Everyone I know hates Valentine’s day.

This is because they’re doing it wrong.

I’m running around town at three a.m., treading lightly across lawns and hearing the blue squeak of snow underfoot, putting my toes carefully between black ribbons of ice on the porch steps. Dropping brightly-colored bouquets and scrolls wrapped in silk ribbon on the doorstep, vaulting the fence and slipping back into the line of footprints that leads back to the warmly idling truck. The truck is full of presents and a thermos of hot chocolate spiked with Bailey’s. I haven’t slept.

Toward sunrise, there’s the increasing chance of being caught. Someone might be coming out to get the paper just as I trundle up the road; standard strategy here is to drive on as if I had other places to be, very important places like the biscuit joint, and then come back around the block while they’re busy pouring the coffee and wondering how Egypt is getting along.

It’s a rogue’s holiday, a mischievous, scheming holiday. It’s a day for pretty paper and fresh flowers and brightly-colored ribbons snapping in the wind on a cold, gray morning. It’s a gorgeous day to be running around town making merry.

So why is it that for everyone else, Valentine’s day is a time to moan if you don’t have a lover, and fret if you do?

I blame it on telling the wrong story.

The Story of Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day has a horrible story. Lovers used to write each other verses for February 14th after Chaucer regaled St. Valentine’s Day as the day that birds found a mate. Then a British writer published a tome of pre-written Valentine’s verses for poetically-challenged lovers. Printers picked up the idea and created “mechanical valentines”. Esther Howland and Hallmark took it from there. Cards were soon not enough (and why would they be, with the same sentiment the next girl over also received) and so flowers, and chocolate, and jewelry.

It’s hated as a commercial holiday – which it is. It’s hated because it puts a great deal of pressure on couples to come up with a “perfect” Valentine’s day – which it does. It’s hated because it makes everyone who is not part of a couple feel like they’re missing out – which they are.

It’s a wretched story. Which is why I don’t tell it. I tell this one:

Valentine’s Story

The original Valentine was not a lover. He was a bishop.

The emperor Claudius II (this was when there were empires) found his soldiers were not as enthusiastic about dying as they had once been. Wives, he thought, were clearly to blame. No man would risk dying in battle if he had a family at home waiting for him to return. He decreed that no young men would be allowed to get married, which was somewhat distressing for the young lovers of Rome.

Now, Bishop Valentine knew perfectly well that the only reason to forbid lovers from marrying was money, class, or feuding families (Shakespeare existed long before William). Youth and war, he considered, were no reason two sweethearts should not be together, and he began to conduct marriages for the young people of Umbria in secret, out of sight, in the dark hours after midnight and before dawn. His name was passed from soldier to soldier: the friend of lovers, Valentine.

He was caught, of course. All it took was one soldier who had never intended to marry his girl in the first place and figured he wouldn’t have to go through with it if the only willing bishop was gone. Valentine began the ceremony; Claudius objected at the appropriate point, and the young soldier heaved a great sigh of relief while the bishop was marched off to prison. The girl was naturally inconsolable, but an emperor’s interference is a fairly good reason to leave one’s fiancee at the altar, and to the best of my knowledge she never blamed the soldier.

During his imprisonment, Valentine befriended his jailer’s daughter. No funny stuff, mind you; the girl was only twelve years old, and on the other side of the bars besides. In his account of the affair, Jacobus de Voragine accused the girl of being blind and deaf, saying Valentine restored her sight and hearing so he would have someone to talk to. His account is intriguing but hardly accurate; the girl was merely very shy. Jacobus always tended toward the dramatic.

Before Valentine was executed, he wrote the girl an affectionate letter, telling her how glad he was of her company while he waited to die. He signed it “your Valentine” and asked to not be forgotten. He was marched out, beaten with clubs, and stoned until everyone’s arms grew tired, but Valentine was a man with a strong heart, and he did not die. They beheaded him in the interest of time (everyone wanted to go home for supper) and buried him at the Via Flaminia.

Valentine reached out to those who were wretched with how dark love can be, and gave them the bright side instead. It’s a good tradition; better than store-bought cards and waxy chocolates. It’s my tradition now.

Telling a Different Story

Everything you hate can be turned upside down in just this way.

Most people I know hate Valentine’s day even after I tell them this story. And because they hate it, they refuse to participate. They stay at home and watch tear-jerkers or horror flicks (depending on both their level of aggression and gender), eating ice cream and pretending they don’t mind being alone. They kick things, get drunk, and rail against the holiday.

