Valentine’s Day – Friend or Foe?

j0382966 There’s just so much going on around Valentine’s Day that is happy and joyous and really over-the-top, almost (no, actually downright) annoying that I just have to say something.  Call me the Ebenezer Scrooge of Valentine’s Day.  Do it!  Maybe I’ll be visited by the ghosts of Valentine’s past, present and future and wake with a changed outlook.  It simply can’t hurt.

Clearly, if you haven’t figured it out, there is one holiday that disturbs me and it is Valentine’s Day. Or, maybe it is just that I’ve been all out sick from some death-seeking stomach virus this week and my outlook on everything right now is slightly disturbed. Whatever the case might be, I’m currently annoyed by all the happy clappy surrounding Valentine’s Day. 

Valentine’s Significance?

The significance of Valentines Day as a holiday eludes me.  I’ve just never gotten the real significance of days like this.  Random days, seemingly stuck on a calendar with no real historical or religious significance…at least, not that one could detect without doing a Google search. It really seems like a big ploy to make men feel guilty so women can get presents.  Men do this so they can get or keep something else.  At best they do it to stay out of the doghouse.  I hate being manipulated and I feel like Valentine’s is one great big marketing manipulation.  I dislike this aspect of Valentine’s Day. 

Relationship Pressure?

Because such a big deal is made of the day, it is difficult to ignore it. I’d like to.  I can’t.  Just on Facebook alone,  I see apps for my phone just in time for Valentine’s Day, invites to romantic dinner events (for two, for a lot of money usually), singles get together events promoting the promise of “finding a date in time for Valentine’s Day” and status message updates encouraging you to update your profile image with a picture of you and your partner and tell how long you’ve been together. 

Valentine’s Day is a day to celebrate love. Not a bad idea, but every day should be a day to celebrate love.  Further, this day, in my opinion, more than any of the holidays (except maybe Christmas or Thanksgiving), serves to point out the haves and the have nots.  Those who have a lover, a partner, a spouse and those, who even if it is by choice, do not.  Somehow, that’s just never felt good to me, even when I was in a relationship. men-in-doghouses-425tp120209 My experience has been mostly that the holiday was celebrated because the guy felt obligated to do something so he could avoid the relational doghouse rather than because he really wanted to.  Not a good time for anyone, especially me, because I really work hard not to put relational pressure on the people I care about. 

A Fun Day

But, in spite of my Scroogist tendencies, Valentine’s can be a very fun and (dare I say it?) meaningful day as well. 

Have you ever given one of those prepackaged Valentine’s Day cards to your teenager, just for fun with a Charms Blow Pop or a bag of Skittles attached? 

Have you ever been the focus of someone’s thought and attention so much so that the person booked you for Valentine’s Day weeks in advance before you were even really thinking of the two of you as a couple? 

Have you ever passed up a date on Valentine’s Day, to go out to dinner with another very good dear single friend you hadn’t seen in a while?

Ever been in a classroom of elementary school children on Valentine’s Day?  Ever seen the sparkle in the eyes as the children (yes, even the boys) open up a card that says something silly but affirming on it?   Have you ever been the recipient of those Valentines, written in a childish scrawl, unashamedly declaring love for a teacher, a mom, a dad, a best friend? 

Young children don’t care about how their affections will be received.  It never occurs to them that their love won’t be valued and received.  They just love and they just show it.  Simply.  Matter of factly.  Joyously.  Without reservation.

Another Day To Say, “I Love You”

IMG_7867Valentine’s Day, definitely annoys me on some levels.  I don’t like the pressure that seems to be implied in the day.  I definitely hate the marketing craze surrounding it.  I don’t like the way it separates and divides the loved from the unloved, so to speak.

On the other hand, it isn’t just about the hearts and candy and flowers, either, or the presence or absence of a romantic interest in one’s life.  I get that.

I have given the tacky Valentines to my teenage children and gotten hugs and praise in response.  I have passed up dates to go out with a single friend instead and had the best time of my life with some of the warmest memories attached. I’ve had someone want to be with me so much that he made sure I was free weeks in advance for that special day.  I have for the last 15 years watched elementary children open valentines, squeal and blush and give their teacher love notes and I’ve cherished every moment. 

Maybe that’s the part of Valentine’s Day that I need to focus more on.  Because, in spite of all the bad press or potential discomfort that a day like Valentine’s can create, it is still just another day.  Another day of life. Another day to love.  Another day to say so.  Another day to make a special moment for a special someone or maybe a few special young someones, somewhere.  A rose by any other name, right?

So, what do you think of Valentine’s Day?  Is it friend or foe?  What makes it so for you?

