The Ghosts of Valentine's Days Past

Some memories are more vivid than others. Why does it have to be the bad ones?

Honestly, I know I've had good Valentine's Days. The evidence on my bulletin board bears witness to the fact that someone feels I'm worth paying homage to when pressured to do so by a greeting card cabal. But the good V Days blur together--a slide show of pleasant dinners and pretty cards. It's the bad ones that play like a Bunuel/Dali film in my brain.

I'm thinking about a certain second date...

We'd had a great first date and joked about the coincidence that we'd scheduled our second on Valentine's Day. The constant reminders at the restaurant, though, started to weigh heavily: waiters offering champagne and hinting at hot sex to come, couples mooning at nearby tables, high-priced Valentine's Day "specials." The fact that I'd bought him a cute/funny/no-strings-attached card didn't help. He seemed alternately freaked out by this minimal expression of holiday spirit and guilty that he hadn't thought to do the same. We never saw each other again.

On another V Day, my inability to find any card that adequately represented my feelings forced me to confront the truth about a long-term boyfriend: it was over. I was unable to get past a fight we'd had about electricity (the incompatible can fight about anything, so why not this?). Due to a blizzard that kept us apart on Valentine's Day, I had to break up with him over the phone, but it still felt good not to have to give him the hideous card I had settled on a few days earlier. I kept it for years to remind me of the dangers of falling for the wrong person.

Soundtrack to a (non) Hellish Valentine's Day

The great thing about storing music on a computer is the ability to spit out mix tapes (OK, CDs) quickly and efficiently. So in the interest of making a Valentine's Day spent alone a little less hellish, how about burning a disc with some of the best post-relationship songs?

Of course I'm not talking about sentimental mush, or even get-out-before-I-throw-you-out classics like "I Will Survive." I wouldn't necessarily go vindictive, with songs like "It's on the Rocks" by the Donnas, which notes, "We're over, I'm done / Yeah, it's time to have some real fun / So I'm callin' all my ladies / We're gonna key your Mercedes" or Carrie Underwood's "Before He Cheats," in which she "took a Louisville slugger to both headlights, slashed a hole in all 4 tires...Maybe next time he'll think before he cheats."

My theme: Alone and Loving It. Here are some recommendations for a soundtrack to a day basking in that "Over It!" feeling. I'm sure you'll excuse the fact that they're by women, about the men they're happy no longer to have in their lives. Men, feel free to find your own.

"Since U Been Gone" by Kelly Clarkson
"Ex-Girlfriend" by No Doubt
"Gone Gone Gone (Done Moved On)" by Robert Plant & Alison Krauss
"The Thrill Is Gone" (From Yesterday's Kiss) by Aretha Franklin (the version by Tracy Chapman and B.B. King is also outstanding)
"Runnin' Out of Fools" by Aretha Franklin
"I Can't Help You Now" and "I Will Not Be Broken" by Bonnie Raitt
"You Call Everybody Darling" by K.T. Oslin
"Mein Herr (from Cabaret) by Natasha Richardson (Liza Minelli did it pretty well, too)
"What Did I Ever See in Him?" (from Bye Bye Birdie) by Chita Rivera and Susan Watson
"Already Gone" by Wilson Phillips
"Just Go Away" by Blondie
"Special" by Garbage

and my all-time favorite, "Better After All" by Jonatha Brooke.

Music has healing properties. Songs like these can get you moving, smiling and recovering from a bad breakup. Forget the wallowing. For that, my specialty was Jackson Browne's "Here Come Those Tears Again". Every time I hear it--which isn't often these days--I still expect to hear it skip where my old overplayed record did. But these days my motto is: Shake it off, shake your booty and get out there again. No more tears! (Enough is enough.).

What songs do it for you?

Valentine's Day Through the Years

It starts out as fun. You buy a box of Peanuts cards, carefully separating them along the perforations. You write "Love" and your name on each one. You take your class list and put each name on its own envelope. Then you put a card in each envelope, fold over the top and seal it, maybe with a sticker if you're creative. You go to school with about 20 envelopes and come home with the same number, one from each classmate.

Later, it gets a little more complicated. You don't want to give everyone in your class a Valentine. In fact, there is one person you want to make sure gets a special message. Should it be anonymous? Should you buy a "real" card so you stand out from the Snoopys and Lucys? Should you tell your friend you're taking this heart-on-the-line step? Or would that lead to a singsong teasing in the classroom: "Guess who likes you, guess who likes you!" You don't get a Valentine from everyone in the class, maybe not even from the one person you had singled out for special treatment. Real life--messy, unfair, unpredictable, occasionally transcendent life--has begun.

I know I'm not the only one who spent years ignoring, resenting, even dreading Valentine's Day. Worst of all were the adolescent years. Throughout junior high and high school it was obvious who had a boyfriend and who had been left by the side of love's road. Those who were loved made sure everyone knew it, showing off their cards, candy, flowers or trinkets. (As a child of the '70s, I remember one classmate receiving the ultimate Valentine's offering: a card with a joint enclosed.) I was never the recipient of any Valentine's Day messages during those years, other than cards from Grandma and my younger sisters. Despised holiday!

