This is part of the OccupyVDay movement, sponsored by Samhita Mukhopadhyay. I found out about it via Jennifer Pozner and didn’t think I would, but Ms. Houston inspired this. Rest in peace.
Until a few years ago, Valentine’s Day worsened everything I knew about love.
My first crush was this girl named Barbara in the second grade. Whether it was her low key demeanor, cherubic face, or her dulcet voice, I knew I had to send her a card and a small box of chocolates to let her know my feelings towards her. Sure enough, the other Jose in the classroom (Jose L, because namesakes have to take on their last initials) felt the same way. We didn’t compete for long because she disappeared to another school soon after.
My second crush happened in the fifth grade with a girl who, by all measures, people considered way out of my league. When Valentine’s Day came, instead of actually asking her to be my Valentine directly, I sent her a copy of The Bodyguard Soundtrack on tape. This endeavor was a fail of epic proportions: not only did the tape come on too strong, but I didn’t learn my lesson in the least.
My third crush didn’t come until sixth grade. I missed Valentine’s Day, so I waited until way after graduation to talk to her. The problem is, I gave her a mixtape of songs that reminded me of our elementary school years together, and a flower … then ran away. The present me watches the movie of the kid me screaming “NOOO!!!!!” Not only did I not even give her a chance to respond, I didn’t even talk to her until her graduation. By then, she had already developed the most frigid of shoulders.
During my middle school years, I went to an all-boys school, normally a safe haven from the pressures of relationships with the opposite sex, but the school had a sister school a few blocks away. We also had a school counselor who I had a bit of a crush on. After asking my mom for a spike in my allowance, I bought gifts for a good four people, none of whom had that mutual interest in building a romantic relationship. They wanted to go steady … as friends.
During my high school years, I had a Valentine then, too. I crossed the barrier of actually speaking to Ana about dating. I thought I did everything right: I called her, I wrote up a card in my chicken scratch handwriting, and even gave it to her face-to-face without running away. Just one problem: I never followed through. I thought the gift would have sufficed for a few chances at getting to know her better. Alas, I only got one, and I missed it. We remained friends, but I never learned how to take it from there.
Thus, Valentine’s Day became this enigma where I stubbornly believed that, if I make a monetary investment and depreciate my self-worth, I would do the right thing by the girl / woman of my dreams. I didn’t have someone to teach me the rules of courtship, and my parents preoccupied themselves with making sure I stuck to more scholarly pursuits with lines like, “Be careful! You might get her pregnant and you don’t want that!” Add this to the social pressures from my friends who had a new girl to date every week or so, and it was enough to make me quit this relationship business completely.
It’s a psychological castration that does no favors to a young man trying to understand how all the pieces fit.
With frustrations building, I started developing the nice-guy mantra in college, a sexist idea that states “If a woman doesn’t want me specifically, then the guy she’s currently dating must be a jerk, so I must be a jerk to get her.” I didn’t know how I had turned into this monster. I had so many women around me in college who inspired me, led me, and pushed my thinking. I also knew I needed to find a solution.
Sure enough, I turned to music. I remembered this one song I used to love back in elementary school by Whitney Houston. For those who grew up in the 80s and 90s, listening to the song signaled a change of the channel because gruesome images of starving children and adults would mess with our scheduled programming. After revisiting the song, I realized it spoke to an element of spirituality and love I never understood.
Throughout our entire lives, we’re asked to show off, compete, and do for others so long as we can something in return. Our daily interactions are a commodity, the things we do an investment on some personal gain. Valentine’s Day promotions encourage those of us with no root to cling onto hopes unfounded. What might have once been an innocent day to demonstrate and celebrate appreciate each other’s existence has turned into a billion dollar industry feeding off the insecurities and cultural neurosis of the social collective.
How often do people wonder if this holiday has become less about love and more about outbidding competitors?
Whitney Houston’s “Greatest Love of All” asks us to invest more in ourselves. The lyrics started to crack a shovel at my lack of self-love. Before we go spending hundreds of dollars for flowers that last a week if you’re lucky, we ought to spend our time and energies growing ourselves as spiritual beings. Only then can we really develop profound, meaningful relationships with others. Even if the person has neither the desire or capacity to reciprocate your love for them, your love of self carries you forward.
Compulsory gifts to our paramours and significant others can’t change that.
After learning this lesson (the hard way), I began to restructure my wayward ideas on this day. As a work in progress, I continue to find ways to spread the love throughout the year rather than this specific day. With a newborn on my lap every afternoon, I now have a responsibility to teach him about this story long before I find a book bag full of heart-shaped boxes and mixtapes.
Jose, who normally wouldn’t write about love, especially on the first day after launching my brand new website design.