Thursday, February 14, 2013

My First Valentine

Valentine's Day was my least favorite holiday when I was growing up and watching, humiliated and heart-broken, as some of my grade school classmates got called up to the class Valentine box again and again while I sat disconsolately in my seat. If I were called up, it would be to get a tiny card given to me by another girl who -- like me -- wrote out Valentines for everyone in the class. I never got a Valentine from a boy --ever.

Once, in sixth grade, I bought a special Valentine card for Nicky Vianni, a cute and popular classmate on whom I had a very secret crush. I was too shy to sign my name, so merely signed it "Your Secret Admirer"  and dropped it in the class Valentine box when no one was looking. Nicky loved the card and was intrigued that he had a secret admirer. Who had dropped it in the box for him? My heart sank as he asked girl after girl if she had sent it. Finally, out of other options, he turned to me. Feeling my face turn a deep crimson, I admitted that I was his secret admirer. "You?" he said, trying without success to hide his disappointment. "Oh, well, thanks! It's a great card. Yes. Um. Well, thanks." And he hurried away.

But Valentine's Day wouldn't always be so bleak.

Ten years later, I held a Valentine in my hands that was heart-felt and from a guy. I was a senior in college. And there it was, in my dorm mailbox: my first Valentine! It was from the best possible person in my young life: my beloved friend Tim. The cover featured Juliet on a stage. Inside, it said "On my balcony, you're tops!"

I was thrilled. I stood there at the mailbox, just holding it, for a long time. Okay, so there were no sentiments of undying love, even though I dared to hope this was a sign that our friendship was evolving into something quite different. But even if it was simply a sweet declaration of friendship, I was delighted. It felt so wonderful to be remembered, to be thought of, to be loved as a friend (or maybe more) at long last on Valentine's Day!

And somehow, through all the romantic disappointment followed by renewed and joyous friendship that was to come, that card has stayed with me all these 46 years since, stashed securely in my memory and among treasured college mementos.


In the years since, I've received many Valentines from men who cared about and loved me. And such thoughtfulness has never ceased to delight me -- from my post-college dating days to the many Valentine's Days Bob and I have enjoyed together.

I have learned some important lessons along the way:

  • the value of love and affirmation from female friends: loving friendships with women, whether expressed by Valentines, sweet notes, emotional support or good talks are an invaluable part of the rich fabric of one's life
  • the value of treasuring a relationship for what it is rather than what one hopes it might be: whether it is appreciating the dear friend whose love has outlasted decades of romantic relationships or becoming newly aware of the blessings of one's marriage years after the honeymoon is history 
  • the value of letting those we love know how much they mean to us on a daily, rather than yearly, basis. Valentine's Day as we observe it, is, after all, a major commercial holiday, a day that consumers give the economy a boost with cards and chocolates and jewelry and dinners out. 

As time goes on, we come to realize that keeping a loving connection with another is much deeper and more meaningful than a Valentine's Day card -- or even chocolate.

We learn that love can mean saying you're sorry -- many, many times -- not only for the inevitable disappointments that daily life together can bring, but also for the pain that the world can inflict on a loved one. We learn that love is much more than romantic music and flowers. It can mean tending to a spouse who is unglamorously ill. It can mean finding sudden joy, together and by surprise, in unpromising circumstances. It can mean gratitude for a mature love that has weathered storms and challenges and moments of despair and still remains strong and enduring. And these lessons that the years bring are much sweeter than a pretty Valentine.

Yet, to this day, with all that I've learned and experienced in love, that first Valentine and the wonderful man who sent it, hold a special place in my heart.


  1. What a lovely, loving story! I want to reach out to that guy and give him a hug myself for doing something so meaningful. I always try to keep an eye out in my classroom for those who might not be getting a valentine, although in my grade there's not a formal exchange of valentines anymore.

    And I fully agree that life's lessons, and the wisdom they bring, are much more than a paper card.

