I have never been a fan of the way folks over romanticize Valentine’s Day. The decorations go up in stores the day after Christmas, when some folks are actually still celebrating Christmas. The cards are pink, sappy, and covered in hearts. Everything is commercialized, even the “Galentine’s” Day culture for single women without sweethearts (I have often wondered why there isn’t a corresponding “Palentine’s” Day for single men, but whatever). There doesn’t seem to be any understanding at all that the original name of what we celebrate on February 14 is Saint Valentine’s Day. There’s a whole history that most folks neither know or understand, as there is with so many other holidays which have become Hallmark holidays.
For me, February 14, 1986 was the end of the beginning of a relationship. That was the day I broke up with my boyfriend.
We had first met on October 28, 1981, on our first day of a strike delayed school year. We were in eighth grade, and only 13 years old. We were in the same class again in ninth grade. I dated his best friend. We hung out in the same group of friends. I had played in the school orchestra with his brother since I was 11.
His name was John. I thought he was weird, mostly because he stared at me all the time.
John left our school to go somewhere else for tenth grade. His brother remained to finish his senior year, so I would see him from time to time. He’d grown taller and his hair had gotten long. Still, he seemed somehow attractive to me for no particularly good reason. I had long ago been dumped by his friend (because he was gay), so there was no conflict of interest there. I invited him to my 16th birthday party and he showed up. Then he started to call me almost everyday. The conversations were odd, but they all ended the same way: he would murmur quietly “I love you.” The first few times he said it, I wasn’t sure I heard him correctly.
I’d heard him correctly. One day, I called him on it. I asked him to repeat what he’d said, and he did. Then there was a long pause. He was clearly waiting for me to say something, but I had no clue what to say. I wasn’t at all sure how I felt about him. Did I love him too?
I just didn’t have an answer to that question, especially since I knew that his family was moving away the day after his brother graduated. There were only a few days for me to sort all this out.
Graduation came and I knew I would see him. When the ceremony finished, John appeared seemingly out of nowhere and I broke down in tears. I sobbed into his shirt as I grabbed his collar to pull him close. I guess this was my answer to him.
I loved him too.
Over the next 20 months, we spoke on the phone practically every Friday night. John would call me around 7:30 and we would talk for an hour or two. He would always talk about himself and rarely ask about me. He also wrote a lot of letters and occasionally came to visit me. My parents didn’t care for John much, but they really hated the idea that I had a boyfriend. He was never welcome to stay at our house and I was not allowed out with him often. My parents didn’t trust anything with a penis anywhere near me.
About a year after my relationship with John began, I met someone who reminded me of him. I walked into a room where I was going to be spending a week at a poetry conference, and there he was. For a split second, I thought he was John. I was wrong.
I couldn’t have been more wrong, actually.
By Halloween, I was dating them both. My mom actually said it was a good idea because I was too young to be tied to one boy. Oddly, my lack of monogamy only really bothered one person: John. He wasn’t in Philadelphia anymore and I only saw him every three months. I was lonely. I wanted to go to my prom senior year and John didn’t want to go. My other guy wanted to go, and he had a car to boot. I was torn. I was only 17.
Then John threw down the gauntlet. I had to choose. Now.
I don’t like ultimatums. I made the choice, but I didn’t choose him. I was sad about it, but I was determined to break up with him. All I had to do was wait for him to call that Friday, February 7th.
He called and I could hear him crying. He had just come from putting down the family dog.
Are you fucking kidding me? I couldn’t break up with a man who had just lost his pet. I may have been a self-centered teenaged girl, but I had a heart. I would wait until the following week to tell him.
February 14th. Valentine’s Day.
Yeah. I suck. He called and I broke up with him. He argued. He bargained. He pleaded. He cried.
I was surprised that I cried too. Even though I had what some would later call “a spare” lined up, I was breaking up with someone I loved. I felt a loss, even if no one else believed me. It was hard to do, but I did it.
That was 30 years ago today. John and I had a good laugh about it this morning.
Yes, that weird boy is now my husband of nearly 24 years.
How do I explain it? He changed. I changed. We talked. I dated more than my share of guys after finally breaking up with the idiot I dumped John for. That relationship was sick, twisted, and violent, and I’m lucky to have survived it. I’m even luckier that I gave John another chance. Despite the level of cliché this phrase has achieved, I really don’t know where I’d be without John. He may actually have saved me from my lesser self and brought me to a better understanding of what I was meant to be.
Isn’t that what a good relationship is supposed to do? He supports me and I support him. We love each other because of, NOT in spite of, who the other person is. We are better together than we could have been individually.
For years after we got back together, I would be the one to buy the roses and dinner and chocolates. It was my way of saying both thank you and I’m sorry. In February of 1998, I gave him our first child as a Valentine’s Day present. That day I asked him if I could stop apologizing for breaking up with him so many years before. He most magnanimously let me off the hook. We were even.
So, for me, Valentine’s Day is a day I remember the end of the beginning of my relationship with John. Actually, it is a cause for celebration. We weren’t ready for each other yet, and I needed to end it so we could go on with our lives and grow up a little. The second time around was the charm. Timing, as I’ve learned, is indeed everything.