But pretending the story doesn’t exist doesn’t make it go away.

You have to transform it into something else.

The way I tell the story includes the handwritten love letters, the secrecy, the thrill that comes with risking something to show your love. And because I did, Valentine’s Day became my favorite holiday. I started to hope I’d be single whenever it rolled around. The last time I had a devoted boyfriend on Valentine’s Day, he did the whole traditional nine yards: flowers, candy, a vacation to a nice hotel and a fancy restaurant out of town.

It was by far the least fun I’ve had on Valentine’s Day.

Once you change the story, you wonder what on earth is wrong with people who choose to stick with the lousy version.

Every day, you tell stories about your life. Who you are, what you’re doing with your day, where you’re going next. You’ve told them so often they feel permanent. But they’re not.

You are allowed to change the story. Tell it and re-tell it and tell it again until it says just what you want it to say. Until it becomes a story you want to live.

A Word About Love Letters

One of the dangers of beginning to enjoy something you previously hated is that it’s very difficult to stop doing it. For me, the part I can’t quit is love letters. I can’t stop. I’m horrible. I start with my closest friends, my goddaughters, my parents, my neighbors. Then it becomes colleagues, college classmates, contacts I once knew in other cities.

I write one for every person who was kind to me this past year with my still-young business, everyone I told about this website, the one I just started today, on Valentine’s Day. I don’t think I would have created this without them So I write a letter for Jonathan and Charlie, Terry and Jeff, Sonia and Brian. For Naomi, who told me my fears were not stupid, and for Havi, who told me they were. (They were both right.)

If you hate Valentine’s day, change the story. Write a love letter to someone you love. Make it someone you’re not in love with – someone you just love, wholly and without reservation, someone who loves you back, someone whom you never think to tell how much you love them because they already know.

Tell them anyway. Tell a new story.

Comments

  1. I’m going to turn into a typical groupie for half a second and say ‘Wow! What a fantastic post!’

    I’ve always enjoyed Valentine’s and I’ve always been single in every one of them. Then I got married and my husband loves Valentine’s just as much as I do.

    We don’t do fancy romantic stuff, there are no cards, chocolate or flowers. There’s just the normal every day phone call from him asking if everything’s okay and if I need him to get anything on his way back.

    Then he comes home carrying a balloon for our daughter and wishes her Happy Valentine’s day while winking at me and that moment right there is Valentine’s for me.

    1. Oh, it’s so good to see you here, Samar. Thanks for the sweet words and for sharing. I’m so glad you came around to say hello.

    2. Samar, I love that wink moment you describe! So sweet. I adore your name too.

  2. Taylor, best of luck on this new adventure. Brilliant first post.

    I’m off to write a couple letters.
    Phil

    1. That’s the spirit. Soon I will have a mighty letter-writing army. Handwriting shall never die!

      Thanks for the good wishes, Phil. Hope to see you around as I keep writing.

  3. Hey Taylor, I’m so excited to read this from you… it felt like a very personal letter to all of us on the interwebs. I didn’t like Valentines Day either (it’s so easy to complain rather than do something about it right?) but now I think I’ve found a nice comfortable space for it.

    It’s all about the love right? We all have people we love. :)
    Nathalie Lussier recently posted..Instant Pick Me Up for Entrepreneurs and Creatives- Why You’re AwesomeMy ComLuv Profile

    1. Hopefully, I’ll be doing some more of that. Trying to create something slightly off-kilter and unusual for a blog over here, and it’s nice to hear that you liked it. And yes, we all have people we love. It’s good to see you. Will you be at SXSW again this year?

  4. Oh Taylor, how I love your mischievous way with words! Happy Valentine’s Day and Happy Blog Birth Day. Congrats!

    1. Tzaddi! Thank you so much. Will you be at Southby for me to hug you in person?

      1. Yes! I will be there and looking forward to that hug :)

  5. What a great day to start your blog. Love the design.

    1. You can thank the lovely Reese for the design. She did a phenomenal job.

  6. Holy hot sweet cheesy biscuits, you cannot really understand how thrilled I am to see this website, this post, and all the wonderful heart that went into it. Through a drippy nose and cranky disposition, I am sitting here grinning from sheer selfish delight. I’ve loved this idea from the first moment I heard it, and it’s been difficult waiting for it to launch.

    But now it has, and my only request is that you keep it going in grand and spectacular style. Because otherwise I shall be forced to come after you – and I’ll do it. Don’t you doubt it.

    Cheers, Lady!

