Valentine’s Day

Flickr/Joe Haupt
Flickr/Joe Haupt

February 14 this year falls on Ash Wednesday. Or should I say that Ash Wednesday coincides with Valentine’s Day? Either way, I am teaching, and my students are in class, even my adult ones who, if they have plans to celebrate Valentine’s, can very well start after class finishes at 9:30 p.m. Over the years, I have learned that while I go home after my last class, to fall exhausted into bed, my adult students might go out to catch a film, meet a friend for dinner, or go to a party. Not every night, but certainly when the occasion calls for it. For me, after about eight p.m., the occasion always calls for hearth and home. Work is the only reason to be out, and none exists to go out. It’s like a race: Could I run that again right now? is my question on crossing the finish line. Since the answer is invariably no, I sometimes ask the tougher one: If I had to, could I run that again? Even then, with a hypothetical something at stake, all I can do after the race is stop, and after the race of the day, it is all I can do to get home.

It wasn’t always so. Years ago, I was a student taking a night class at the college in my hometown. It met one evening a week, from 7 to 10, and when the teacher asked at the end of class one week in February about our next meeting, which would fall on the 14th, a student gave a laugh. She was in her late 30s, thin, pretty, a little tough. She thought nothing of answering for all of us. “Class? It’s Valentine’s Day. Doesn’t everyone want to be with their sweetheart?” The instructor gave no argument. Maybe he had a sweetheart too.

I think not, however, because the instructor was married, and one’s partner, no matter how cherished, is rarely a sweetheart. A sweetheart is like a potential investor in an enterprise, someone who may bring a lot to the table, may be a real catch, or who might not. In contrast to the unknown sweetheart, a partner is someone with a stake already. I think of partners as people committed to finishing a race together, for whatever reasons they might have, while sweethearts are starting a climb together, what promises to be a spectacular experience. And it often is. But then the ground levels out, and the thrill is over. Will they continue or split? On a chat site I happened on, where advice is sought and offered, many women wondered about a boyfriend who had started out attentive and ended up indifferent. “He used to be so sweet!” and “He was so sweet at the beginning!” were common complaints. A few guys wondered why their girlfriends had quit being so attentive. But the eye-opener was this question posted on the site: “Why does it bother me that my boyfriend is so sweet?” This was the answer:

It could be you don’t feel it’s genuine and that manipulation is at its core. It could be that you think it is genuine but that you are undeserving. It could be that you don’t love him like you ‘should’ so you feel guilty when his sweetness reminds you that he loves you more than you love him. It could be you are afraid to trust his sweetness and are waiting for the mask to drop and for him to be a mean asshole like someone from your past. It could be that he shows you love in a way that does not match how you receive love and it makes you frustrated and uncomfortable.

So many ways to question one’s good fortune! To break up, to give up all that sticky goodness, what day better than this dual day of celebrating and renouncing pleasures?

So, which is it—Valentine’s Day in Lent or Lent starting on Valentine’s Day? It depends on you. To get the chocolate or already have it to give up? As a friend once told me, the best sex is the sex you don’t have. If the principle works for chocolate, too, then even without a sweetheart, you can celebrate the best chocolate on Valentine’s and in Lent. And the chocolate you don’t have but dream of will presumably just get better.

Permission required for reprinting, reproducing, or other uses.

Clellan Coe, a writer in Spain, is a contributing editor of the Scholar.


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