This Valentine's Day, love like you mean it

Joel van der Veen
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I can pinpoint the day I endured my first taste of rejection: Feb. 14, 1996.

The kids in my Grade 2 class were handing out valentine cards, and one girl gave me a card with Goofy pictured on the front, fishing from a boat.

I’m not sure of the card’s precise wording, but it was along the lines of “You’re my favourite catch.” Between the first and second words, she’d written “NOT” in block letters.

Later, she told me she felt obligated to give a card to everyone in our class. In my case, though, she was determined to make sure I realized it was a meaningless gesture.

We usually remember incidents like this, even if they’re not particularly traumatic. I was more amused than devastated, but it is telling that I clearly remember the story 17 years later.

It’s not on par with Ralph Wiggum’s tale of heartbreak, but it provides a decent segue into a look at how the average person approaches Feb. 14.

This year, according to the U.S.-based National Retail Federation, Americans will spend an estimated $18.6 billion on Valentine’s Day cards, candy, flowers, romantic candlelit dinners, et cetera. That’s an average of $130.97 per consumer.

Now, I’m not against the idea of buying a thoughtful gift for the person you love, or taking them out for a good meal and some quality time.

Clearly, though, we’ve acquired this habit of spending considerable money on one day to convey feelings that should be evident throughout the year.

Instead of expressing our emotions through words, we leave it in Hallmark’s hands. And as the amount of money spent on romantic gifts steadily increases, it appears more of us are taking the same approach to Valentine’s Day that The Office’s Michael Scott takes to Christmas: “It is like this tangible thing that you can point to and say, ‘Hey man, I love you this many dollars worth.’”

The story of Valentine’s Day is shrouded in mystery; the most commonly-cited tale, according to the BBC, involves a third century priest named Valentine who provoked the anger of the Roman emperor Claudius by performing illegal marriages.

While the emperor sought to prohibit young men from getting married, believing it made them ill-fit for military duty, the priest continued his work, claiming it his duty to fulfill the Lord’s will by uniting couples in marriage.

For his efforts, he was ultimately arrested and beheaded. While imprisoned, it is said, he fell in love with the jailer’s daughter. Just before he was due to die, she received a note bearing the words “from your Valentine.”

Perhaps we needn’t go that far to prove a point. But there is something to be said for the kind of love that is genuine and profound, even sacrificial, that expresses itself not just through gifts and expense, but in words and actions.

There’s nothing wrong, per se, with spending money on the one you love on Valentine’s Day. But if you’re only doing it because that’s what everyone’s expected to do, maybe you should think again.

Love doesn’t need to come in the form of an expensive night out or a lavish gift. It can be as simple as the gift of time, a listening ear or a heartfelt embrace.

And you don’t need to wait until Feb. 14 to demonstrate it, either. True love is always in season, and it can bloom at any time.

So this Thursday, and throughout the year, whether it takes the form of a home-cooked meal, a trip out of town, or just watching a favourite movie together, make sure your “favourite catch” knows how much they mean to you — for real.

Joel van der Veen can be reached at 691-1256.

Organizations: National Retail Federation, BBC

Geographic location: U.S.

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