Monday, February 16, 2015

Valentine's Day Was Out To Get You

Have you seen those commercials that have been endlessly running for the $100 giant teddy bear? The one claiming it is "every woman's wish this Valentine's Day?" It's just a sad example of how retailers everywhere are out to dupe poor men into sabotaging themselves on a romantic holiday. You aren't imagining it, people: Valentine's Day is out to get you.

It's never going to happen.
You see, no matter what you do, the hype is too great. Expectations are too high. Every gift, action, word, and look is over-analyzed. Valentine's Day is the great kyptonite of a relationship. Women are bombarded with all these supposed romantic images: candlelit dinners, black velvet boxes with sparkly jewels inside, chilled bottles of champagne at the ready. The truth of the matter is that the only men who give diamonds for Valentine's Day are those with a guilty conscience, all the restaurants are overbooked and overpriced on February 14, and you are being set up for bitter disappointment. Despite what ads would have you believe, if your Valentine's Day includes a shirtless man lying on a bearskin rug in front of a cozy fireplace, you're either dating Fabio or you've wandered onto the set of an Old Spice commercial.

I am an idealist: a dreamer who has visions of grandeur and hopes of perfection. Hence, I learned the cold, hard truth about Valentine's Day a long time ago. For example, a guy I dated in college planned a special Valentine hike for me, back in my coed days. Anyone who has ever met me has undoubtedly gleaned that my idea of a hike is walking up a sloped parking lot to enter a store. There is nothing romantic about practical shoes, dirt, and physical exertion. The best part of that day was when he mercifully dropped me off at my dorm and the day was over. I took a long, hot shower and tried to scrub away the disappointment that was seeping from my every pore.

What did you do on Valentine's Day 2002? I'm willing to bet that you don't remember. We've been together for fifteen of these treacherous Valentine holidays, and honestly, many of them I don't recall. There are a few fond memories I can conjure up, for the sake of storytelling. The first Valentine's Day we were married, we were seriously strapped for cash and seriously over the diet and fitness plan we had been on for a year getting into shape for our wedding. The result: we wound up at Olive Garden. The only thing I remember is a dessert called chocolate lasagna, which absolutely did not disappoint--so at least there's that.

The second year, Clint gave me a card with a fart joke and a pair of shoes--sensible shoes, at that! I don't need to tell you that the holiday did not go well for him, as my emotions went from tears to rage and may or may not have resulted in him sleeping on the couch. A couple of weeks later (and after much searching in the newspapers and online), he redeemed himself with the best Valentine's gift I ever got: a little one and half pound bichon frise puppy. Order was restored and the fart joke card was all but forgotten.

This little fur ball was the gift that keeps on giving.

Then there was the year we got all fancy and decided to try the five-course meal at a restaurant in our neighborhood that everyone raves about. It was way over our budget, but I had some "I love you" money that my granddaddy had given me and thought it would be a fun splurge for us on a romantic holiday occasion. I don't remember what our argument was about over dinner, but I do remember that it started during the first course--which was beet salad (seriously, why beets?)--and it caused us to eat the remainder of the meal in tense silence. Suffering through four more courses in a restaurant that seats 20 will put a real strain on your evening. Personally, I think we should have gotten a discount for being the entertainment portion of the meal. I wonder how many of the couples who dined with us left saying, "Well at least we aren't that couple?"

Several years ago, we got all adventurous and went snow tubing in Asheville with some friends. Cheaply naively, we decided to share a hotel room, just the four of us. The symphony of snoring that played all night long was not, in fact, music to my ears. You never really know someone until you live with them, or share a tiny Hilton Garden Inn hotel room. By Sunday morning, my nerves were so jangled I faked a sore throat so that we could get on the road a few hours early and get away from them get back home. And so we spent that Valentine's Day eating frozen pizza and watching the movie Couples Retreat (Stancil and Stancil give it a solid two thumbs down rating, FYI).

I racked my brain to remember what in the world we did last year. When I came up empty, I realized it was probably because there was no bickering to color our night and no questionable gifts to reflect upon--we have mercifully decided to stop giving Valentine gifts and just exchange cards. It takes away a lot of pressure and greatly decreases the likelihood of domestic violence at our house. Anyway, after searching the dark recesses of my mind, it turns out we went to Brio for dinner. I can't think of what we ate, or if it was good, but I do remember that the bartender gave me my dirty martini for free, which I do believe was the highlight of the evening. If you ever doubted that Cupid is stupid, that should be proof positive: two blue cheese-stuffed olives and a chilled martini glass were the pinnacle of the holiday.

Even with Valentine's reduced to the simple exchanging of the cards, there are still plenty of opportunities for it to sabotage your seemingly happy life. Inevitably, if I get Clint a funny card, he will show up with one that is incredibly thoughtful, sweet, and conveys the perfect sentiment. I feel shallow. The occasions I've shown up with a serious, tender card, he's gotten me one that's funny and I feel mushy and embarrassed. Pretty soon, we're going to be down to only dinner--no cards, no gifts, no fuss, no muss. Life is too short for all this pressure for grand romantic gestures.

This year, after the exchanging of the cards (he went funny but still sweet, I went sweet but still funny, win-win), we endured one of the longest, slowest, least tasty, most taxing meals of our lives. I'm not sure which was worse, the service or our food, but let's just say that our Valentine dinner left us so defeated, we didn't even order dessert. We were that anxious to put the whole fiasco behind us. You know your dining experience has been less than stellar when you stop off for a Snickers bar on your way home. By 9:45, we were back on the couch, in our pajamas, watching Netflix. Some enchanted evening.

The moral of this story is that the chocolates will make you fat, the overpriced flowers will promptly wither away, and all that will be left of Valentine's Day is the wave of relationship destruction that Cupid loves to spread. My advice is to hope for the best, expect the worst, don't believe any of the bragging you read on Facebook, and revel in the fact that there's almost a full year before that little troublemaker Cupid comes around again.

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