I was looking back through my old Valentine's Day content, and I thought this would be appropriate for those of you who're searching for just the right card, and encountering problems with what Hallmark (even at its cheeky best) has to offer. I posted it originally in 2008, but I think it stands the test of time. Hope you get a chuckle out of it.
When you go card shopping on days like this (or I should say, for days like this), you realize with ton-of-bricks clarity the extent to which the card industry evinces that same "uplifting/isn't that special!" nonsense that has thoroughly taken over America's schools and sports programs, increasingly influences politics, and variously afflicts so many other cultural realms. The vast majority of Valentine's Day cards that are intended for spouses to give to one another insist upon selling a view of long-term married life that makes it sounds as if, even in 25 years, you've never once thought of walking out the door and just not coming back. This is especially true of cards designed for husbands to give to wives, the assumption being that we men are simply hopeless and helpless without our women, and thus eternally grateful that after all these years, they still address us by our correct names—instead of, say, just shouting "hey, moron" in our general direction. The same assumption, by the way, dominates today's TV ads as well as such venerable sitcoms as Everybody Loves Raymond and The King of Queens (and is certainly a subtext in new shows like Cashmere Mafia). I swear, one of these days I'm going to organize a boycott of all consumer products whose advertising makes men look like ineffectual wimps who'd end up stapling their heads to the mailbox somehow and, overall, could not long survive, if their wives didn't rescue them from their own stupidity at regular intervals. Few things infuriate me nowadays—I have mellowed from the hair-trigger temper of my youth—but that infuriates me as little else ever has.
Anyway, yeah, you can find more realistic cards (somewhat paradoxically) in the humor section of the card aisle, where it's understood that the card is meant to be facetious. These cards are instantly recognizable by the cartoon characters and other lighthearted touches on the front; they're made that way on purpose, lest the recipient get the idea that the giver might actually mean some of the satirical things the card says. If, however, you invest* in a serious card—the kind with the big red bow on the front that's encased in protective shrink-wrap (which the labeling helpfully reminds you to remove before giving)—the sentiments are almost always way over-the-top. Though you may find a token nod to a few "rough patches" you've hit along the way, those rough patches are always environmental: money problems or your son's most recent arrest for that crystal-meth lab he's got going in the basement (and you wondered what that funny smell was!). You do not find sentiments like the following:
"Sometimes I want to just stab youOr:
and stage it to look like a home invasion
but the forensics people are so damn clever these days...."
"It's been 25 years, honey, and to this dayNo, I kid, really (as Bill Maher likes to say). I happen to be a great believer in timeless romance and true love—certainly "for a guy," I am. Honest. But there's a huge difference between, on the one hand, being optimistic about love and "the future"—which I very much subscribe to—and, on the other hand, reflecting candidly on what one's marriage has actually been up to now. I just don't understand why we need to engage in this purposeful, winking charade wherein, for a few days each year**, we pretend to ignore the warts-and-all reality of married life. And we even codify that charade by putting the ornate sentiments down in black and white. ("From the day we met, sweetheart, every hour has been a joyful, unending....") Are you telling me, seriously, that both parties, when they receive such cards, don't know that the poems therein are putting a rosy spin on things? Doesn't that knowledge undercut the meaning of the whole act of card-giving? And in turn, might that not, in some subtle way, make both parties feel more insecure about the relationship? Don't get me wrong. I'm not suggesting that you're supposed to give someone a downright downbeat card. Just, why must cards strain to make every single relationship sound like Romeo & Juliet? (Let's not forget what happened to them, either.)
there are times when I still think of you while we're having sex..."
This need to believe what we know isn't so goes way beyond cards, of course, and we seem especially vulnerable in the area of romance. We'll listen to a guy like Tony Robbins drone on and on about how to "keep the magic in your marriage"—even though we know that he himself couldn't do it. And I'm sure that Dr. Laura, today, will field dozens of calls from women seeking her expert advice on how to repair the stress fractures in their relationships, despite the fact that Schlessinger simply walked out on her first husband and then, having set her sights on a new guy, broke up his marriage in order to claim him as her own. Similarly, a lot of people still don't realize that Robin McGraw isn't the first Mrs. Dr. Phil; she had a predecessor, and that woman, Debbie, whom I interviewed at length for SHAM,*** tells some interesting stories about the pre-Oprah version of our boy, who today presents himself as the world's foremost authority on harmonious living.
The point, again, is that relationships aren't neat or easy. Marriage isn't easy. Fidelity isn't easy. Life isn't easy.
Why do we need to pretend it is?
* And I do mean invest. Sheesh. What happened to the 79-cent card?
** Mother's Day, birthdays, wedding anniversaries, etc.
*** See pp. 72ff, if you have the book.