Snow White Doesn't Live Here Anymore

Laughter, pleasure, malice, and the pursuit of adult fun

Why Valentine's Day Is Scary

Why does Valentine's Day make us upset and anxious when it's meant to be fun?

Compared to Valentine’s Day, Halloween is a holiday for sissies. Give me the Wicked Witch of the West (or Freddy Krueger, for that matter) over Cupid, that grotesque son of Venus who drags a bow-and-arrow around like pain is the only announcement of romance.

Only the truly brave can face Valentine’s Day without either compulsory compensatory cynicism or a pervasive sense of craven need.

On Halloween, after all, you’re supposed to assume a mask and pretend to be somebody else. On Valentine’s Day, you’re supposed to strip your emotional soul naked and run shrieking towards the oceanic vastness of your partner’s essence. This can be tricky if you’re only on a second date.

That’s why lots men do on February 14th what others do on October 31st: turn off the lights and pretend to be “not home.”

For men, Valentine’s Day is filled horror. Is that really a surprise? They can’t win. For men, all they know is that they’re going to spend time searching for a way to spend money on who knows what for some woman who will, when she receives it, force that little tight smile, like a cat taking a poop, to indicate her insincere gratitude. He will fail. He has always failed. He’s like the guy Jack Nicholson played in “The Shining” who has always been at that hotel. This guy has always been in the endless aisle of greeting cards or in the lingerie area of a department store. He’s there until security removes him and he’s muttering “I think she likes mauve. But I don’t know what mauve it.” And these guys are considered the lucky ones.

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The unlucky ones are getting sparkly elementary school-type cards from their parents and maybe a call about how adorable their younger sibling’s newest child is while trying not to detect a note of disappointment in their mother’s voice while she asks about their cat.

It’s the holiday of inadequacy for both sexes and all sexual preferences: either you do the wrong thing for the person in your life, or have no person in your life. The whole world turns into your grandmother and not the one you like, either. The whole world turns into your other grandmother.  

For women, Valentine’s Day is not exactly filled with horror, the way it is for men, and that’s because for women, it’s filled with ghosts. There’s a nostalgic aspect to the whole thing, which drives women’s current partners, should they have any, nuts. Usually these ghosts do not even have enough class to be properly deceased. They exist only in the woman’s imagination. Believe me, the ghosts of loves past in the dullest woman’s imagination put Wuthering Heights and The Notebook to shame.

I remember every Valentine’s Day card ever sent to me. The one from the cute boy in third grade whose mother signed his name. The one from my high school boyfriend who drew a seventy-three hearts on the envelope, one for each day of our relationship.  One from the guy I liked in college  picturing a dog drinking beer, which I should have regarded as a warning sign rather than an invitation, but who knew?

My husband can’t remember that he sent me the same card three years in a row. For all I know, he just bought a fistful of them and made a choice to plead momentary loss of his intellectual faculties just so he wouldn’t have to face a Papyrus again.

Both Halloween and Valentine’s Day also depend heavily on an element of surprise: on one, you’re supposed to shock someone and on the other, you’re supposed to amaze someone. You get you gets points for creativity and originality. What usually ends up happening is that somebody ends up startled and sickly fascinated, crying in a corner.

Haunted Houses on Halloween are pretty much like Tunnels of Love on Valentine’s Day: they’re hyped up, tricked out, clichéd, and you go in expecting to have a good time anyway.

Save your money, hang our with friends, don't buy into the hype, and buy your own chocolate.

Gina Barreca, Ph.D., is Professor of English at UConn, and author of It's Not That I'm Bitter: How I Learned to Stop Worrying About Visible Panty Lines and Conquered the World.

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