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February 11, 2000

The Evolution of Valentine's Day

February 14th, 1979

"You know it's gonna make it that much better, When we can say good night and stay together, Wouldn't it be nice..."
the Beach Boys

With the flip of her hair, an amazing little gal with eyes that sparkle magically transforms Valentine's Day from a moronic school-boy card exchange to a golden opportunity to demonstrate my romantic side to the girl I love. No expense is spared, no effort is denied in treating Bachelorette #1 to what I hope will be her finest Valentine's hour. The card was the most elegant verse that Hallmark had to offer. The chocolates were the best that Laura Secord sold. The dozen long-stem roses had to be ordered three weeks in advance. And I took her out for dinner to 'our restaurant' - the Tien Kue in Burlington, Ontario. Our reservation was for 7:30. We closed the place. Since we were both still students and living at home, we drove to the beach and watched the submarine races until dawn. When I took her home she cried and said that it was the most beautiful evening she'd ever spent. I was King of the Hill for WEEKS after that. This Valentine's Day thing seemed like an amazing deal...

February 14th, 1980

"She's just the girl, She's just the girl, The girl u want..."

Bachelorette #1 and I are a solid 'couple' now and all my friends have her figured for Girl Most Likely To. Valentine's Day is not quite so formulaic this time around - after seeing her for a year and a half now, I know her likes and dislikes considerably better than last year. I give her an antique Valentine's Day postcard that someone named Curt had sent to 'his darling Bernice' in 1901; I mix her a tape of songs that specifically refer to things that relate to her/me/us; and for dinner I make all her favourite indulgences - Alaskan King Crab legs, stir-fried Chinese vegetables, wild rice and a black forest cake in the shape of a heart. Valentine's Day has become 'our special night'.

February 14th, 1981

"Nowhere girl, You're living in a dream..."

Bachelorette #1 and I are now so solid a couple that my friends say we've stopped acting like honeymooners and now more closely resemble The Honeymooners - Ralph and Alice. I don't buy her a card this year - after all, cards are just a scam! I give her a purse-size bottle of Love's Baby Soft and take her to Red Lobster for dinner. I have a coupon. After dinner we catch a late movie and spend the rest of the evening sitting in the dark staring at the screen in silence. But it's still 'our special night' - we didn't fight!

February 14th, 1982

"Misjudged your limits, Took you too far, Took you for granted, I thought that you needed me more...."
the Cure

Any surprise that Bachelorette #1 is absent from this one? No one was. With the flip of her hair, an amazing little gal with eyes that sparkle has magically transformed Valentine's Day from a festival of life into a wake. But the wound is fresh. The parting is recent. If there are any Valentines to be exchanged, they won't come from me. None are exchanged. The only cards I get that say, "I miss you" are from the Columbia Record Club.

February 14th, 1983

"Every move you make, Every breath you take, I'll be watching you..."
The Police

You know what they say - absence makes the heart grow fonder. The Marilyn Syndrome kicks in and Bachelorette #1, by her absence, has been elevated to dizzying heights. Every time I drive past the Tien Kue on my way to Toronto, my stomach tightens. My friends warn me that what I call devotion, the police call stalking. I send her a dozen long stem roses anyway - dried and held together near the bottom by a clenched fresh chicken foot that I bought at a Chinese grocery. I Crazy Glue'd it around the stems into a bony little fist. No response, though. Maybe I should have signed the card...

February 14th, 1984

"A good heart these days is hard to find, so please be gentle with this heart of mine..."
Feargal Sharkey

With the flip of her hair, an amazing little gal with eyes that sparkle magically transforms Valentine's Day back into something approximating it's former glory. Bachelorette #2 is an amazing gal who I genuinely love. But when she gives me a card signed, "Yours in love and always...", all I can think is, "Where have I read that before..." On our way to dinner, we pass the rubble of the Tien Kue alongside the QEW in Burlington. It's been bulldozed for a new off-ramp. There's no going back.

February 14th, 1985

"We slip and slide when we fall in love, And I just can't seem to get enough..."
Depeche Mode

Bachelorette #2 is still going strong. She signs her card the same way as last year. I ask her, "What is it with this 'yours' thing? Are you really MINE? My dog is mine, but I bought it... Does this mean I can sell you if I need the cash?" She doesn't think it's funny and I it takes me 45 minutes to pull my plane out of its flaming dive. I make a mental note: Valentine's Day is a humour no-fly zone.

February 14th, 1986

"Then it happened. She cut her hair, and I stopped loving her..."
Billy Bragg

Bachelorette #2 is not only a ghost by this time but is ENGAGED. I hope the next guy in line appreciates my station in life - beating the bushes of the savanna to drive the frightened lionesses towards him screaming 'Marry me and get me out of this madness!'. Bwana should be pleased.

February 14th, 1987

"Still you're hoping that she's well-spoken, Cause she's this year's girl..."
Elvis Costello

Bachelorette #3 doesn't take me any more seriously than I take her. We joke about the stupidity of it all and exchange grade school cut-out Valentines. Later, I give her three Hershey's Kisses and take her to Taco Bell for dinner. Drive-thru. She laughs so hard she nearly chokes on her burrito. Love means not caring about the upholstery.

February 14th, 1988

"I want you, I need you, But there ain't no way I'm ever gonna love you, Now don't be sad, Two out of three ain't bad..."

Why can't Hallmark put THAT on a card? Then I'd at least be able to give Bachelorettes #4 & 5 something....

February 14th, 1989

"La Femme Accident, Got everything you want, She's paradise for a day..."

Bachelorette #6 is determined to be one of the Walking Wounded. She's only 22 but she already shares my thirtysomething dread of Valentine's Day. We both agree that the occasion will be completely ignored but it's obvious that behind the Ms. Nonchalant act she'd love something to be made of it. I send her a tape of supposedly unrelated songs and a bouquet of occasionless flowers a week early. She sees the common thread in the tape and calls me all misty. I can spot an act a mile off...

February 14th, 1990

"It's not that it's not love, But it's love without the fun..."
General Public

Bachelorette #6 is a ghost. But in a good way, I hope. Things were great, but unfocused and childish at the same time. So in a fit of optimism, I decided to take spiritual advice from a Peter Max poster. "If you love something, let it go. If it comes back, it's yours. If it doesn't, it never was...".

February 14th, 1991

"If you can't be, With the one you love, Love the one you're with..."
Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young

Bachelorette #6 not only didn't come back but took the time to write me letters and tell me how much she was 'growing' now that she was on her own and '...in ME mode'. Apparently this time around SHE'S the next guy in line. Bachelorette #7 knows she's an understudy but doesn't seem to mind. As long as no one's kidding themselves...

February 14th, 1992

"Say Hello, Wave Goodbye..."
Soft Cell

I finally call an end to this whole Valentine's Day ugliness. Unless you are lucky enough to marry your high school sweetheart and live happily ever after, Valentine's Day is a double edged sword. The thrill of today meets the pain of yesterday. Head on. If you're a hopeless romantic and save your cards like I do, after a few years you can arrange them all on the mantle in a silent tableau of Valentine's Day whispers that have been swallowed by the wind. These days I prefer to honour those who've suffered in vain by spending a quiet Valentine's Day away from current entanglements in quiet respect not only for those who've fallen, but also for what they taught me, and who they're sweating on now.

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