In “The Art of War,” Sun Tzu tells us to “know thy enemy.” In this case, the enemy is not a person, but rather a date on the calendar; its army made up not of soldiers, but rather lofty expectations and quixotic fantasies. It is a day devoted to love and adoration for those in your life whom you hold dear — expressed through cartoon turtle ninjas exclaiming “Cowabunga, you are one cool dude!” I am, of course, talking about Valentine’s Day. With February 14th looming menacingly on the horizon, I thought it wise to take a moment and get to know our ‘enemy,’ reflecting on just what exactly Valentine’s Day means, how it started, and most important, how to survive.
Some maintain that Valentine’s Day is just another “Hallmark Holiday” like “International Friend Day” or “Earth Day.” There are some who feel that Valentine’s Day is but a fabrication, conjured up to sell greeting cards and boost sales of stale, chalky candy hearts. Few realize however, that unlike Columbus Day, Valentine’s Day is actually rooted in something besides myth and legend.
Valentine’s Day dates back to ancient Greece, when a young man named Valentinius gave the beautiful Myia a small piece of parchment. Inscribed on the parchment were the words “dio kalos apephenanto tagathon, hou pant’ ephietai. (Translated: ‘Do you like me? Check box for yes.’).
Times have changed since those ancient carefree days and finding a valentine is no longer as simple as passing a note. In fact, for those not already in a relationship, surviving Valentine’s Day can present quite a challenge. The endless parade of cute couples, teddy bears from Vermont and cheesy sit-com plot devices can cause a single guy or gal to see red (pun intended). While the most effective way to survive February 14th is to simply hunker down on the couch with a bottle of wine and a good book, there are those hopeless romantics who insist upon venturing out into the dating scene. Though ill-advised, it is possible to find love on a day when all odds seem stacked against you.
According to the “It’s Just Lunch Guide to Dating in Northern Virginia” (10 Finger Press, $9.95), attracting that special someone is all about confidence — and confidence, they say, begins the moment you enter a room. Pausing to “strike a pose,” they suggest, lets that potential person get a good look at you, while you gaze about the room with self-assured machismo. Of course, if that fails to attract a suitor, they suggest adding a prop to your routine, such as a puppy or small child (I’m not making that up; pages 34-35). With the room captivated by your charm, and a small child / puppy by your side, you are ready for the next step; flirting. Per the “It’s Just Lunch” guide, “flirting is a meta-conversation … there is an underlying meaning to everything that’s said.” For example:
She says: “Do you realize that you almost knocked over a waitress while you made that idiotic pose at the door?” Underlying Meaning: “I noticed you from the moment you walked into the bar.”
She says: “Why would you bring a child into a bar? Is that even your child?” Underlying Meaning: “I want to know more about you; perhaps we should meet for dinner.”
She says: “Please leave!” Underlying Meaning: “Cowabunga, you are one cool dude!”
Surviving Valentine’s Day as a swingin’ single is certainly no easy task. For those in a relationship however, survival can be equally daunting. In fact, for most couples just making it to February 14th requires a Herculean effort. The period between October and March is what is known as the “Holiday Wasteland.” Halloween, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving, World AIDS Day, Chanukah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, Boxing Day, New Year’s Day, Martin Luther King Day, Groundhog Day — independently, each provides a unique dating challenge, but strung together they represent a true test of endurance. It is a gauntlet of gift giving, a trial of togetherness — and if, by some amazing stroke of fortune, your relationship is strong enough to endure Lincoln’s Birthday (theater tickets are never a good gift), you must then go toe to toe with biggest relationship killer of them all — Valentine’s Day.
How can your relationship survive February 14th? In essence, it’s all about the gift. The trick however, it so select the right gift. For example, a dozen red roses can help erase the fact that you missed your dinner reservation because you were playing darts with the guys. Paper clips, on the other hand, tell your significant other that they are messy and lack effective collating skills. As a general rule of thumb, it’s best to avoid giving office supplies as gifts (the exception of course being paper shredders, because those are actually really neat). For more detailed gift giving guidelines, see the chat.
If the youthful inhabitants of MTV’s Laguna Beach have taught us anything, it’s that love is complicated — and as love’s annual emissary, Valentine’s Day is equally as complex and mystifying. Surviving Valentine’s Day requires heart, courage, guile and a perhaps even a small child or puppy. While the odds of survival are not high, it’s important not go give up hope. I believe it was William Shakespeare who once wrote of love, “We are strong; no one can tell us we’re wrong. Searchin’ our hearts for so long – both of us knowing; love is a battlefield.” Truer words were never written.
• Matt Sapsford is a part time comic / full time lover. For more information, visit www.myspace.com/sapsford.