My title’s short and simple. Possibly because I attempted to think of pithy puns I could use for one, and failed, miserably, so I decided to use a Bowie song title instead.
I, as countless others before me, shall attempt to decode the abundant asinine accoutrements that come with every 14th February.
Here’s a short history of Valentine’s Day. In spite of widely-spread popular myth, or what the myriad wearers of rose-tinted glasses would like to believe, there was no random man who decided to help lovers all over the world and was martyred in the process.
The only historical speculation about St. Valentine the martyr was that he might have been a Roman priest martyred during the reign of Claudius II, beheaded for helping Christians in general. No romantic notion there, just the ancient version of a fatwa, perhaps. Obsessively religious nuts shall be part of society until society exists (a fact that I, as an atheist, have come to accept, no matter how sad, angry or annoyed religious zealots make me feel.)
Ancient Rome was largely Pagan – Pagans were polytheistic and worshipped the different elements of nature in different forms, regularly performing rituals to appease their many gods.
Like Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome had a pantheon, led by Jupiter (his Greek equivalent, of course, is Zeus). They believed that everything had a patron god, so to speak – Mars was the god of war, Juno, the goddess of women and childbirth (which is why they named the film that, yes), and Minerva, the goddess of poetry, medicine, wisdom, commerce, and a favourite with the editors of the crossword puzzles I solve every day.
Forget not, in your speed, Antonius,
To touch Calpurnia; for our elders say,
The barren, touched in this holy chase,
Shake off their sterile curse.
So even the festival that was considered the precursor to the modern Valentine’s Day had nothing at all to do with ‘romance’ as we know it – it was about the Romans appeasing the gods so they could help them make babies, back in the days when they had no IVF.
I’m sure there will be a lot of people who think having a family and a baby is the most romantic thing EVER. (Obviously, I am not one of these people.) Still, not sure how romantic family planning is, considering how much less money and time and sanity you’re consequently going to have.
Either way, all the precursors to Valentine’s Day as we know it today have absolutely nothing to do with ‘love’ (again, something that is an alien concept to me, and a very ambiguous one at that). Definitions of love as an emotion are nebulous at best, but they now have a definition thanks to the corporate world – one that includes millions of tons of flowers, stuffed animals that ‘love you BEARY much!’, chocolates, and in many, many, many cases, diamond rings and a poor sap down on one knee.
I tried to figure out whether Valentine’s Day was important to any specific demographic, and found nothing constant. I do find, however, preteens and just-teens in some sort of crazy rat-race to be dating and sexually active, which I not understand. (At 12 and 13, all I wanted to do was stay indoors and read, listen to music and play video games all the livelong day, which is probably what I would have done even more had it not been for school.)
In the week leading up to Valentine’s Day, I’ve seen all sorts of idiotic stuff on Facebook and Twitter, but possibly the most ridiculous rubbish I’ve seen in a while is ‘Teddy Day’ – is it for the bears, the president, or the lingerie?
Then they had ‘Promise Day’, ‘Chocolate Day’, and a special day to ask out somebody you are or have been interested in. Do you honestly need a special day to do something you should pretty much be able to do at any given point in your life? (Or if you’re socially awkward like I am, let fester in your mind and do nothing about, ever.)
While all that rubbish up there stinks very obviously of corporate propaganda (and before you ask, no, I am not a communist, although I did, at one point, have socialist leanings), the entire concept of VD *nudge nudge, wink wink* (as it shall subsequently be referred to ) has been foisted on us a bit more subtly.
TV commercials won’t just tell you that you need to get your significant other something for VD – they will sell to you not just their product, but the entire idea of a romantic relationship, and define how important it should be – VERY – to everybody, all the while telling them how earth-shattering a relationship is and how incomplete their lives shall be without one. (Because, you know, how DARE you enjoy the company of your friends or yourself, you damn weirdo, you misanthropic love-hating Grinch?)
The minute I tell anybody I know that I think the entire notion of romantic love is, to put it mildly, a gigantic unflushable turd, though, I seem to turn into THIS guy:
I, the eternal cynic, shall let the numbers speak for a moment here. Here in India, a dozen red roses cost about INR 400. If you want an entire floral arrangement, though, you’d end up shelling out about INR 900 or so, and prices go up by at least 200% during this season, simply because that is how the economic model of supply and demand works. Then you have all the add-ons that MUST go with flowers.
