Valentine’s Day can be hard on a lot of single people, and even though it’s not hard on me anymore, it has been. You can’t help but wish that you had a special someone who was making secret arrangements to sweep you off your feet for the most (commercially) romantic day of the year. But just because you’re in a couple doesn’t mean you’re going to have a great Valentine’s Day. (And just because you’re not in a couple doesn’t mean you’re going to have a bad one.) I’ve been much more disappointed on Valentine’s Day when I was in a relationship than when I was not. Not all of them, but the bad ones when you’re in a relationship? Those sting the most.
I dated my college boyfriend for almost six years. The difference between our first and last Valentine’s Day is stark. Bleak. Disheartening. Similar to the beginning and end of our relationship, our V-Days went from romantic to obligatory.
My first Valentine’s Day with Chad was my first Valentine’s Day as someone’s girlfriend, and he made it very special. It was my sophomore year of college at UC Santa Barbara and I was 19 years old. Chad went all out; he told me what time to be ready and to dress up, but wouldn’t tell me anything else. I was giddy as I got ready at my sorority house, my friends swirling around me, handing me makeup and fixing my hair. It was like a scene from Legally Blonde, but less bougie. They knew I had never been romanced on this particular day and they also knew that whatever Chad had in store for me was going to be good.
Chad and I were “That Couple” when we were in college. We had met in the dorms and spent all of freshman year as close friends, so when we started dating at the beginning of sophomore year, there was a closeness and intimacy to our relationship that some couples don’t achieve for a long time, if ever. I didn’t have to hide my flaws from him or play down my inexperience because he had gotten to know everything about me as a friend, organically, over the course of a school year.
He was (still is) smart and generous and well loved by all of our friends. He was in a fraternity; I was in a sorority. He was a business economics major; I was a communications major. He rode a motorcycle and would take me on cruises up in the hills of Montecito and up over route 154 into wine country. I was silly and funny and could make him laugh and loosen up. We were a fun couple that you could hang out with and not feel like a third wheel.
When it was time to go outside and meet Chad, I had a posse of sorority sisters follow me out to the parking lot, eager to see the surprise. And Chad did not disappoint. He had rented a LIMO and was waiting in the parking lot of my sorority house, dressed in a suit, holding flowers, and smiling at me like a real-life Prince Charming. It was quite the scene. I could not believe my luck, that he was there for me! I grinned, I gasped, I giggled with my girls, and then I ran to Chad and jumped into his arms, toddler style; wrapping my legs around his waist like I was on an episode of The Bachelor and he had selected me for the one-on-one. We didn’t even have to go anywhere, honestly. He had me at the limo.
But we did go somewhere. We went to a cute little Italian restaurant downtown on State Street. If you know me you know how much I love pasta, so this was a great choice. At dinner, he presented me with my gifts. One was a beautiful necklace. Just a perfect, modest diamond set in a platinum pendant, that suited a 19-year-old girl perfectly. He also had purchased tickets for a show for that night, and we were to go straight from dinner.
But it wasn’t your typical show, it was perfectly tailored to me. Chad had gotten us tickets to see Colin Mochrie and Ryan Stiles from Whose Line Is It Anyway? on their live tour at the Arlington Theater! As a lover of comedy, I was thrilled to see the show, and I felt like Chad really saw me and knew what I would like. The show was fantastic and hilarious and that Valentine’s Day was everything I had hoped it would be and more.
(Yes, I got him a present too! He had his own business and made good money so I never quite knew what to get him, so I would tell him to pick a concert or show he wanted to see and it would be my treat. This became our tradition for years to come. That’s how you buy a gift for someone who already has everything they need!)
Fast forward five years. We had graduated college and were no longer living in the same city. Chad had moved home to Ventura County and I had moved to LA. He had a successful online business he ran from home, and I was waiting tables and “pursuing acting,” but really just driving to Ventura to spend all of my spare time with him. But things had fizzled. We still cared deeply for each other, we didn’t fight, but I also felt like I was giving a lot more of my time and effort to the relationship than he was, and I didn’t really know how to address that.
The few times that Chad did come visit me in LA were usually because the LA car show was happening, or there was a concert he wanted to see and he would stay with me afterwards. I felt like more of a crash pad when he had an activity in LA, not the actual destination. My roommate, who was also a friend of ours from college and so had seen us in the glory days of our relationship compared to now, was the one who brought to my attention the stark contrast between my efforts and his. Granted, his family was experiencing some serious issues at the time (all worked out now but no reason for me to share business that’s not mine), and so I had found ways to justify his lack of prioritizing me.
But as it continued, I felt neglected, and any time I would ask him to do something small for me to make me feel good, he would get exasperated and treat me like I was asking for the world. One squabble we had frequently was over his stubble, which would stab me in the face and itch whenever we kissed. He wasn’t growing a beard, he just wouldn’t shave for a few days, and after sitting in an hour and a half of traffic driving to come see him, it felt like a pretty small ask for him to have shaved his face. Sometimes when I would arrive at his house he would be in the bonus room playing video games with his friends, and he would just toss out a cursory “Hey” without turning his head to even look at me, let alone pause the game, stand up, and greet me with a kiss or a hug.