    1. Grand and spectacular hot sweet cheesy biscuits. Done and done. You’re the best, Moriarty. There will always be a chair for you at the round table.

  7. Inspirational. I’ve never thought much of V Day- a day to be with loved ones, and perhaps to go out of your way to make them feel special with a note, chocolate or floral gift, but nothing to make a big fuss about. But you’ve reminded me that not everyone feels the same, and to them, Valentine’s Day represents something very painful and lonely, or conversely something very expensive and needless.

    For those people, I will strive to change their narratives around the 14th of Feb. I’m glad that White Day exists so it’s not too late for me to let people know they’re loved! And truly, good on you for doing such a remarkable act to brighten the world in a small way for a small time. I’m glad it’s been acknowledged and shared on your website. I hope you become very, very popular in the immediate future.

    1. Thank you so much for all the good wishes, Xin. I’m thinking pretty much no day in the world should be an automatic cause for hatred and distress; doesn’t seem to accomplish much. And, of course, love letters are not a Valentine’s-only thing, just as presents are not a birthday-only thing. It’s just a day when we get reminded that it’s a great idea.

  8. Wow, what a wonderful post!

    This year, my sweetheart and I did a puzzle together. And told each other the funny reasons we love each other. Perfect.

    Looking forward to more from you!!

  9. (Stopping by via Havi :)

    I so enjoyed reading this! I have never minded Valentine’s Day, even single, because I’ve always spent it with dear friends or with a dear puppy. But this year I was inspired to write/send a tall stack of love letters. (I love sending mail anyway, but usually mine is more random.) They were so fun to write. And now that I’ve heard the real story, clearly I must continue.

  10. I came across this through Havi’s Friday Chicken, and kinda wanted to dislike it, because MY newsletter is called the PPD Love Letter, and I had the toddler reaction of not wanting anybody else to play with my toys. And then I read it, and I loved it (you would have to be a creature of Mordor to hate it). And you were able to move my point of view. as former a hater of V-day (as of 10 minutes ago), I can totally see myself taking it from your perspective and loving it.
    My love letter is geared towards self-care for mothers. I think, I hope, you will like it half as much as I like this one, despite the fact that it begins with a put-down of V-day; it is also about the changing of the story. Here is the link:
    http://ow.ly/3ZHnh
    I hope you don’t mind the sharing of a link here. Do you mind? You can disable this comment if you would rather not have links here, so I am going to go ahead and keep the link.
    Yael Saar recently posted..The Worst Holiday Ever!My ComLuv Profile

  11. What a wonderfully loving and inspiring post.

    With reach well beyond Valentine’s Day for learning – and using – the skill of telling a new story… brilliant and needed in this confused world of ours.

    This Valentine’s Day – actually Sunday pre-Valentine’s Day – my sister and I invited a group of friends together to build a love mandala. We wanted to expand the story of Valentine’s Day beyond romance – into the individual and collective love this planet so sorely needs.

    Each person had a rose in which to breathe their intention, and a candle to activate it.

    At the end, we had this rose petal strewn space, lit with candles, and a bunch of radiant faces smiling at each other.

    It was an amazing experience, and as people left, many commented on it being the best Valentine’s Day they could remember.

    Looking forward to more of your wisdom, dear Taylor.

    Ellen

  12. malunggay56 shared:

    Unlike others, I’m totally different because whether I have or no boyfriend, I still celebrate the Valentine’s day because the true meaning of valentine is not just two people falling in love with each other but for me, it is all about the love of the family and most especially God above anything else.
    malunggay56 recently posted..paleo diet menuMy ComLuv Profile

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There Are Three Portals. Choose Wisely

THE APOLOGUE: WHAT CAME BEFORE

I grew up believing in stories the way some believe in God.

Stories were how I learned what was good and what was wrong. They were how I discovered there was a greater purpose to one's life than simple, immediate pleasures. Stories taught me that there were always keys to all the doors, that there were always words that would grant safe passage.

Stories taught me that there was such a thing as a hero's life, and that it was the only one worth living.

Go on.

THE LETTER: VIGNETTES AND VARIATIONS

Between each story I think a lot. I scratch out drafts, change words, decide to tell it through someone else's eyes. Every morning, I write out a sketch of what I'm trying to grasp, and over time it's taken the form of a letter.

These letters are personal, unpolished, and precarious. They're also where you'll first hear about new unfurlings as I create them. If this all sounds like your brand of whiskey, tell me your name, and give me a place where letters of this sort can be received.

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