My not so funny Valentine

Dedicated to the clients I never had on Valentine’s Day.

What is good for business is, unfortunately, bad for the soul. That is why they can hardly be combined. Inherently, one most definitely stomps on the other. My relationship with Valentine’s Day is complex, even slightly hypocritical. I have helped celebrate and spread the spirit of this senseless holiday more than your average person yet, I have always found it offensive to all my senses and in every sense. My partnership (in crime) with Valentine's Day lasted almost a decade.

To blame is my work as a manager of a flower and balloon shop for the greatest part of my twenties: a job I loved in every way and every single day, except Valentine's Day. The business we had on Valentine’s Day sufficed to make every other day of my job pressure-free and heavenly. I could focus on the artistic side of my creations by using exotic flowers (rather than simply red roses) and spending time with each client, making sure they or their loved ones would actually receive something they liked. Sales pressures were lower after February 14th, making the environment more pleasant for all those involved. The satisfaction of creating something for a client who really knew and cared for the recipient, who appreciated him/her on a random calendar day, was overwhelmingly high precisely because its inverse, the Valentine’s Day crowd, would annually make me almost lose faith in the existence of any genuine feeling. But, to enjoy this pure, creative, pressure-free oasis that we had created, and to spend time with the genuine givers - and not the angry Valentine givers - we all had to temporarily sell our souls to the devil that was, and continues to be, Valentine’s Day.

Every Valentine's week, I wanted to quit my job but I never did. “If I can only get through this week” I used to think every year “I can swiftly forget that it ever happened and begin enjoying my job again.” How can the day that is supposed to celebrate love become so dreadful that a girl hates being surrounded by flowers?! Excess kills,  that is true. But, that in itself, was not what was killing me during those days. What was slowly killing me was that I could not brush off what was repetitively made so concrete to me client after client: emotional ignorance distributed by my own hands which, left untreated, could only worsen from one year to the next.

Valentine’s Day made most people (men) understandably furious and frustrated because, on this day, they felt the particular pressure to not disappoint. If every other day they failed to perform, this was the day to, perhaps not erase it all, but put a [literally] rosy veil on it. No client that I remember had a real desire to do this, yet they all lined up like trained soldiers to buy roses, teddy bears, and balloons. Because not being disappointing during Valentine’s Day was still easier, I’m guessing, than not being disappointing at the rest of life. The guidelines are clear, the goals easier to reach. I remember clients getting increasingly angry as they waited in long lines, yet never leaving. I had never seen the same level of patience reserved for Valentine's Day in any other situation in our shop. They looked like prisoners waiting to receive their meals. I remember client requests like “Do whatever you want, just make it pretty," “Give me the most bang for my buck” or “Just put something together so she won’t get mad.”  Thank God I needed no inspiration to mechanically reproduce bouquets of red roses because these guys really had none to offer. My favorites were the flirters with “make what you would like to receive” or “make something beautiful like yourself” directives which, against all logic I’m sure, inspired me the least. But, to give the latter some credit, they provided a bit of much-needed comic relief. Needless to say, the more romantic "Valentiners" had perhaps thought of more original or personalized gifts than roses and balloons and did not make it to our shop as much. And then, the "non-VaIentiners" perhaps did not feel the need to carry on this ridiculous performance to make their significant other happy. The majority of town was in our shop, however. They were infected masses looking for a quick and easy cure.

vintage-valentine-day-cards-07

The preparation for that week would begin by very slowly killing my desire to inflate any balloon or wrap any flower ever again. Because I had to mechanically do so much “in the name of love,” I was too drained to create something for the poor client who wanted to buy flowers on February 10th for any reason other than Valentine’s Day. The sheer volume, the sameness in everything I [re]produced, made my mind and my instincts temporarily impotent. My senses only responded to red, pink, and white. The sudden assembly line nature that our normal creative routine took seemed to me to most definitely be the enemy of any semblance of love. I am unsure of what name to give it, but what I was doing was certainly serving the love's nemesis. For one week, out of every year, I was on the wrong side. A traitor to myself and love.

I could not wait to feel “normal”, to return to the regular life of a flower shop manager.  It is true that most people buy flowers for generally ceremonial reasons. Ceremonies, such as weddings and funerals and sometimes births, by their very nature, require physical manifestations of [I sure hope] deeper, more personal feelings. Yet, something tells me that even for these occasions, less than symbols of “caring”, flowers are merely traditional ornaments which no one really questions. Yet, at the very least, they satisfy a certain tradition of beauty. The beauty connected to the celebration of a new life, a newly joined life, or a life that has passed. They are pleasant ornaments, assigned no more and no less meaning than they have.  There are also the Mother’s/Father’s/Teacher’s Day crowds. We can call these the “People taken for granted” days. Yes, because, I’m afraid, these are actually the people taken for granted the most in our lives. With adulthood comes a certain emotional indifference to people we have been close to, something that most people like to call “growth”. Accepting this as the truth, I felt that, although as undoubtedly business-oriented as Valentine’s Day, these days actually did function as reminders of the love and appreciation people forget they have for their families, teachers, or mentors. Awaking a love that is most certainly dormant was quite a positive feat and it sufficed for me to still be able to enjoy my job.

What bothered me about Valentine's Day was the fact that none of my twenty-something clients should be in the position of awakening a dormant love. There are supposedly no societal constraints on young relationships, no binding documents, no mortgages, no children, no mutual financial troubles and no fears, yet, of time quickly passing. I do not think that these are the sole reasons that more mature couples choose to stay together, but they are influencing factors which in younger couples are non-existent. If youthful romantic love needs Valentine’s Day to be awakened then I am afraid it was either never born or is already dead. Which, for me, would make Valentine’s Day a nullity. Yet, Valentine’s Day is a growing billion-dollar business, confirming that something masked as love exists.

Valentine’s Day has spread like a virus in the years that I have been so closely exposed to it in the U.S. Now, I see it similarly growing in Albania, an unprepared contender. As with a virus, one’s immune system must learn how to effectively rebel against it so as not to give in to its potential deadliness. Our bodies are not prepared to handle such unfamiliar and artificial microbes. Our hearts, similarly, are not receptive to things which spell out love because we are accustomed to feeling rather than seeing or hearing it. So, I stand corrected. Valentine’s Day is not the actual virus. The virus is certain lack of love and Valentine’s Day is its costly yet universal antibiotic. As with any antibiotic, it will kill the good with the bad. I have to thank Valentine's Day that, in temporarily dulling my senses, made them sharper to love's many "creative" guises.