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Valentine, Let Me Count the Ways I Don't Love Thee

February 14, 2001|SUSAN JANE GILMAN | Susan Jane Gilman is the author of "Kiss My Tiara: How to Rule the World as a SmartMouth Goddess," just released by Warner Books

Valentine's Day began as a pagan ritual created by those good-time Romans in the 4th century BC to honor the god Lupercus. The rite was sort of a cross between the Virginia Reel and a lap dance: Single young men drew the names of eligible young women randomly from a box, and whomever they picked became their companion for "mutual entertainment and pleasure"--until the next year's lottery.

Once the Catholic Church entered the picture, the party was over. Instead of picking women's names out of a hat, young men drew the names of saints, whom the church then urged them to emulate. To erase the specter of that orgy-meister Lupercus, the day was re-christened "Valentine's Day" after a martyred priest.

I say it's time to revert the holiday to its pagan roots. I'm not suggesting we raffle off single gals to eligible bachelors or that we turn Feb. 14 into some national day of polytheistic bed-hopping. It's just that I'd like to see Valentine's Day become a little more inclusive and communal again.

Let's face it: Who in their right mind really likes Valentine's Day? In its current incarnation, it's just a minefield of expectations. Show me the flowers. Cough up the chocolate. Load me up on Prozac and take me out for an overpriced dinner.

Singles feel lonely and wretched. Gay couples feel excluded. Straights are under enormous pressure to live up to some fatuous romantic fantasy. Every relationship is thrown into a kiln for 24 hours, forced to withstand artificial pressure and heat.

And on top of it all, Feb. 14 now commemorates a massacre. Let's break out the Godivas and the bubbly for that one.

Besides, why do lovers really need their own holiday? When you're in love, every day is Feb. 14. You're insufferably giddy, and the world rewards you with the best it has to offer. Vacations are for couples: cruises, tours and Caribbean packages are invariably priced for "double occupancy," while singles often have to pay a hefty "penalty" for traveling solo. Restaurants are for couples. Diners who step into a bistro alone are often given looks usually reserved for small children, the elderly and the criminally insane. "Only one?" the maitre d' will sniff. Then he'll point to a small table in the back--the one with an unlit candle and a view of the bathroom.

I say we make Feb. 14 a day when the lovelorn finally get their equal share of goodies and attention. Let's make Valentine's Day a time of reaching out instead of snuggling in. Let's truly open our hearts and embrace people who are too often overlooked and under-appreciated. Trust me, if we transform Feb. 14 into a community-wide chocolate Bacchanalia, few people will miss the current syrup-saturated, couple-centric Hallmark concoction.

Until this happens, though, I'm just going to eat a couple of heart-shaped chocolates and go to bed early. Valentine's Day. Bah, humbug. Wake me when it's Easter.

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