I’m going to tell you a story about Valentines Day. Once, many years ago, I had recently begun dating one of those young talents who steer their careers from the fast lane. A budding young conductor. He was also several years younger than me, which at the time bothered me more than it did him. Anyway, he was home visiting his parents in Germany over a week which happened to include Valentines Day. We made plans that I would come up from Austria for a visit, and I decided to stop in and spend a couple of days with one of my best, oldest girlfriends, who lived a few hours from his parents.
Now, my friend is clearly a child of Northeast catholic Philadelphia, the kind of folks who decorate their row homes for every holiday for which there are decorations made. She’s vivacious and fun and a hopeless romantic, and while I was there she made a dinner which included a table set with doilies and cinnamon hearts, and little individual heart-shaped cakes. Her adoring husband had bought her, among other things, a ginormous teddy bear.It was all lovely, but what I want you to understand here is that I was, well, primed for high romantic expectations when I set off to meet up with my boyfriend. I arrived mid-afternoon on The Day, and he picked me up at the station.
From there it went downhill fast. First, he had booked a hotel room for me (a nice one) because his parents had some aversion to houseguests of any kind (really.) We checked me in, but didn’t stay long because his mother was waiting for us with dinner at home (so no fooling around). By this time I was trying to figure out if I was justified in my feelings of being, well, neglected. After all, he was still a poor student, maybe he was so strapped for cash he couldn’t buy me anything. And maybe, being a guy, he had no imagination for homemade cards. I said nothing.
After a perfectly nice but slightly awkward dinner with mum, boyfriend though it would be nice to go into the town center, as the shops were still open. I went around admiring buckets of cut flowers, while he ignored the hint and bought himself two designer blazers on sale.
That did it. I let him have it. A long discussion ensued about what this holiday is supposed to mean: for me, it really had been a sort of litmus test to find out how much attention he was willing to give me. He felt unjustly tested, said that Valentines Day in these parts is mostly a day where women buy something nice for their husbands. He had a point: there are no walls of Valentines in the card stores, it’s primarily still a sweetheart thing, but also viewed as one of those tiresome American imports pushed on them by the floral industry. Still, he knew he was dating an American! This, combined with the fact that we had spend many hours of a week’s vacation in London the previous month hunting down a specific brand of perfume — for his ex, it turned out — should have been a cavalcade of big red flags parading before my eyes. Sadly, it wasn’t. We made up eventually, and I stuck around until he dumped me because of the age difference. Go figure.
My current beau and I have just celebrated three years since our first date. We have actually never celebrated Valentines Day, because every day’s a special day when we’re together. God, I know that sounds cheesy, but when it’s good, who needs all that extra frou-frou?
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