The big day has come and gone, like plastic-wrapped sexual organs—roses in cellophane or otherwise. For some, Valentine’s Day is just another occasion to profess undying love for their soul-mates. For others, it’s a culturally sanctioned excuse to hook up with some bar-crawling random for no other reason than the calendar date—yet another Catholic celebration given over to Russell-Stover and the Devil’s playful hands.
Who is this Saint Valentine, and how did he lead me to my first “Valentine’s Day Singles Party” last night? With no books on the subject nearby, I turn to the InterWeb for answers (Wikipedia, History.com, NewAdvent.org, shit like that).
Various accounts identify Valentine as a third-century Roman martyr, who was beheaded on February 14 at the order of Emperor Claudius II—the more amorous legends claim that he was killed for marrying young Roman soldiers to their beloveds, despite the Emperor’s decree that unwed soldiers make superior warriors. “The Golden Legend”—now propagated by the greeting card industry—claims that Valentine wrote his last letter to the daughter of a prison guard whom he had healed, signing “From your Valentine”.
Throughout human history, morbid romance has been a foolproof panty-dropper.
In 1847, Esther Howland struck holiday gold by selling beautiful valentine cards from her Worcester, Massachusetts home. Building on the already popular “mechanical valentines” being produced in British print-factories, Ms. Howland created an American sensation with her proxy love proposals adorned in paper lace. [http://www.emotionscards.com/museum/estherhowland.htm]
Howland knew what all Merchants of Romance know: The dance of human mating is an awkward affair—oftentimes unbearably so. Our primal instincts have been drowned in an ocean of cultural nuance and inherited neuroses. Therefore, paradoxically, we become immersed in some external medium in order to express ourselves: from movies and candlelit dinners, to booty-grinding and NASCAR races, to bondage clubs and church picnics.
Valentine’s Day is the epitome of this principle. By directing our lovers’ attention toward outward things like embossed cards or gooey chocolates, we are free to be ourselves without all of that suffocating scrutiny. Our flaws fade away behind a face full of flowers.
It was Esther Howland’s pioneering work of emotional manipulation that paved the way for my own card-making enterprise—which is how I ended up selling Valentine’s Day cards at a local art showcase, where I met three pretty young ladies prowling the scene, and received a cordial invitation to their “Valentine’s Day Singles Party”.
Over the next week I met them out a few times, once for drinks, another time at a concert. I was already leery by the time I showed up at the party, but there I was.
Imagine this: A roadie-come-card-maker. Two Chicago girls in their mid-twenties: one a long-legged concert promotion intern, the other a cute Magnet School teacher. A pretty little Nashville débutante and her burly ex-boyfriend. Two strapping Boston boys working on their PhDs in Bio-Medicine. And of course, a few other females of bountiful body, each possessing a lot of character.
I arrive late, as usual, and the party’s in full swing. There are empty beer containers everywhere—Budweiser, Bud Light, Yuengling. Everyone is gathered around some sort of drinking game in the living room. The balding Bio-Med whirls to me with wild eyes, wearing an empty 12-pack box on his head for some unknown infraction—I dare not ask. Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” is blasting from the computer in the corner.
The leggy intern hops up and hugs me close. She pulls me into a seat, giving me a Bud Light and a box of Valentine’s Day Nerds—From: her – To: me. She tells me she’s glad I made it. She strokes my knee. Someone hands me a set of dice.
I’ve witnessed these drinking games before. The rules are completely esoteric to the point of seeming arbitrary. This particular game went something like this: I roll the dice. Someone tells me to drink and roll again. I roll again. Someone tells the Magnet School teacher to drink. She rolls. Now the Bio-Med student has to drink his whole beer. She rolls again. Now everyone drinks, including me. Aren’t we all too old for this shit, or am I the only one?
I look around. There are red Dollar Store streamers decorating the living room. Crimson balloons bouncing on the ceiling. A few crumpled valentines lay discarded on the floor, looking like battered vaginas spread to the world.
One of the Bostonian Bio-Med boys, the one going bald before our eyes, begins heckling the pretty Nashville girl about the inadequacies of the South. She becomes more furious by the minute, telling him to go the fuck back home then. Her burly ex-boyfriend eyes them both nervously.
There is a deck of cards spread out on the table, face down. The Magnet School teacher has written a code on the mirror.
2 – You
3 – Me
4 – Whores
5 – Never Have I Ever
6 – Dicks
7 – Heaven
8 – Mate
9 – Rhyme
And so on. I’m not sure what’s happening here. I wonder if public nudity is imminent. I hope I don’t draw a 6. Nothing good could come of that.
The intern draws a 2. She tells me to drink. I draw a 3. Now I have to drink again. The balding Bostonian mentions to the pretty Nashville girl that people are smarter up North. Then he draws a 7 and points to the sky, as does everyone else. Since I didn’t point in time, I drink. They give me another Bud Light.
One of the bountiful girls with a face full of character draws a 5. Everyone puts up five fingers. She says “Never have I ever… seen my parents having sex!” A few people cringe, recount a chilling anecdote or two, then put a finger down.
The Nashville debutante says “Never have I ever… had anal sex.” Fingers go down.
“Giving or receiving?” I ask.
More fingers go down and the game goes on. Before long, I’m down to one finger and it’s my turn.
“Never have I ever… set an infant on fire… intentionally.” The room freezes for a moment. I figured it was better than just saying “abortion.” No one puts a finger down. Then the long-legged intern says:
“Never have I ever… been titty fucked.” Fingers fall across the room. She looks around, self-righteous yet somehow apologetic. “I just haven’t yet.”
The burly ex-boyfriend says: “Never have I ever… used products to keep my hair from falling out.” He glares at the balding Bostonian, relishing his friend’s curling finger. The balding Bostonian says:
“Never have I ever… brought a stupid bitch to an otherwise great party.”
The Nashville débutante storms out of the apartment. Her ex-boyfriend chases after her. The games go on without them. Innuendos mount among the girls with lots of character, but the remaining guys start making other plans. The non-balding Bostonian disappears with the cute Magnet School teacher. Public speculation abounds. Horny-levels are rising.
I glance at the leggy intern, thinking of the drunken text she sent late last night before passing out. The invitation to bed didn’t surprise me. Two nights before, her former sorority sister told me that she was a “hussy.” I had to wonder, was her friend giving me a warning, getting my hopes up, or just clam-jamming? I stare down at the crumpled valentines on the floor.
There is a strange juxtaposition here: infantilized social interaction coupled with jaded sexual excess. Most of these kids are absolutely brilliant—future doctors and teachers. It fascinates me how innocent they are, yet so comfortable with debauchery. He’s fucked her and her, after she fucked him. And him, and him—the same night he fucked her, before he got caught fucking him. Cupid has bat-wings these days, lobbing dildo-tipped arrows at our lost generation.
I thought about this as I walked through the snow alone. There is no need for flowers or moonlit gardens or letters slipped through windowsills anymore.
This is sexual liberation in a throw-away world, where true love is just a pop song, and pop songs are ringtones that get deleted like so many farts in the wind. Passion as a bodily function—that’s just not my style. I’d rather give myself a valentine. And so I did.