Tango Diva : Travel Stories for Women, by Women

by Dana Drake

It’s so exciting to be in love when February 14 arrives. But when I’m not in a relationship I dread the day. Especially at work, where there are all the unavoidable reminders that it is Saint Valentine’s Day.

On that day, the office always looks like a crazy florist with a candy fetish was trapped in the building overnight. One who only attacks a select group of cubicles with his red, pink, and chocolate motif.

Most of my coworkers don’t find the experience at all odd. They’re too busy bustling with excitement for their after-work dinners and romantic weekend getaways.

“We’re going to San Diego this weekend. But tonight he’s making me a romantic dinner at home. I think he bought me jewelry this year!” one co-worker gushes. Can I please borrow that vase of pink carnations to throw up in?

I try to mentally prepare myself days in advance. I repeat my mantra:

You may be single, but you aren’t alone in life. You have so many close friends, a loving family, and a great job that keeps you busy. You are single because you don’t want to settle. You’d much rather be single and happy than be in a bad relationship. [Pause] Plus, flowers die and candy makes you fat.

The night before the “big” day, I was at the supermarket checkout line when I noticed there were more men shopping by themselves than usual. Then I realized that many of them were buying Valentine’s cards, flowers, or candy. I watched as a box of cheap chocolates, a single red rose, a six-pack of beer, and a package of condoms rolled down the conveyor belt past a nervous young man.

“This seems like a popular place for Valentine’s Day shopping,” I said to the clerk as I unloaded my very non-romantic grocery items from the cart.

“For men it is. It will get worse tomorrow,” she told me. “At around five o’clock, the place is always packed with guys on their way home who just realized it’s Valentine’s Day. Some even run up to me, panicked, saying, ‘Are these all the cards you have left?’”

Last-minute shopping is the norm on Valentine’s Day; according to statistics, nearly 60 percent of all Valentine’s Day cards are purchased within the six days leading up to the holiday.

My experience at the grocery store made me reflect on how commercial Valentine’s Day has become. It is literally a Hallmark holiday. According to the greeting card company, Valentine’s Day is the second largest holiday for giving greeting cards. (Christmas is number one.) Hallmark also estimates that about 74 percent of Americans celebrate Valentine’s Day. That’s more than the percentage of Americans who “celebrated” last year’s General Election Day by voting.

Hallmark estimates that approximately 200 million cards will be exchanged nationwide this year. That’s not including those prepackaged valentines children exchange at school. I remember when my fourth grade teacher required that each student give out Valentine cards to every other child in the class, so that the holiday wouldn’t become a popularity contest and so no one would feel left out. It sure was nice of her to shelter us from the harsh future reality of the holiday.

Some women judge how much their husband or boyfriend loves them by the gift he buys for Valentine’s Day. Maybe it’s a day where men should follow the “don’t just tell—buy!” rule.

When I walked into work this Valentine’s Day, I was prepared for the usual. I was expecting to feel left out of the love-fest and planned to throw myself into my work.

I got off the elevator and rounded the corner past the sales department. It was like a florist shop. Roses, carnations, and even a few balloons peeked out over the grey cubicles.

When I arrived at my desk I found a shoebox-sized package wrapped in pink paper with red hearts on my chair.

First, I verified that the package indeed had my name on it. Then a flood of questions rushed through my mind. Who could it be from? An ex-boyfriend who couldn’t move on? A secret admirer? A jdate.com guy who had somehow tracked me down?

My state of wonderment was interrupted by a curious colleague. “Dana, what’s that? Who is it from?”

The package seemed to be the key to an exclusive Valentine’s Day club I had unexpectedly entered. “Let’s find out,” I told her.

I tore off the pink wrapping and opened the cardboard box. That was apparently like an alarm sounding, because several nearby coworkers stopped what they were doing and rushed over to my desk.

“Ooh, Dana…what did you get?” they cooed.

The pressure was on as I opened the box. I paused and looked around at the small crowd that had formed.
“Coming up next… find out what’s in Dana’s mystery box!” I teased before opening the package.

Inside were little plastic bags tied with red and pink ribbons, and filled with homemade cookies, candy conversation hearts, and chocolates wrapped in red and pink foil. On the bottom of the box I found a miniature stuffed teddy bear holding a little embroidered red heart with the words “I love you.”

”Ooh, how cute, who is it all from?” my coworkers asked. I slowly pulled out the note written on pink stationary and read it to myself.

Dana, thinking of you this Valentine’s Day. We’re all so proud of you!
Love, Mom

My eyes welled up with tears. I hesitated for a second, worried that my coworkers were going to think this was really weird; after all, I wasn’t twelve.

I cleared my throat and said, “It’s from my mom.”

“Aw! How sweet!” they cheered in unison.

I quickly gathered my composure as I shared the treats with my coworkers. I watched as many of them returned to desks filled with flowers from boyfriends or husbands. I noticed that several others returned to desks that did not have any Valentine’s Day paraphernalia. I secretly wished I was back in fourth grade, where everyone was required to have a Valentine’s card.

In the big scheme of things it really doesn’t matter what you “get” on one commercialized day of the year. It’s important to remember that we all have love in our lives, even if it’s not romantic love. Whether it’s the love of a parent, a grandparent, a best friend, or even a pet, it’s all good.

I continue to vow to stop getting caught up in this commercialized holiday. But I can’t help secretly hoping that next year I won’t have to wonder what the day will bring.

My single friends all say they want to be with a romantic guy. We say we want a guy who writes beautiful love letters and brings us flowers for no reason at all. We say we want a guy who doesn’t grimace when the check comes at dinner, or when he has to pick us up in the Valley from LA’s Westside.

But I know we’d all be happy without any of that if we found someone who could say it all by looking deep into our eyes. Someone who gets us. We wouldn’t have to remind him when it was our birthday or that we didn’t like onions. A guy who, when we thought about him, would send tingles down our spine.

Because then it wouldn’t matter what we actually got on Valentine’s Day. We’d know we already had it all, every day of the year.

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