For me, Valentine's Day has never really been about romance. At each stage of my life it has been about a different kind of love and a different kind of lesson.
Right in the Childhood: Treasure Hunts
When my brother Brady and I were kids, Valentine's Day was one of my favorite holidays because my mom would send us on a treasure hunt around the house. After handing us the first clue, it was up to us to figure out where the next clue was. Each rhyming clue would send us to the next location until finally we reached the treasure - usually a basket with candy and stuffed animals. Maybe some heart-shaped sunglasses.
Childhood Valentine's Day was all about family love, with Brady and I giggling and racing and shoving each other out of the way to find the next clue. And adding one more notch to my lifelong love affair with words and wit.
Elementary School: BFFs and Social Landmines
While the merits of this practice has been hotly debated with certain friends as an adult *cough Teresa cough*, my elementary school's policy was that if you gave anyone a Valentine, you had to give everyone a Valentine. So my mom bought packs of cards and I would spread them out to examine each one. Of course, the best ones were reserved for my best friend(s). It was okay if they said things like "I love you" and "Be my Valentine" because we were girls and not icky boys.
Once the easy decisions were made, it was time for the intense scrutiny. Which ones did you give to your female acquaintances? The ones you said hi to -- but weren't really your friends. Which one did you give to the girl who made fun of your Disney shirt that one time? Worst of all, what did you give the BOYS?! You had to be VERY careful with that one. They could not say love. They could not say "Be mine." Because what if they made fun of you? Worse, what if they actually had a crush on you?
It seems that even as an 8-year-old, I internalized that it was my responsibility to keep boys from going after me. But that's a soapbox for another day.
Middle and High School: All About Daddy... and Candy
Teenage Valentine's Day was about the daddy/daughter bond.
College: The Show's About Vaginas
It was about female empowerment -- and vaginas. For all four years of college, I performed in The Vagina Monologues each Valentine's Day. A group of about 30 women, one of the most diverse groups I was a part of during college, dressed all in black with red feather boas and talked about vaginas onstage. All the proceeds from the shows went to a different women's charity each year, and I remember volunteering at a women's shelter. This time of my life is when I started to see myself as a feminist.
Young Adulthood: Just Me, Baby
Young Adult Valentine's Day: self love. And some kitty love.
Today: Karaoke and My Future Husband
Today Valentine's Day is about silly, no-holds-barred love.
Happy Valentine's Day, everyone. To my friends, my family, my strangers, myself. Spread all the love you can. We need it.