I have a dilemma every time I’m in a relationship when this day rolls around.
Part of me thinks: “This is a commercialized, manufactured holiday that celebrates oppressively inflexible gender roles, shames men who don't give the perfect gift and women who don't get the perfect gift, marginalizes queer people, marginalizes the shit of single people and people in closeted relationships, and ought to be completely unnecessary in a relationship where we express our love when and how we feel it rather than the way The Man tells us to. This holiday sucks and as someone who cares about conscious and intentional relationships, I should have no goddamn part of it.”
But a smaller yet deeper part of me feels sad about those words, because they're words that come from a sexual and romantic rebel, yes, but they're also words that come from a Perfect Girlfriend Who Never Wants Anything. (I have battled often with the Perfect Girlfriend Who Never Wants Anything inside me, desperately resisting her threats that I'm just one "can we go out somewhere nice tonight?" away from morphing into the High-Maintenance Girlfriend Who Wants Everything.) That part of me wants to put my foot down and say “I know this is arbitrary, Rowdy*, but sometimes I need you to make small arbitrary gestures to prove you care about me even when I don't make sense.”
Also, Valentine's Day sometimes feels like a one-day hyper-concentration of the "you poor dear, guess he doesn't love you that much" messages I get from the mainstream culture over the facts that we're not monogamous and not planning to get married or have kids. It's not that I even want any of those things, but the relentless message of "non-traditional relationships are no way to treat a lady!" still seeps through to my sad little insecure place sometimes. Celebrating Valentine's Day like giant saps is a relatively safe, cheap way to soothe that little sad place. Or maybe it's a way to say screw you, society, see how our non-traditional love can be totally sappy.
I don’t want diamonds and I don’t want to receive without giving, but I think exchanging goofy heart candies** for goofy reasons is an opportunity to say “You know what? Sometimes validating feelings is more important than always fighting the good fight.”
This year, we’ve agreed to exchange presents on the 16th. That way we get to take advantage of day-after sales and uncrowded restaurants and feel like we’re getting something over on The Man, while still satisfying my irrational need to occasionally be allowed to have an irrational need.
*Rowdy is actually really good about validating things like "I need you to be here for me and I can't coherently explain why." This post is about my own tangled insecurities, not about him trying to convince me not to want anything. If anything, I think he gets upset when my Perfect Girlfriend Who Never Wants Anything self-enforcement goes into overdrive.
Captain Awkward has a great post here on related issues, on why we pressure ourselves into pretending we never need anything from our friends and lovers, and why good friends and lovers don't actually want us to do that.
**But not Conversation Hearts. They're great cultural touchstones for representing the holiday and all, but they taste like chalk.