There are people all over the world that expect to propose/ be proposed to on this day, will be giving and receiving roses, stuffed toys and the cheesiest cards in human existence, probably products of the mind of a syphilitic, raving lunatic. Or several.
Not all of the buyers of every one of these products are even couples.
Many, (and by many, I mean most) of them are just people looking to get laid ( I told you I was a cynic, but at least I’m honest, and really, what’s wrong with just wanting to have some sex?), short-term, long-term, mid-term, whatever. So while people may have found Frank Bernard Dicksee‘s depiction of Romeo and Juliet (a right lot of idiots, if you ask me, the characters in the play) was the most romantic painting ever, THIS is probably what Romeo was really thinking:
While there may be no ‘holiday police’ out to get the people who don’t, there really are. Girlfriends, boyfriends, husbands, wives and friends – all of them expecting to give or receive something or the other.
And that brings me to a very important point – while it may be none of anybody else’s business, it seems that people (I’ve seen this happen more with teenagers, but I suppose it’s relevant to any age group,really) are in relationships purely as a sort of statement to society, like some weird form of a status symbol, perhaps, and this is exacerbated by the advent of the world’s collective social media obsession; this is also why you see a fair lot of people spamming your Facebook minifeed with gooey, mushy, sickeningly cheesy crap.
I appreciate that he’s your ‘Spongebob’ and you are his ‘baby panda’, but do I (or any of the 500 other people on your list) need to know this? Your idiotic status messages make me wish I really COULD banish you to a pineapple under the sea.
Relationships (and religion) are like penises. It’s fine to have one, and it’s fine to be proud of it, but please don’t whip it out in public and start waving it around.
In very related matters, matters that prove the point I just made, I heard the most idiotic lyrics I’ve heard since Kesha playing on the gym’s sound system today. It was the usual autotuned rap-rubbish that makes up 90% of the music you hear today ( I may be biased, I hate rap for many, many reasons), and the only lyrics I remember went a little something like this: “She’s the type of girl that makes you wanna put it up on ya twitter that I found her” (Really?!)
Let’s ignore the glaring lack of grammar skills that this man so beautifully puts on display, and look at the real issue here – why on Earth would you want to put it up on your Twitter? That, to me, is the internet equivalent of a dog peeing on a bush/tree/car – marking one’s territory, if you will, with a free ego boost thrown in, because the media and people around you have convinced you you’re a better person for being in a relationship. Because, oh my god, what would you have done if you weren’t in a relationship? That would mean that you aren’t attractive enough for someone to want to hump, and THAT would mean the apocalypse is nigh!
Your gold standard for measuring self-worth, your chef d’oeuvre, shall thus become not yourself, and your own abilities, or even any real person you know that you could aspire to, but a standard Rachel McAdams character who goes through physical and mental issues, has serious dementia (but hey, it’s all good, because she’s got some guy who loves her and wants to build her a house! Isn’t that what we all want?)
I do not believe in any of these ideals of love that are sold to me, not even by mankind and ‘well-meaning’ people. That does not imply I am a bitter, angry old spinster. If you really care for that ‘special someone’, go tell them whenever you feel like. If you enjoy reading and having a nice drink, or enjoying a movie, go do that.
There should be no pressure to buy one of those idiotic cards for someone with a shitty poem in it, or feel terrible about yourself because nobody gave you one and sit on a couch with a tub of ice cream or a 6 pack of beer to mope. (If you just like beer or ice cream, go right ahead).
That just means you’re one of the golden ones.
The one thing that will continue to rankle me is society attempting to convince people that relationships are somehow necessitous to their very existence, and damaging their self-esteem completely in the process. (Been there, and gotten out of it. So can you.)
Valentine’s Day is for the birds. [And NOT in the way John Donne wrote for a man whose name sounds suspiciously like Emperor Palpatine.]
I know you agree with me. Search your feelings. You know it to be true.
Spend some time with the person or people you love today. They don’t have to be real.
Someone I genuinely hope makes good sales this February 14th? Condom companies.
This VD, practise safe sex. Prevent the other VD.