Whenever I would comment on these things he would groan and tell me I was being unreasonable, so I stopped. He would do that with just about anything that I brought up that he didn’t like, which honestly was not much. I never wanted to be “that girl” who whines and nags at her boyfriend all the time, and I think he knew that and took advantage of it to a certain degree; like on our last Valentine’s Day.
Chad and I loved wine. We took a wine tasting class in college together and would do wine tasting tours up in the Santa Ynez Valley (where they filmed Sideways, which happened to be our favorite movie to watch together) to celebrate our anniversaries and birthdays. Suffice it to say we drank a fair amount of wine, so I had started collecting all of our wine corks over the years. I had a full gallon sized Ziploc bag of them and made him a custom bulletin board from all of the corks. I put his business logo on the bottom corner of the board, very pleased with my handiwork. It was not an expensive gift, but it was very thoughtful and took up a fair amount of time and I was excited to give it to him.
Valentine’s Day arrived, and Chad actually came to LA to see me. I don’t remember what our plans were, but I remember that the exchanging of gifts happened at my apartment. I gave him the bulletin board, eager to see how he would react and hoping to have him tell me he couldn’t wait to hang it in his office. He liked it fine. Then it was my turn to open my gift. It was a giant gift bag and I was trying to figure out what could possibly be in there, when he started qualifying his gift. Looking back, I think it was more like pre-gaslighting me so that I wouldn’t call him out on his shitty gift, but that’s just my slightly-biased opinion.
“This is kind of a mature gift, not a super exciting one. But it’s important, and we’re grownups, so that’s where I’m coming from” he warned. “So don’t get upset, this is a functional gift. You need this.” I half expected to pull out a tool set. It’s never a good sign when someone is telling you not to get upset BEFORE you even open your gift.
I reached into the bag and pulled out a pillow. Like, a regular pillow, you know, for your head. I looked at him, confused.
“That’s for you, since we’re always fighting over your good pillow when I stay here. Now I have a good pillow here too.”
“Oh, so it’s a pillow for you…?” I confirmed. He nodded, then motioned for me to continue. Next thing I pulled out of the bag was a towel. A bath towel, to be more specific. I looked at him again, perplexed.
“And that’s for you since your bath towels are too small for me. You know how I’m always telling you that your towels don’t fit all the way around me? But you never get new ones? So I got you a new one that will fit around me.” He looked pleased with himself.
“Sooo, it’s a bath towel, for you…” I confirmed again. He nodded again as I looked into the bag, hoping for something more, something that was actually for me. There was nothing else in the bag. No card. That was my gift: A pillow for his head and a bath towel for his bigger-than-mine body. He knew I would be unhappy with it; he knew it wasn’t really a gift for me. That’s why he prefaced me opening it with his logical, mature relationship bullshit.
Looking back now, I wish I had flipped out and actually called him out. But that wasn’t (still isn’t) my style. I was so determined not to be “that girl” and get upset over a gift that wasn’t good enough, to not nag him or be ungrateful, so I just said thank you and moved on. He looked at me for a moment, the way you might look at a bomb that you just attempted to diffuse, waiting to see if it will actually explode after all. But I didn’t explode. I imploded. I saved all of that disappointment for myself because I didn’t want to be unreasonable.
I know now that it was not unreasonable of me to be disappointed with such a “functional” gift; one that wasn’t even for me. He bought himself a spare pillow and bath towel and then wrapped it up and gave it to me for Valentine’s Day. That’s not my subjective opinion, that’s literally what he did.
I didn’t say anything that day but it really hurt my feelings and made our relationship feel completely unbalanced. I finally saw it. He had made me feel small and unimportant and confirmed to me that my apartment was only a crash pad to him, one that was now properly outfitted to suit his needs.
That was a very disappointing Valentine’s Day for me. Another one comes to mind, when I was in another relationship, and the similarity is that I knew on that day that they didn’t care for me the way that I cared for them. And that, my friends, is the absolute worst way to feel on Valentine’s Day.
Being single on Valentine’s Day is not sad, it’s liberating! There are no expectations and so no disappointment. Round up your other single friends (this is LA so I know you have some) and just go do something fun. Go to dinner, or dancing, or a comedy show, or watch the sunset at the beach, or just have them over and drink wine and watch movies, or play boardgames, or poker, or catch up and tell each other terrible jokes. It doesn’t matter what you do, just do something with people who make you feel loved; people you love.
Let’s reframe Valentine’s Day as a general day of love, not just romantic love. Those of you in relationships absolutely should celebrate your romantic love! And those of us who are still single should celebrate all of the other kinds of love that we have in our lives, including love for ourselves. Because we all do have love in our lives, and that should be celebrated. ❤
*Steps down from soapbox*
Happy Valentine’s Day!