There are holidays filled with joy, love, laughs and a gladdened heart.
And then there’s Valentine’s Day.
“I’m not sure he ever recovered,” recalls a friend I’ll call Clarissa, thinking back on the Valentine’s Day when she was engaged to the man of her dreams, who gave her a pair of heart-shaped silver earrings. Nice, right?
Wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong.
“When I put them on, I realized they were tarnished. I went insane!” says Clarissa. “I thought, ‘This is the end of our relationship!’ I remember going down the street, crying my eyes out and calling my friend, ‘Matt bought me these tarnished earrings (sob) and I don’t want (sob) to speak to him again!’ (Assume more sobbing.) It was like the tarnish was a metaphor for our relationship. I remember my family talking me down, ‘He doesn’t mean it. He loves you. It was inadvertent.’ But what kind of man gives a woman a tarnished gift?”
A man who’s pre-t-t-t-y worried about giving her a gift again, I’ll tell you that.
Looking back now — with her 30th anniversary coming up (yes, to Tarnish Man!) — Clarissa can’t understand why she went so ballistic.
But I do.
Valentine’s Day is to relationships what pythons are to picnics.
Another friend whose name I can’t use — do you sense a pattern here? — had been married for a few years and V-Day was upon him. “Of course, I was one of those last-minute shoppers,” he admits. “So I was on Fifth Avenue and I just popped into a Victoria’s Secret to get her something.” He pauses. “I learned a lot that day.”
Lessons you males out there may wish to note:
• Buying a negligee for a woman is sometimes perceived, perhaps unfairly, as more of a gift for you.
• Silk is an expensive material, long valued for its drape, feel, and cost.
• Polyester is a cheap, man-made material that can, to some benighted (ex) boyfriend or husband, seem just like silk.
• It’s not.
Once my friend had learned this lesson the hard way, he never bought his wife any clothing again — not even a scarf. In fact, after that it was mostly gift cards.
“Let her handle it,” he says now, sounding a little shaken.
And then there was the “funny” Valentine’s Day that entrepreneur and corporate keynote speaker Peter Shankman arranged for his date. They’d been going on five months — “Long enough for her to know my sense of humor.”
Or so he thought.
“Did you know that on Valentine’s Day, White Castle takes reservations and puts out waiter service, place mats, candy hearts, etc?” He told the girlfriend to dress up, “We’re going to someplace romantic.”
They drove to Queens. They pulled into White Castle. The girlfriend assumed they just needed a place to park. But — surprise! During dinner, she cried.
They broke up a week later. He has since married someone more fun.
Of course, sometimes the gift a guy gives is actually quite perfect. That doesn’t mean all goes as planned.
“One year, I happened to get three bouquets delivered at work,” recalls Manhattan author and poet Elinor Nauen. “Bouquet No. 1 came from Johnny, my new boyfriend at the time. Bouquet No. 2 was from a guy who worked there and had a hopeless crush on me.” The third bouquet was a thank-you from a writer whose story she’d published. The gift just happened to arrive on Feb. 14.
“I kept getting interrupted to go to the front desk for yet another delivery, and the small muttering that came at the second bouquet got pretty loud by the third,” says Nauen. And what were those co-workers’ mutters?
“Everyone seemed to think I’d sent them all to myself!”
So a day to revel in popularity became a day to realize: All my coworkers think I’m a neutered, friendless, narcissist. Gee thanks!
Luckily, she is still with Johnny — he of Bouquet No. 1 — decades later. And the fact that he has never given her flowers since is something they’re both okay with.
Maybe the key is to simply sleep through the 14th. Or do what my husband did in the early, giddy days of our relationship: Buy your beloved a pound of bologna.
Not as a metaphor. Just as a guilty pleasure that isn’t made out of polyester and can’t tarnish. What’s more, it is unlikely your sweetheart will get three pounds on the same day.
Lenore Skenazy is a keynote speaker and author and founder of the book and blog Free-Range Kids.