Ever since childhood, Valentine's Day has had the potential to cause me anxiety. I was always worried that I wouldn't get enough Valentines from my schoolmates. I was even more nervous to give my crush a Valentine - what if he didn't give me one back?
At least when you're in grade school, you don't have to think about finding a date for this very non-Jewish holiday. The day is simply inescapable. As soon as the red-and-green Christmas decorations come down in all the stores, up go the colors of love. You walk into a supermarket or pharmacy, and signs of Cupid are everywhere. Even the other half of the kosher aisle at my favorite Genuardi's is devoted to red and pink heart-shaped paraphernalia and chocolates!
But we're Jewish …
Intellectually, we realize the history of Valentine's Day traces back to a saint and the Catholic Church, though people seem to have forgotten all that. It's become completely commercial in the last century - a huge moneymaker for greeting-card companies and floral shops.
Some 192 million Valentine's Day cards are sent a year, making it the second-most popular card exchange after Christmas, according to the December 2005 press release from the American Census Bureau. This doesn't even include the kiddie packages for the classroom exchange I so dreaded as a child.
Making It Special
So the pressure mounts within us as the Feb. 14 approaches. For singles, there's pressure to find a date or something to do, so God forbid you're not alone. When you're in a relationship, there's also pressure, especially on the man's part.
Face it - V-Day has always been a bigger deal for the ladies. I have a friend who bought his girlfriend tulips one year, and she was upset that they weren't roses. Just because it was Valentine's Day, it became a big deal.
If he doesn't get me the perfect gift, does that mean he still loves me, that he knows me?
At a Super Bowl party I attended last week, I asked the guys their thoughts on Valentine's Day. Their general response was that the holiday was "stupid," "kinda silly," and that it plainly "sucks." (Keep in mind that I asked them during a Super Bowl party.) Most agreed that if they were single during V-Day, they wouldn't care too much.
One guy said women expect so much more on this one day, and that it's just a Hallmark holiday and another reason to go out to an expensive dinner. He said, "Just because I don't do all the right things doesn't mean I don't love her." Another guy felt the holiday was just another reason to instigate a fight - because he never seemed to do what his girlfriend expected.
That doesn't mean all guys feel completely okay with the fact that they're single on V-Day. Another male friend said being single on V-Day can be incredibly nerve-racking, and since he had one bad V-Day in a prior relationship, it's been one of his least favorite days of the year.
Regardless of a man's feelings, he is far less likely to mope around or plan a guy's night out on Feb. 14. But why not? If you have a group of single guys, suggest a poker night. For ladies, try a Ben & Jerry's/"When Harry Met Sally" movie night. Personally, I think it's better to have some fun than spend the evening alone.
If you're not in the mood to be around so much estrogen or testosterone, go to a (nonromantic) movie with a friend, or visit a coffee shop and talk. My biggest advice for women in relationships is not to have any grand expectations; after all, it's just another day on the calendar.
For the men, try to take that extra step to show how much you care; for some reason, Valentine's Day does matter to girls. (There's even a similar holiday - a day of love - in Israel these days.) You don't have to spend a lot of money, but if you do decide to get a gift, it's always a good idea to listen to what he or she didn't receive for the holidays.
I think at the beginning of a relationship, there's even more pressure for V-Day to go right, which is why I created a list for men and women to help make sure this day is a positive celebration for both sides. I got some help from the guys, and we all agreed that Feb. 14 can be wonderful (and argument-free) if you just put in a little thought.Gifts for Guys:
• A case of their favorite beer or a bottle of fine whiskey;
• A nice dinner out (women's treat);
• Tickets to a sports game (and the promise to attend and act interested);
• A body massage;
• A favorite CD or DVD (male themes appreciated);
• A homemade dessert or a few dinner options to keep in the fridge, especially for a guy who lives by himself. Gifts for Girls:
• Flowers or chocolates;
• An indoor picnic - set up a basket and blanket, and camp out in the living room;
• A horse-and-buggy ride or an evening of ice-skating;
• A day of sight-seeing at local tourist attractions, taking time for cheesy couples' photos;
• Jewelry (ask a friend for help);
• And if all else fails, there's always a mix CD - or a romantic DVD she's always liked.
Valentine's Day doesn't have to be about being a saint. It can simply be a reason to do something special for someone you care about.