And because the amazing Messrs. McCartney and Lennon say it better than I ever could, enjoy:
At the time I’ve begun writing this post, I am exactly ten days away from what is supposed to be a milestone in one’s life. My ‘coming-of-age’, my so-called transition into adulthood. Except I don’t think it’s birthday-related, it’s a very gradual thing. In some ways, I’ve been an adult (although who really knows what connotations the word ‘adult’ even holds anymore?) for a while, and in others, I shall remain a child till I die. Arguing semantics is pointless, so I shall move on.
Before I turned 18, I had all sorts of things in mind for myself, my life, and, generally speaking, where I saw myself, ‘x’ years from now.
At the risk of sounding like a prematurely middle-aged, disgruntled old man, I was a young girl then, full of hopes and dreams and all sorts of wishes that I wanted to fulfil, unfettered by anything that came my way. There’s a kind of mental freedom and peace that comes only with childhood and youth, the kind you can see in children’s shining eyes as they run out to play, or even just smile.
It’s a kind that,unfortunately, is extremely fragile.
Personally, I singularly admire people who have been able to keep their childlike innocence intact as they’ve grown older – it’s one way to keep yourself sane. ( A great-aunt of mine still enjoys playing on swing sets and eating ice-cream as sloppily as she feels like, or just laughing at anything even remotely funny, and she’s one of the happiest people I know.)
18-year-old me wrote to herself, three years ago, about how she hated being the fat cow everybody made fun of, about being a doormat and generally being laughed at, and I’m proud of the fact that two out of those three are problems I no longer face, because I chose to do something about them, however slowly I may have done it notwithstanding.
19-year old me wrote something, too. Except it wasn’t remotely sad, perhaps a little pensive, and ridden with regular old teenage-angst, but in a great way. As I reread what I wrote back then, I’m pretty jealous of Anu at 19, sipping her wine and enjoying her music in complete peace and quiet. I still like to spend my weekends that way, but while the ‘quiet’ is there, I’m not so sure about the peace. Perhaps the lunatic is in my head.
There were all sorts of ‘things’ I hadn’t done, stuff I generally treated like a to-do list. Now that I’m ‘done’, so to speak, with most of them, I wish there had been some way to let my 19-year-old self know that it was nice, sure, but not as earth-shattering as she thought it would be, that all those things come and go, and aren’t really a big deal. Or even a small one.
Something that makes me rather sad is how, through the years, I’ve been searching, blindly, for some form of mooring, something to hold on to, emotional security, perhaps. I’ve struggled with my self-esteem for years, my living circumstances don’t exactly help matters, and as it happens, I seem to have been searching for it in all the wrong places. Somewhere in my cynical, crabby old-maid mind, there’s still a little girl who wants to be happy and giggly sometimes, I think, but she can’t, because she’s forgotten how.
Moving back to me at 19, I remember that as being one of the best years of my (not exactly very long) life to date. I discovered more about myself than I had ever discovered in all those 18 years before it. (Not all of it was good stuff, but I enjoyed it.) That year, I got into fights, got out of them, made new friends and lost some, and learned a whole spectrum of lessons along the way.
That year, I devoted to me, and my own happiness; I ended up meeting some of the nicest, warmest, most genuine people I’ve ever met in my entire life, I experienced silly, teenage puppy love for the first time ever (and of course, as teenagers are wont to do, took it far too seriously at the time) , and felt something I hardly ever feel, even today – emotionally secure, and cared for.
There’s this incident I recall from back then, one that gets me sort of choked up, when I allow myself to feel sappy – I’d been down with the flu for a couple of days, and hadn’t been answering my cellphone, a few days before my birthday. My folks back home panicked because they’d been trying to call me, so they called this friend of mine, who also decided to panic, and ended up taking the next train to my apartment, waking me up, and taking me to lunch.
I nagged him to go see a chocolate store I’d wanted to visit for a long, long time – neither of us knew how to get there, but we ran into the pouring rain and caught a bus nevertheless – a bus that ended up being something out of a sketch on SNL – two grown adults retching at the back of the bus, a grown woman wailing at the top of her lungs, and a screaming man, in a bus that seemed to have been scented with Eau de Urinal.
