handmade, hand-drawn, or show any input from the kid other than filling out the names. On at least one of them, it’s clear that the Mom filled out my daughter’s name – either that, or this kid has the best penmanship in a class that just started to learn how to write in cursive!

Secondly, the lesson being taught is one of insincerity. In any group of 20 kids, they are not all going to get along with all the others. Some will be close friends, some will be casual friends, others will be the kids you just don’t like. I watched my daughter filling out her cards, and that’s the order she did them in, from friend to foe. By about the 13th name, it was like homework to her. Why should they give cards of friendship or love to everyone, when that’s not how they really feel?

Children should be taught tolerance and inclusion, but if Kid A taunts and teases Kid B on the bus every day, it’s hypocrisy to make Kid B give Kid A a “Be My Valentine” card, just because they’re in the same class.

So, what’s the solution? Stop making our schools the Post Office Of Love!

Let the kids go back to giving Valentine’s Day cards to only the friends they want to give them to. But instead of delivering them in the classroom, put them in the mail! That way they’re delivered without an atmosphere of exclusion and hurt feelings – and most of all, without the artificiality that now pervades the day.

Besides, teaching kids to “love everyone” may have repercussions when they’re teenagers. When puberty hits and we have The Big Discussion, we’ll teach them that they should only have sex with someone they love. And they’ll tell us, “But I love everyone, just like they always taught us in school!”

Great! My daughter, the Valentine’s Day nympho.