There is a box of Russell Stover candy that keeps mocking me.
Like most boxes of Valentine’s Day candy, it’s red, heart-shaped, and has shrink wrap that I can envision tearing off in a fit of unbridled, chocolate-loving passion. But unlike most boxes of candy, this one costs around $40 and is almost the size of my 8-year-old daughter.
Every time I walk past it in the grocery store, pushing my cart with one wobbly wheel carrying maxi pads and cat food, I briefly daydream about sitting in the middle of my bed late at night, this heaping heart-shaped box of sugary comfort taking up my entire lap, and flipping back-and-forth between the two channels that always seem to show Will & Grace reruns.
If you haven’t guessed already…I’m single.
Single on Valentine’s Day. I know I’m not alone. And while some people are indifferent, some people like being unattached, and some people are slightly annoyed at their current relationship status, I belong to a large demographic that absolutely despises Valentine’s Day...in a take-a-bow-and-arrow-and-permanently-end-things-for-cupid kind of way.
That’s because I’m part of a group that I lovingly refer to as “involuntarily single.” Or, in other words, widowed.
But if I’m being completely honest here, I really haven’t looked forward to a Valentine’s Day since before I was married. Oh, I know that sounds negative, but it’s true. In elementary school I was always anxious for the afternoon party to start, my decorated shoebox just waiting for the thirty cards with scotch-taped lollipops to fill its empty cardboard belly. In middle school, there was always the possibility that someone might slip a card in my locker, maybe even unsigned, which would give my girlfriends and me something to talk about for months. And by high school, there was usually at least one boy who might hand me a wilted rose or at least buy me a Slurpee.
The Valentine’s Day excitement continued into college when I met my soon-to-be husband at the beginning of my freshman year. By that winter, Brad and I were a serious item and he dutifully presented me with a teddy bear and a dozen roses that he had driven through a snow storm from his college to mine to deliver.
Two years later, we were married. And that’s when the Valentine’s Day magic came to a screeching halt.
“I don’t like Valentine’s Day,” he told me that first February after I’d committed to him and couldn’t take it back. “I never have.”
Knowing that Brad never liked to be told what to do (which made his military career interesting), I shouldn’t have been surprised that he wasn’t all that keen on the greeting card industry demanding that he buy me a card every February 14th. I did, however, feel duped.
“But what about the last two Valentine’s Days when we were dating?” I asked in disbelief. “You’ve always been so thoughtful!”
“Yeah, but I’ve got you now,” he said with a devilish look.
And while I was a little bitter about that sudden end to romance, I had no idea just how cheated I would feel when he was gone and I had no one to shoot dirty looks to over my Valentine’s Day pizza.
Like most widows out there, Valentine’s Day has become the holiday I dread the most. Sure, Christmas is hard, Thanksgiving is no picnic, and I feel a little deflated around my birthday. But there is nothing that screams “YOU’RE ALONE” like Valentine’s Day. Going to the store on February 14th and seeing all of those men running out the door with bouquets of flowers and panicky expressions makes me slightly bitter now that I know I can’t even anticipate the disappointment I used to feel when my husband would show up empty-handed or with a “You know you’re a redneck when….” Valentine’s Day card. All of those commercials that say “Every kiss begins with ‘K’” (although I disagree – most kisses begin with a pitcher of beer), make me want to smack someone. And that bright red aisle at the grocery store that has as its centerpiece that enormous box of candy is almost too much to bear.
It’s not the being single part that’s hard – that I can handle. It’s the absence of something I used to have that still shocks me and takes my breath away. Sometimes, I just want a deep, sweet, unbreakable kiss so much it’s painful. Sometimes I want someone to just call me and ask about my day. Sometimes I want someone here I can turn to and say, “Hey. The pipes froze last night. Take care of that, would you?”
I don’t miss them all at the same time. I don’t need someone kissing me, listening to me, and fixing my plumbing all at once (although if a man came to my door who could multitask like that, I certainly wouldn’t ask him to leave). And I know I can function without those things – I’ve been proving that for years. But sometimes I do wish I could have those little pieces again – the ones that, together, make up a committed relationship. I wish that, even though he might have come home empty handed on what should be the most romantic day of the year, I could go back to the days when just coming home was gift enough.
So, if you see someone standing in the middle of the Valentine’s Day aisle with a mixture of sadness and panic written all over her face and nothing but cat food and feminine hygiene products in her cart, press $40 in her hand and say, “Go for it, girl.”
That could just be the most romantic thing she has to look forward to this year.