College wasn't much better. Although I dated, I never seemed to be part of a couple when February 14th rolled around. I still have a little mouse holding a heart given to me by my friend Peter junior year. But he was (and is) "just" a friend--albeit the only man from that era still in my life! During senior year there was a blizzard in New York on Valentine's Day and we had a big dorm party. One dorm resident took that opportunity to confess a crush on me, but since it wasn't returned, the whole thing cast a pall over the evening. The fact that he was Peter's roommate just made it more awkward.

Of course, there have been plenty of years when I was the one whose crushes were unrequited. That's the way life works.

In my 20s I had some pretty dreadful Valentine' Day experiences, which I won't get into here. At age 30 I got married. After some years of marking the holiday the traditional ways (you know, flowers and cards), we kind of tapered off from "celebrating." After you hear that "For us, every day is Valentine's Day!" line a few times, you can translate it accurately: you won't be getting much. Of course, you don't have to give much either.

Yes, Valentine's Day (or VD as it is unfortunately abbreviated) is as fraught as a fake consumer-driven holiday can be. It puts pressure on relationships new and old: to find a card with an appropriate message, to gift or not to gift, to propose or not to propose, to acknowledge the cheesiness of the entire concept or paint oneself as a romantic eager for any chance to express love to (this year's) one and only.

Over the years I've received some decent cards and even some flowers. All is calm on the Valentine's Day front these days. But the memories of VDs past still haunt me.

Valentine's Day: The Dark Side (Videos)

Over But Not Over: Post Secret 1

“I wish I knew how to fall out of love.” Hell, who doesn’t?

More Don’ts Than Do’s

How to handle your special woman on this special day.

“You Live Life Without Napkins!”

Give yourself a pep talk this Valentine’s Day.

Bad News for Lovers: Post Secret 2

Messages from the broken hearted could be depressing, but somehow end up reassuring.

How Does This Have 4 Million Views?

Four personalities: Can you like me now?

The Valentine's Day Cooking Disasters

I don't know why so many of my hellish stories involve cooking fiascos. I've always thought of myself as a good cook, or at least a good baker, but now that I actually think back over my kitchen career, I have to admit a disaster average well above the standard deviation. I'm talking rice puddings the consistency of soup, burned cookies, fallen cakes and baked goods generally ranging from dry to sodden. Over- and under-cooking and -salting has turned many of my non-dessert forays into disappointments as well.
While I can destroy a meat loaf or bundt cake any day of the year, Valentine's Day is prime time for dashed dreams of culinary glory. Two examples:

My boyfriend was coming over for Valentine's Day dinner at the first apartment I ever had without a roommate. I felt so grown up, with my two skillets hanging on nails next to the stove and the cookie sheets my first boss had given me for my 21st birthday.

My plan that year was to make a classic man's meal: steak and mashed potatoes. I was barely making a five-figure salary at the time, so springing for steak was a big deal and showed how much I cared. Reinforcing that message was the peeling and hand-mashing of potatoes.

I made the potatoes first, then put them in the oven to stay warm while I was broiling steaks in the broiler below. I seasoned the meat and placed it on the broiler. Within minutes I heard a muffled explosion: It turns out the bowl was not Pyrex and couldn't handle the 500-degree heat. Glass rained down all over the expensive cuts of meat. Lesson one in the science of cooking.

The boyfriend refused to allow me to rinse off the meat and eat it anyway, a move which I'm embarrassed to say infuriated me at the time. I was sure I wouldn't miss a shard! But he insisted on treating me to dinner at KFC. We got it to go and still ate at my place, but it didn't live up to my fantasy of him telling me what a great cook I was. (I realize now that fantasy had no basis in reality!)

The following year I decided to show off the baking prowess I still misguidedly believed I possessed by making chocolate truffles for my office. The recipe is simple: butter, cream and melted chocolate, shaped into balls and rolled in cocoa. I put together a beautiful box and brought it to work on the subway.

I made a big announcement that I had a Valentine's Day treat for everyone. They gathered around and I dramatically lifted the lid on the beribboned box. We all leaned in to see...a melted brown mush that looked like chocolate would after it had been fully processed by the body of a Valentine's Day reveler. There was a chorus of "No thanks!"

From each disaster I learn a lesson, and apparently there are hundreds of lessons to learn. Don't forget to set the timer. Read through the recipe before you start to make sure you've left yourself enough time and have all the ingredients. Read through the ingredient list before you finish to make sure you didn't leave anything out. And don't forget to put fresh batteries in the smoke detector.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Too Much Time on Their Hands (Videos)

Valentine's Pillow Fight Club

On Valentine's Day 2006, almost 1,000 people converged in San Francisco for a flash mob pillow fight. Great way to get out the frustration of not having a date for the evening!

Valentine's Day Invitation: Hug Thy Neighbor

An interesting duo, Caleb (94) and Halcyon (35) join forces to promote conscious hugging for Valentine's Day. Get ready!

My Valentines Day Contest

Because of the "countless thousands of girls" practically beating down his door, hoping to be his Valentine's Day date, this guy decided to have a drawing. Second prize is an autographed photo. Yikes.

Fred on Valentine's Day

There's nothing more hellish than Fred, any holiday of the year.