"What We Talk About When We Talk About Valentine's Day" or "Let's All Feel Bad"
I am not a thoughtful or sentimental person, and it is no surprise to anyone. Are we friends? Yes? I have no idea when your birthday is. I won't remember, no matter how many times you tell me. It's not that I am willfully against displaying affection or tenderness toward the people I love; it's that I can never remember to do it on the day that I am officially supposed to. On my daily to-do list, I have to write down "shower" so that I won't forget.
That said, I am not a fan of Valentine's Day. Valentine's Day is not for lovers. Every day is for lovers! You see them everywhere, all the time: picking out special ingredients for each other at the grocery store; laughing at inside jokes in restaurant corner booths; smooching in cars while picking one another up from a day of work or school. And me? I'm the person who honks my horn, leans out my window, and yells, "Move it along, folks. Get a $&*@!%$ room!" Don't get me wrong, my husband is a beautiful and fantastic man, and we are very happy together. But my idea of a good time is a fierce game of Scrabble, or a contest to determine who knows more American capitals or mathematical derivatives (I do).
Valentine's Day is a day to remind people without lovers (or whose lovers have to work double-shifts at the restaurant serving steaks and fancy cakes to other lovers) that everyone else is in love--at this very second! Everyone buys everyone else heart-shaped boxes filled with chocolate and yells "Surprise!" as they walk through the door, flowers in arms. Right now, they all light candles and throw around rose petals in bathtubs and bed sheets--and this does not seem very environmentally friendly.
So this goes out to you, non-lovers or conscientious abstainers from The Day of Love. I am a person who sometimes likes to feel bad for no good reason at all. I like to get it out all at once, so that I don't have to worry about it later. I listen to sad songs and pick fights, and then I have an excuse to watch reality television in bed all day and eat chocolate. What follows are some things that help me accomplish this: a gift, from me to you, on Valentine's Day.
"You're So Vain" by Carly Simon
I challenge you to be a bigger bad ass than Carly Simon. You're right: it is humanly impossible. The ultimate insult is to say something mean about someone ("You're so vain.") and then deny you were ever talking about them to begin with ("You probably think this song is about you, don't you, don't you, don't you?"). Seriously, try it. It's an even bigger diss if you can direct your insult at Mick Jagger. Southerners love to do a version of this, where they deny having said something mean right after they say it ("Oh that Mick Jagger is a damn mess, bless his heart!"). As a fiction writer, I do not always understand how songwriters use simple, flowerless, unpoetic language to such a powerful effect. I think it has something to do with repetition. Don't you, don't you, don't you?
"Not About Love" by Fiona Apple
Fiona Apple also loves to deny things: "Not About Love" is another unlove song. In it, she repeats "This is not about love," despite the fact that it obviously is. Maybe the message of these singers is that if you tell yourself something enough times, over and over again, it will become true? Like Bloody Mary? I wonder what my therapist would say about this? Anyway½ Fiona Apple is poet-like, I think, and this song in particular displays her talent for words and their workings.
The Break Up starring Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn
If your idea of a good time is watching the very painful, heartbreaking, real-feeling negotiations that happen when two people who once loved each other are wrenched apart because of circumstance and change, and if you believe that these sorts of conflicts do not resolve themselves or have happy endings, then this is the movie for you. I watched this movie in a theater right after a bad break up, and I swear, the writers took notes on my life for the script. I left this movie feeling like I had simultaneously been to war, lost everything I loved, and spent an hour or two in the same room as Vince Vaughn--all of which are terrifying.
What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond Carver
What do we talk about when we talk about love? you might ask. According to Raymond Carver, the answer is heartbreak, failure, alcoholism, and loss. There is, of course, some love in this stunning collection, but it is colored by the familiar and every-day challenges that come along with loving and being loved: leaving, being left behind, getting harassed by obsessive cake bakers who are trying to track your ass down. What We Talk About When We Talk About Love strips its characters' relationships and experiences down to the bare bones, presenting them in the even, controlled tone of an omniscient, emotionless narrator in order to examine the human condition; this treatment simultaneously keeps the reader at a distance and pulls them in to fill the space.
Slow Motion by Dani Shapiro
Love? Check. Deceit? Check. An attempt to get away from your emotionally abusive, powerful lawyer boyfriend who buys you fancy fur coats and an expensive Manhattan condo? Check, check, check. Besides fulfilling all of these run-of-the-mill memoir requirements, Slow Motion is the rare kind of book that you will think about for months afterwards. It's like your high school boyfriend, who breaks your heart, but you can't quit him and you'll never get over him. The piece holds tension on a sentence level, as well as within each paragraph and chapter. This book has all the makings of a daytime soap opera: sex, deceit, affairs, drugs, a young girl trying to make it in New York City as an actress. Somehow, Dani Shapiro takes all these dramatic elements and spins them into a beautiful, well-crafted, heartbreaking, ballsy book that I read in a day and a half.
"Infidelity" from This American Life
When my husband and I got married, we agreed that if Ira Glass ever fell madly in love with me and told me that he could not live without me, our marriage contract would be void. Hear that, Ira? In this episode of This American Life, brings of uplifting stories of cheating and cheaters. In one, a woman leaves her husband for her neighbor. In another, a woman tries to leave her overbearing boyfriend, and may or may not make it (this one is an excerpt from Slow Motion). That's right, it's an upper! For more up-lifting stories from Ira, also check out the episode on break ups, ingeniously called "Break Up."
You can listen to these radio episodes for free online, right this moment, on the day of lovers, love, and love-related things.