Roses, Valentines, and Prostitution

Copyrighted by Lorna Tedder. Originally published in Third Degree of Separation.

Is Valentine’s Day really just a sanctioned form of prostitution? I  don’t say this simply because I don’t have a sweet- heart this February 14th—I’ve been un-enamored of the holiday for several years. And that’s pretty funny coming from a hope- less romantic like me.

The Long-Awaited Honest-to-God Secret to Being Happy

When I was a kid, I loved Valentine’s Day. I didn’t know yet that I wasn’t artistic,  so I still tried hard and made goofy- looking hearts that I  pasted to shoeboxes decorated in aluminum foil etched with lacy, scrolling designs.  That was back be- fore political correctness kicked in and you got valentines cards and notes from students who liked you and you gave them to students you were friends with or wanted to be friends  with. Later,  because some kids never got valentines and there were hurt feelings to be contended with,  teachers began to mandate that  you  must  provide  valentines  for  every  student  in  your class—not just a few. That’s  not a bad idea,   if you’ve seen awkward little girls cry, but it set a stage for the current state of

Valentine’s Day.

I always liked to think of Valentine’s Day as a day when everyone celebrated sweethearts, any sweethearts, even and especially children. Now it’s as commercial as, oh, Christmas. It’s all about flowers, cards, candy. It’s damned near mandatory to give or get a Valentine and if you don’t have a man sending you a dozen overpriced roses, you’re to be pitied.

Then again, a dozen roses can sometimes be a bad thing, a very bad thing. I often think of a woman I worked with at the medical center just before I graduated from college. I was young and idealistic, and I raved  about the dozen roses her husband sent to her at work at least once a month. The woman took one look at the roses and burst into tears. One  of my other co- workers explained to me, after about three months of this, that I shouldn’t comment about how lucky she was to be getting roses from  her husband of thirty years on such a regular basis. The best I’d managed was maybe a trio of roses from my boyfriend, so a dozen to me was like  four times the love or something. “They’re guilt roses,” my co-worker  explained one day

while we filed medical reports in the corner of the file room. “Her  husband started sending her flowers—big, expensive arrangements—a  couple of years ago. She found out that every time he cheated on her, he  sent her flowers to keep her from thinking he was interested in anyone but her. She caught on and has been working this minimum-wage job to try to save money to leave him and start over but she can’t yet. Now he’s caught on, and he sends her the roses to let her know what he’s been up to, but to all her co-workers, it looks like he’s a great guy.”

The day after my divorce was final, a bouquet arrived in my office. My ex hadn’t been able to find my office for the past several years, but  suddenly, he was able to send something to my desk. Truly a surprise that  he could send something if he really wanted to. I didn’t say a word to  anyone about the arrangement or why it had arrived, but Michelle came in, looked at the card, and announced it up and down the hall, Mouth of the South that she is. The difference in how the sexes looked at that floral arrangement was surprising—all the men stood in the hall- way and told me I must certainly be one special girl while the women lined up, especially the divorced ones, with their arms crossed  and  frowning, each coming forward to give me a hug and murmur in my ear, “Bastard.”

This year, I could barely get through the grocery aisles for all the pre-packaged and already mushed rose bouquets. I selected an armload of dark pink Asiatic lilies to take home and avoided Sweetheart’s Row. There  were definitely more men in the grocery store than usual, most of them  looking for some- thing red and rosy. And thinking of the obligatory sex.

So here’s how it works. The guy buys his sweetheart flowers, candy, cards, and dinner…maybe even jewelry. He gets guaranteed sex. Geez, sounds a little like prostitution to me.

But my real problem with Valentine’s Day is the hypocrisy of it.  The idea that you have to do something special for your sweetheart on  the  14th of February. And that that’s the only day all year that you have to be romantic. That’s the part that this hopeless romantic has problems with. If they’re really your sweetheart, you treat them like your sweetheart every day of the year and not just the one when the roses are the most ex- pensive. It’s not about the roses and cards and trappings of the day; it’s about treating each other well.