Manila—I’ve had two dates on a Valentine’s Day. It may look like I’m one lucky girl for having experienced that, but no, I’m not fond of my memories of them. My dates were interesting guys though; one spoke many languages, the other was a multiracial artist-writer.
But the date places were what caused Valentine’s Day to look like the cliché that it is. There were heart-shaped red balloons, red tablecloths, red roses, red wine, chocolate boxes with red ribbons, teddy bears with red bows and “Fallen” playing in the background. I don’t remember if there was a song being played during my other date.
I was working in another country then. Like the rest of the world, its main city painted itself red on that day, so it was not difficult to join in the Valentine fun. What was not fun was the forced ambience of a loved-up day, and the discomfort it brought that required me and my date to interact while keeping our manners in check, up until the end of the date when we had to say politely to each other that we really had a great time.
I don’t know if it’s kinda strange that what I found great that night was when I was back in my apartment, devouring snacks in front of the TV, watching Alanis Morrisette in concert singing “Ironic,” one of my adulting anthems. If I recall it right, my other end-date scenario was again back in the apartment watching a horror movie, one of my favorite things too. Some friends find this strange.
The following year, I spent Valentine’s Day alone, but it was preceded by a night-out with friends of different nationalities. I’m not a party person but that was an awesome pre-Valentine party. The closest I had to being reminded of that day was when I saw a couple on a date in a cafe who asked me to take their photo. I did it lovingly as I was capturing two persons publicly acknowledging their feelings by letting a stranger record their affection for each other.
I know only one or two couples who make V-Day special by forgoing some chores so that they can spend the day together because they’re in love. While many people hate this day, the couples in love are, I think, the reason that Valentine’s Day is in the calendar, only that it isn’t a holiday.
The only story I know about this day is when many centuries ago in Rome, a priest named Valentine (who became St. Valentine) was jailed and sentenced to die by Emperor Claudius II because he arranged marriages for soldiers, defying the emperor’s rules who thought marriage distracted men from becoming good soldiers. In jail, he fell in love with a jailer’s daughter that before he was executed on Feb. 14, he wrote to her, “Farewell, from your Valentine.”
When I heard this story for the first time, I thought that the love, however tragic, was real; the intention to immortalize it was noble.
In grade school, I remember we cut out heart shapes and cupids from red paper and hang them on our classroom walls. We celebrated V-Day and we were happy. It was different then because we were kids and love was about thinking of the love story of Valentine, and because heart shapes and red colors made us sappy goofballs, even as kids.
I believe in celebrating love stories. I would speak for the throngs, however, who don’t want to squeeze in this celebration in just one red day. For one, too much red gives me migraine attacks.
Diana G. Mendoza is a journalist based in Manila. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org