I was in Walgreen’s the other day, and needless to say, the seasonal aisle is filled with all kinds of Valentine’s Day fare. The weird teddy bears, heart-shaped everything, candy, and most importantly: valentines. I actually looked through this year’s valentines offerings, and as I rifled through five different varieties of Justin Bieber valentines, I reminisced about being a kid and exchanging valentines in elementary school. At the time, I didn’t realize how political it all was, but now that I think about it, even when you’re just a kiddo, Valentine’s Day is kind of a big deal.

"Text Me" and "Tweet Me" boy, things have changed from when I was a kid. When I was young they said, "Call Me At Home and Be Polite When My Mom Answers"Image from Google
“Text Me” and “Tweet Me” boy, things have changed from when I was a kid. When I was young they said, “Call Me At Home and Be Polite When My Mom Answers”
Image from Google

In elementary school, for Valentine’s Day, like just about every other holiday you were forced to go to school, we had a party, and we didn’t learn anything. We watched a cute movie, ate our weight in Sweethearts (those heart-shaped candies with the lovey-dovey messages), and of course, delivered our valentines.

Choosing your valentines was a crucial decision every year. You wanted to pick the ones that embodied something you were truly passionate about, like N*SYNC for example, but that were also unique enough that you didn’t run the risk of getting the same ones as someone else in your homeroom class. (…Though it ALWAYS happened anyway.) Picking the valentines was just half of the holiday preparation–giving them out was where it really got strategic.

There’s no holiday more political in a kid’s life than Valentine’s Day. For one day in February, you have the power to tell all your classmates just how you feel about them in valentine form. When you’d get back home from picking out your valentines, you’d run into your room, tear open the box, and analyze the different options. In each box, there were usually about five different valentine styles with different messages. You’d spread them all out on the floor and begin the arduous process of assigning valentines to all your peers.

If you want it, here's my heart, no strings attached. ...Oh, yes.Image from Google
If you want it, here’s my heart, no strings attached. …Oh, yes.
Image from Google

You’d start with the most important people first: your friends and your crush. You’d spend hours reading through the different messages on your valentines, searching for the ones that were perfect for each of the people most important to your existence. There was always one style of valentine that was the best. Maybe the message was the most clever, maybe it had the most glitter, maybe it was the biggest. Whatever the case may be, there was always a superior valentine; one valentine to rule them all. It was this consummate valentine that was reserved for your crush.

Now since you’d never actually talk to your crush, this little valentine was an important document. The most ridiculous part was, you’d go back and forth over whether or not you’d be brave enough to give it to them. It always had the most innocuous message, too. Something like, “Roses are red, violets are blue, Valentine’s Day is fun, just like you!” Yet, you’d read it over and over again, getting more paranoid each time. You’d think all these insane thoughts like, “Will he know I like him!??! I can’t give this to him! Fun!?!? IT’S SO OBVIOUS!!!”

Eventually you’d pep-talk yourself into dropping your card in your crush’s valentine mailbox, but you were never be bold enough to include any kind of message on it other than “Happy Valentine’s Day!” or simply signing your name. Yet, you were still somehow convinced this tiny square piece of paper was going to change your life. Your crush was going to receive this valentine and suddenly realize how incredible you are! How thoughtful you were to pick this valentine out of a box of 30 others and select it just for them (along with everyone else in your class)! …Valentines give kids quite the power trip.

Valentines like this were too clever to be wasted on the smelly kid.Image from Google
Valentines like this were too clever to be wasted on the smelly kid.
Image from Google

But if Spiderman taught us anything, it’s that with great power comes great responsibility, so you also had to be careful. There was always one or two creepy, smelly kids in your class, and while you weren’t mean enough to not give them a valentine, you also didn’t want to give them the wrong idea. A mis-chosen valentine could give this freak the idea that there’s a possibility of friendship between you two–which there wasn’t. So you’d locate the most simplistic valentine of the bunch. It usually said something along the lines of, “Have a Rockin’ Valentine’s Day!” or something. You’d read it, see how impersonal and vague it was, and decide it’s perfect for the designated weird kid. Happy Valentine’s Day, but please continue to keep your distance. You smell.

These valentines also gave us the opportunity to be vengeful. There were (more than) a few undesirables in your class who you couldn’t wait to give a piece of your mind to, and when Valentine’s Day came around, you knew you’d get your chance. You’d pore through your little valentines in search of the most menacing of the bunch. You’d find one that said, “You rule!” which in your childhood mind was the equivalent of “I can’t stand  you!” …Nothing was more exciting or satisfying than delivering this complimentary valentine that you assured yourself was truly a thinly veiled attack on their character.

The excitement of delivering your valentines was surpassed only by getting back to your desk and finding your own valentine mailbox filled. You’d sift through the numerous mini-envelopes sealed with stickers, bypassing the thoughtful valentines from your friends in search of the one you’ve been waiting for: the valentine from your crush. You’d find it in the very bottom of your decorated Kleenex box, tempting you.

But this valentine is far too precious to open on school grounds! There’s a very real possibility your crush has professed their love for you in this valentine, and you need to read it privately. You rush home with your construction paper heart covered valentine mailbox, ignore your mother’s good-natured inquiries about the valentines you received, and hurry to your room to open this high priority valentine. Your hands were trembling as you slowly and carefully opened the valentine (which you intended on preserving forever).Your heart was racing. Your anxiety growing. After days of anticipation for the grand declaration of love contained in this one little card, you read the following:

“You rule!”

30 thoughts on “The Politics of Giving Valentines

  1. I loved Valentine”s when I was a kid – the ritual making of the valentine’s box, the party, the cupcakes, and then of course opening and reading all those cards. Nowadays, meh, not so much. One year my husband gave me MUSTARD for V-day – claimed it was a thoughtful gift because I was doing Atkin’s diet. MUSTARD!!!

    1. Mustard!? Talk about not CUTTING the mustard! …I’m sorry, I had to make that joke. How often can you make a mustard pun?

      Anyway. I’ve always liked V-Day. There were never (m)any of those suicidal single Valentine’s Days. It’s cool with me. I like anything that involves chocolate.

  2. The biggest waste of $1.00 for me was buying a Valentine for Nick–my crush–and then seeing it get tossed. But the flip side is that I saved a hell of a lot of money since then because I don’t buy cards for ANYONE. (Something my mother reminds me of when her birthday rolls around.)

    1. No cards?! YOU FIEND! I love greeting cards. If I may (not so) humbly say so, I’m a greeting card connoisseur–there’s no occasion I can’t find the perfect card for. I’m like the Hallmark whisperer.

    1. I’m not a HUGE fan. I mean, sure, I’ll wear pink or red that day, and I’ll think about hearts. …Really, I just like having a way to rationalize eating tons of chocolate.

    1. My philosophy on stinky people on Valentine’s Day hasn’t changed much over the years, I must admit.

      Yeah… “funny.” That’s one way to put it. 😉

  3. I always thought when they gave me the “you rule” valentine that they really meant that. I was thinking they meant for me to rule this hideous planet. Who knew they also had a hidden meaning that it was I that was hideous. Arrrghhh.

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