Kicking Off The Holiday Season

j0422837 I have a friend who firmly believes that Halloween is the holiday that officially kicks off “The Holiday Season”.  Being a person who really knows how to entertain and, yes, even cook very fine meals, she is all about celebrating.  And she is good at it.  Whether you agree with my friend or not, by the time Thanksgiving rolls around, followed immediately by the day now known as “Black Friday”  (only in America and when did that happen anyway?), it is clear The Holiday Season is well underway. 

The Problem

In years past, I was all about Christmas and decorating and making everything festive and, like my friend, I enjoyed celebrating in the company of family and friends.  But somewhere along the line things went horribly wrong and suddenly, The Holidays, have lost their appeal to me.  Or maybe I’ve just become very, very confused about does and does not matter when creating those memorable holiday moments.

Okay, things didn’t really go “horribly wrong”, at least, not all in one big life changing moment.  It was more like a gradual decline and I think I did it to myself.  Too much pressure, expectations for myself and those of others (mostly in-laws), the demands of being a new mom, starting a new demanding career at the same time (oh, yes, I do wish I’d played Solitudethat card differently), and the gradual erosion and decline of a marriage.  Along the way, The Holidays lost their charm.  They became something to be endured; a source of pain, frustration and immense exhaustion.

After the second divorce, I tried the best I could to make Christmas memorable for my children.  This wasn’t easy, since I was now in the place so many people find themselves in after divorce:  broke…if not bankrupt. I was definitely the former, scrambling to avoid the latter.  Looking back, I don’t even know how I survived that first Christmas because child support hadn’t even kicked in.  The second Christmas was also pulled off with meager finances and the third Christmas, last year, was the first Christmas my children spent away from me.  That was tough! 

  Yes, I am fully aware that in spite of the pretty lights, the happy smiles on people’s faces, the advertisements that boast loving couples, happy families, and joyous, grateful children with lavishly decorated homes where trees are standing amidst a treasure trove of gifts, the cost of which might easily feed a small third world nation somewhere for a year, The Holiday Season for many, is a season of pain, regret, disappointment, sadness and deep loneliness. Many of us, especially those of us who are Singles in a World of Couples dread the advent of the holidays because it means we will be attending yet another office party alone, waking up Christmas morning alone while the kids wake up and open presents elsewhere, eating alone with no one to greet us in the morning or drink a toast with us in the evening.  That awareness can gnaw at us and deprive us of joy, energy, and contentment.

A Solution:

Now, if I let it, that could depress me.  I could spend my time regretting the misused past.  I could spend my time fretting that I am now unable to provide my children with what I’d always wanted and hoped to be able to provide them materially. I could feel badly that I don’t have significant other to share the joys and sorrows (or my hot tub!) with.  I could get weepy that things are not exactly what I wanted or how I planned or imagined.  I could despair that things are not better than they are.  Sometimes I do.  Not for long.  Maybe only about two hours a month…if that.

Solution:  I don’t let it.  I’ve learned to enjoy what I have and be grateful that I have it.  I’ve also learned that things can always be worse.  After all, as one friend recently said to me, “You have a roof over your head, a good job, you are paying your bills haven’t had to foreclose on your home or file bankruptcy, you and your kids are healthy and you have food on the table.  It could be so much worse, so chin up!”

I’ve learned over the last three years to think differently about many things.  I now think differently about my holidays.  I think very differently about the holidays on those years when my kids will be away for Christmas Day.  I’m not so hesitant anymore to ask out that guy friend to my office Christmas Party.  I just make sure it is someone who understands that this is not a Friends With Benefits situation or that I have any illusions about us as a couple.j0444098  I’ve given myself permission to be single and to enjoy it.  I’ve given myself permission to take full advantage of the times when the kids are away.  I’ve met enough people and have plenty of friends that if I want a date to an event I can have one.  If I’m sitting home alone on a weekend night it is because I have chosen it, not because I have no other choice.  I’ve learned to be at peace with myself.

I no longer feel that I’m missing life if I stay home…alone…curled up on my couch in my lounge pants and t-shirt…in front of the fire.  Would it be fun to be using my couch differently?  Of course, but I’m not desperately hoping that will happen or thinking that it must happen in order for me to feel validated and alive.

Mostly, I’ve learned that the off times, those times when the kids are away at their other homes is a great time for me to work on the many home improvement tasks I have lined up.  I don’t have to worry about kids wanting to help with the painting or spreading the mess throughout the house. I don’t have to stop mid project to fix a meal and clean it up.  It’s also a wonderful opportunity to catch up with some j0438433of my adult friends that I have a more difficult time connecting with when the kids are around. It’s a great opportunity to get caught up on laundry and if all else fails…

…it is a wonderful time to try to learn to cook a new dish! 

Yeah, like that’ll happen anytime soon!

I do have questions though for those of you out there who, like me, have a shared custody or a parenting plan that means your children will be away from you some or all of the holiday season. 

How do you handle the holiday season when you don’t have your children with you to celebrate?

How has divorce changed how you celebrate the holidays?