  2. "tending to a spouse who is unglamorously ill." Somehow I feel that your Tim was that kind of guy. That would so outshines any glitter,cards, flowers or candy and doesn't wait for that one day a year to appear. It is there when needed. That to me is the true Valentine.

  3. Thank you, Shelly and Patti!

    Shelly, I'm so glad you keep an eye on students who might not get Valentines. Those old boxes on the teachers' desks were just terrible - causing painful memories so many years after.

    Patti, taking care of unglamorously ill spouse is something many loving people I know would do -- including Tim. He is very special. But when I wrote that line, I was thinking of my friend Mary who takes such loving care of her ailing husband John and, not so incidentally, of my husband Bob who has taken loving care of me in some definitely unglamorous moments.

  4. Lovely post, Kathy. Here in the UK there is no tradition of giving Valentines to anyone other than your 'love'. No parties in school, no cards for grandmas and grandpas and best friends. My memory in school is that we all bought these packs of valentine cards with envelopes and on the day they were handed out -- you didn't have your name called and have to collect it. And I don't remember ever buying a special valentine for anyone in school.

    I love your story about your first 'real' Valentine and I love the fact that you still have it!

  5. As The Broad says, we don't have any of these school Valentine's Day customs in the UK, Kathy, and if I may speak honestly I'm truly glad we don't. I can think of few things more calculated to hurt and humiliate a shy and awkward child than receiving few or no valentines when others are receiving many.

    I've only received one Valentine in my whole life and that wasn't from my DH. :-) He just doesn't do the soppy stuff like Valentine's Day, preferring, as you say so beautifully, to show his love for me in a thousand other ways day by day.

  6. Amen. No one could say it better. As you know from my post (and thank you for your comments) a real love Valentine is more than flowers and cards. It's not just the better but the worse -- and that's part of friendship, too. I'm so glad you pointed out the importance of your female friends, too. Really isn't it loving all those who matter? And recognizing them.

    A quick anecdote -- back in the 1980s it seemed as though few of my male and female friends could get it together. We were a wonderful little gang but one was going through a divorce, another a break-up, one had never been loved, several just couldn't seem to match the liking and the requiting. So, we banded together as SPIES -- Single people in the Emotional Sewer (or Stress, depending on how hard we wanted to be on each other). We went to movies together -- sometimes all seven, sometimes two or three, did dinner parties and even had a Blue Valentine's Day. We are close to this day, having helped one another save face, have fun and feel better during bad times. That's love.

  7. Hi Kathy, Valentines Day is like some other holidays --which can be blessings for some and curses for others. For me, it has usually been a blessing. I was blessed with many friends all through the years --and even to this day, feel the love of others throughout my life.

    The key is to first love yourself... Once you do that, you can more easily open your heart to others...

    I will admit though --as I have said many times--these past 11+ years have truly been the happiest in my life. When one had a partner like I do, life truly is AWESOME --and the love just flows....

    BUT--many people don't find this love or don't experience it. That is very very sad.


  8. Dear Kathy, in grade school I did get a couple of valentines from boys, but since becoming an adult I never received a valentine until this year--when a friend and her children sent valentines to me. Paraphrasing Wordsworth, "my heart leapt up" when I opened the envelope and found these homemade valentines. There's something so wonderful about receiving a paper heart that says, "We think of you." "We cherish you."

    But as you say, the truly important cherishing and loving comes with living the day and saying the words that will help those we love on their life's journey. I have many friends who have done just that for me. They are the blessings of my life. Thank you for reminding me of this. Peace.

  9. Kathy, the absence of a Valentine's Day card can do a lot to shape a young heart. That's the way of youth. For every three popular girls in the class, there are 27 who sit hopefully in the wings. What I'd like to know is whether or how much young boys feel the effects of no card on Valentine's day.

    Also, I just have to say that I noticed and cheered when you wrote "mementos" rather than "momentos." It's the grammarian in me -- or some might say "grammatician."