Love is in the air -- or else -- on Valentine's Day

A shorter version of this column first appeared in The Dallas Morning News and on on the Entertainment section's Whatever blog. Because there is no public archive of the humor columns, I post the columns here.


When I was in the early grades of elementary school, I always pulled in lots of cards on Valentine’s Day. My card-storage containers were minimally decorated shoe boxes that lacked  ambitious additions such as puffy stickers or glitter, but each year, nobody in the class got more cards than me.

Of course, nobody got less, either. Like most schools, Horizon Elementary required that we give Valentines to all our classmates to protect the kids from the Charlie Brown treatment.

You remember how Charlie Brown got shut out each Valentine’s Day, right? All he got from his “Peanuts” pals was a heart that said “Forget it Kid.” When I was a 7-year-old still bubble-wrapped in innocence, that was nearly as disturbing as the mean, close-minded Santa in the animated television special “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”

Back then, a time when I obviously watched too much TV, Valentine’s Day was beautifully simple. I opened a pack of Valentines from the grocery store -- with cards that had superheroes or pictures of dinosaurs saying “You’re Dino-mite” -- and then signed my name. All done.

The girls usually included personalized messages, candy, stickers and other little goodies, such as fuzzy pencil-toppers. They signed their names in that bubbly, adolescent-girl handwriting that screamed enthusiasm. They took it up a notch.

But the boys generally wrote in the chicken scratches of a prison inmate counting the days on the wall. Sometimes we forgot to even sign the cards. Then we delivered them with heartwarming lines such as “here” or “take this” or “the teacher said to give this to you.”

But that was expected. We were boys.

As men, however, Valentine’s Day expectations are very different. Just like when we were kids, we are all supposed to participate, but now a dino-mite card won’t do. We’re hammered with the idea that our love must be expressed through retail.

Get out there and buy the flowers, perfume, scented candles, beauty products and the diamond jewelry in the specially designed Valentine’s gift box. Pick up some fancy chocolates with at least one strange filling that gets frantically, romantically, spit into a trash can. Consider the 8-foot, 40-pound teddy bear that, for $529.99, is sure to make an impact – especially if it falls on your special someone.

Now that’s romantic. Or ridiculous.
I like that Valentine’s Day reminds us to appreciate someone, and the creators of greeting cards have made that easy for us. They’ve created Valentines to give kids, parents, friends, teachers and, yes, pets. You can even get a Valentine designed for a co-worker, although that seems like it could create some awkwardness and/or a visit from a human resources representative.

What I don’t like about Valentine’s Day is that it’s a romance mandate. Do something nice for your loved one on another day and it can be special, but on Valentine’s Day, you’re just punching a romance time clock. It’s your duty.

And if we don’t fulfill our duty, with the roses, chocolates, jewelry and other grown-up equivalents of the fuzzy pencil-toppers, will our love be doubted?

I don’t think so. But striking fear into men is a great way to separate us from our money, and I’ll be one of the millions of men answering the call to duty this Valentine’s Day. I wouldn’t want my wife to feel like Charlie Brown, after all.

Still, it’s all kind of silly. Love is the best gift, right?

That sounds good, but I’m not Mr. Romance, so I’m not really sure. But I am sure that you can get “love is the best gift” printed on a heart pillow and stuffed in a gift basket with chocolates, perfume, beauty products, jewelry and whatever else you want.

If you have the money, I mean love, just about anything is available.


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