A hop off the crazy bus and about 20 train stops later, we finally got there, only to find it was closed. We ended up laughing at our own predicament. ForEVER. (We still do.)
(That was also a great day in many other ways – I bought my 6-foot-tall, Official, Return of the Jedi poster that day, my first Abbey Road poster, and a huge one of Queen, all of which are still in my room. It was NOT easy bringing them back home.)
He’s the same friend whom I spent my 19th birthday with, at a Pizza Hut in the middle of town, and the same guy who made me dinner and whose shirts I slept in when I was moving house, and someone I knew for two years before we both moved abroad, to the same country – within 5 minutes of each other, in fact.
I’d been dreading my birthday that year, because it was going to be my first one away from home, away from town, my friends, everybody I knew- I wasn’t really sure how to deal with that, because while I’m used to being alone, and quite enjoy my peaceful solitude, I get lonely sometimes. Except, the morning of my birthday (which sadly is not a holiday anywhere but India and Australia), I walked into an Economics lecture to a box of fresh chocolate chip cookies, and a bottle of my favourite lotion (I still have the bottle, with a tiny little gob of lotion at the bottom still in it, because I’m a creepy, sentimental hoarder) from one of my favourite people there, one of the people that helped me get through all sorts of things, somebody who’s been through so very much herself. That was pretty much the only tangible ‘present’ I got that year, but the cliché is true – it’s the thought that counts, and that in itself was the real present. In my past. (tee hee.)
That was also the year I began getting fit again, after allowing myself to grow up a cow (now the workers have struck for fame?), and generally having had 8 pretty shitty years. I finally began being able to like myself (at least it was a start.), and met others who had been through or were going through similar stuff, searching for their own little bubble to stagnate in, their own port-of-call, as it were. I’ve watched a friend, somebody I love, find all the happiness she’d ever wanted, in the span of a year. When I met her, two years later, she was just as happy, if not happier, and I realised that even if I hadn’t found that elusive ‘happiness’ for myself, it made me feel good that somebody I cared for was happy. I have since gone on to feel a little bit happier every time somebody I care about finds whatever they’re looking for, wherever they’re looking for it.
One thing that’s remained constant, though, is the fact that everywhere I go (barring school, possibly the worst 14 years of my life with respect to social interaction), I’ve had people look out for me, just like that. That’s one of the things I want to celebrate this year. Even though I don’t get to talk to them as often as I’d like (for various reasons), they know I care about them, and I know they care about me. [ This, however, is something I need to perfect, because I still get skittish sometimes, something that I choose to blame on my Bipolar.] I just need to keep reminding myself that they’re there for me in spirit.
(Ground control to Major Tom!)
19-year-old-me was one smart cookie – she knew she had amazing people in her life, ones who were going to stay there, and was going to meet more awesome people anyway, which she has.
I just wish I had her self-esteem, because I shall grudgingly admit I haven’t much at this point in time, for various reasons, and I’m not as good at coping with stress (but maybe that came with growing older, even though it seems, logically, that it should be the other way around).
This birthday, I still find myself wishing for some of the things piny 18-year-old me wished for, perhaps, but more than anything else, I find myself wishing for the self-esteem and confidence I had two years ago, possibly because I was just, quite simply, happy. I hope to find some semblance of peace of mind this year, some mental stability, because I know that barring all that fluff and all those issues, I’m still that intellectual epicurean Beatlemaniac, that ‘creative, kooky, curly-haired weirdo’ I was yakking about in ’09- a person I’m very proud of being.
I’ve just got to find her again, buried under miles of cynical crabby woman.
It isn’t easy, but I’ll be damned if I’m not going to try – that’s my birthday present to myself. My birthday resolution, if you will. To begin caring for myself, stop waiting for my family to love me, and be my own damn family.
And while another year of discovering myself comes to an end, another one is just beginning, so I’m going to turn and face the strain, and get some real good living done in the process.
Yet again, thank you to everybody who’s in my life and reading this. Like every year, I’ve met amazing people, which is a relief. I love you guys.
Oh, and a Happy Birthday to a certain Mr. Van Halen out there.
I shall end this extensive rant with the words of someone far older, wiser, and sexier than I shall ever be -
Time may change me, but I can’t trace time.