Welcome to the day devoted to love that everyone hates. Irony doesn't get much better or thicker, but we're all too engaged, too obsessed and obsessing, to enjoy it. Or even to notice it.
We're too busy running around in search of the sweet and the cute and the red, white and pink, scrambling for gifts and cards and flowers and chocolates and teddy bears and lingerie and little lacey things that earn a few oohs and aahs before spending a few days on a night stand and the rest of the year cluttering up the back of a bedroom drawer.
We're too busy venturing to Victoria's Secret, hustling to Hallmark, trying desperately to find that one pure and precious (and probably overpriced) gift that will, better than anything we could say or do or create ourselves, proclaim, I love you, sweetie. Or perhaps, I didn't know what else to get you, honey, so I hope this is good enough.
All this business assumes, of course, that you're married or committed or at least casually dating. That you're able to honor, or at least commemorate, some critical state of romantic entitlement. That you are not thoroughly depressed, diseased or disgusted by thoughts of the attached and attaching. That you're willing to accept the scuttling about to shops and kiosks and candle-lit corners of pretentious restaurants to celebrate this grand and glorious day of romantic hope and harmony that forces you fully to acknowledge the love, or the lack thereof, in your life.
Bruce Springsteen once sang, when you're alone, you ain't nothin' but alone. But you ain't never more alone than when you're alone on Valentine's Day.
Oh, sure, you know it's a sham, a show, an artifice, the only day of the year that some spouses or partners or significant others would even think to get or give a present that says they care enough to buy the very best. And only then because the retail-industrial complex tells them they must.
You tell yourself you're above it all, or maybe beneath it, and that you're not going to get bitter or angry enough to wallow in the echoing silences of your own empty heart. You know it all means nothing, but, like so many things when you're alone, it feels like it means everything.
Attached, unattached, being one and wanting to be the other ... it doesn't matter. You still can't enjoy it. Valentine's Day is the great no-win holiday, the ultimate lose-lose proposition.
If you're in a relationship, then you're a lover, and the pressures of the day make sure you show it. If you're not in a relationship, then you're a loser, and the oppressions of the day make sure you know it.
For years, I did my best to protest the compulsions and conventions of Valentine's Day. I wore black instead of red. I bought a present for my wife and gave it to her on the 11th, the 12th, maybe the 15th. For a few years, I didn't buy her anything, and she bought me nothing in return.
On our first Valentine's Day as a couple, we avoided romantic comedies and went to see "The Silence of the Lambs" instead. On our first married Valentine's Day, we holed up in our Baltimore apartment and watched "The Brood," a great low-budget horror flick about the brutal physical and psychological scars of a failed marriage that, thanks to radical techniques in psychotherapy, come to life in the murderous rampages of killer dwarves. (Yes, really. It's better than "Kramer vs. Kramer." But I digress ... )
We protested, resisted, battled and backpedaled. We waged our own little matrimonial war on the institutional terrors of the day, shooting symbolic slings and arrows into the hearts of the rabid, romantic fundamentalists waging their Hallmark jihad and shoving their saccharine, sugar-coated conventions down our throats.
Not because we wanted to be different. And not because we wanted to be cool. But because we've always believed that this all-too-manufactured occasion ignores a couple of simple, natural notions. That you shouldn't need an arbitrary day to tell you whom or when or how to love. And that, if you're doing it right, every day is Valentine's Day.
Chad Hermann is a writer, editor, husband, father and freelance communications consultant living in Squirrel Hill. He is the author of The Radical Middle , a community blog published at post-gazette.com.