(Editor's Note: Here's the second of my National Public Radio commentaries, as heard on All Things Considered on February 11, 1998:)
As a single man I find myself viewing the buildup to Valentine's Day much as I imagine American Jews, Muslims, and Buddhists might view the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season: Much ado but nothing to do with me.
It doesn't help that that this is one holiday not merely coopted by commercial interests but seemingly created by them. Don't get me wrong, I'm no Scrooge when it comes to matters of the heart; quite the contrary, I'm a sucker for anything romantic. The product of a loving marriage of 43 years, I was raised to believe in happily ever after.
In past years I've gamely opted for alternate ways of observing the holiday: gifts to my mother, dime-store valentines for my female coworkers, bowls of those little candy hearts for all to share. But it's a shallow charade. If you can't celebrate Valentine's Day with passion, you really can't celebrate it at all. I feel like the out-of-work actor who has to watch someone like Deniro get the roles, the money, the fame, and the Oscar. I can no longer pretend to be all that happy for all you lovebirds.
For single folks everywhere who currently lack the affection, devotion, companionship, and support - not to mention the physical pleasures - that a romantic relationship offers, Valentine's Day serves as a rude reminder that they are on the outside looking in.
Look at it this way: Imagine that we had a national holiday that celebrated the state of having a job. All who were gainfully employed would spend the day musing on their good fortune: how much better their lives were with a steady income, how nice it was to have the security, to know where their next meal was coming from. Perhaps we'd even surprise our employers with a bouquet of flowers, a box of candy, or a night on the town. Doesn't sound so bad, I suppose, but it'd be a little rough on those who were unemployed. Just one more reminder of what they were missing. Such is Valentine's Day for the unattached.
So maybe, just maybe, the 14th of February should be devoted instead to us third wheels. I'm reasonably certain that we've not yet been assigned a patron saint, so perhaps we should just coopt yours. Here's what I'm envisioning for an alternative Valentine's Day celebration: Every couple invites over a friend who's unattached, and just for one night, they live out their worst fantasy of what couplehood might be like. She comes to the door with her hair in rollers and cold cream on her face; he's unshaven and wearing a ratty undershirt. The fare is frozen pizza and warm beer served on trays in front of a blaring television. The hosts spend the entire evening pointing out each other's many deficiencies until he finally falls asleep on the couch and she wanders off to bed alone. That'd be enough to make most lovesick lonelyhearts swear they weren't missing a thing, that perhaps the single life wasn't so bad after all.
So c'mon, couples across America, it's the least you can do. For just one night, convince the rest of us that love stinks.
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