V-Day Breakups and Hookups

Last Valentine's Day, I was supposed to attend a party where everyone had to dress as a V object. I was leaning toward vixen, or vamp, but wound up staying home because my girlfriend and I had just broken up in an awful, screaming, tear-filled fight that left both of us sucker punched and hysterical. The timing was ironic, but I was too upset to notice. My entire body felt like it might break apart from sadness, the kind of pain where you cry so long and hard you can hardly breathe, and your chest does actually start to hurt.

But as the year wore on, and I'd laughingly respond to the kind question "When did you two break up?" with a slightly bitter laugh and "Valentine's Day," I started to hear people saying, "Me too." "Really?" I'd ask excitedly, glad that I'd found a kindred breakup soul, and we'd eagerly exchange stories. It got easier as I realized that I wasn't unique.

In some cases, the importance of the most romantic day of the year forces people to assess the state of their relationships. For John, Valentine's Day spearheaded a breakup. "I felt things weren't going well and I couldn't imagine wholeheartedly participating in Valentine's Day, then a week later saying, 'All that stuff that's written in the card—I didn't mean it.' " While John generally associates the holiday with "mild trauma," it was more the realization that the two-year relationship was not going to last much longer that made him want to put the breaks on it sooner rather than later.

Another friend's breakup happened to coincide with Valentine's Day. Lacey found out her boyfriend was cheating on her by breaking into his e-mail, where she found missives from several girls about their ongoing hookups with her man. February 14 was simply the tip of the liar's iceberg.

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Dana's five-year relationship ended last Valentine's Day—a move that, from what she describes, was long overdue. Her live-in boyfriend had cheated on her early in their relationship, and she'd had trouble trusting him ever since, especially for the long periods of time she lived in New York while he was still in Texas. On their way to a romantic sushi dinner, he finally exploded at her, yelling, "You don't trust me and never will." They fought in McCarren Park, where he left her sobbing, before detailing their fight in his online journal. For Dana, V Day played a small but vital part in pushing them their separate ways. Happily, she's in a new relationship and doesn't think the day's been forever tarnished by her ex.

As Cindy Chupack pointed out in The Between Boyfriends Book (St. Martin's Press, 2003), holidays, for many couples, mean pressure, and none more so than Valentine's Day. There's so much incentive for everything to be perfect that it can make some people forget what the day is meant to celebrate: love. According to Bennett Madison, author of I Hate Valentine's Day (Simon Spotlight Entertainment, 2005), a snarky guide to surviving the dreaded holiday, it's a "cultural moment" ripe for relationship strife. "Anyone who expects a holiday to go totally smoothly is deluding themselves. The more ideal you expect it to be, the more potential for disaster there is, and some people set their expectations really fucking high for Valentine's Day," he reveals.

I have mixed feelings toward the day—like New Year's Eve, it's so oversignified that you're almost bound to be disappointed with the end result. On the other hand, if I'm dating someone on V Day, I wouldn't want to treat it like any other random day. But are candy and flowers really a good way of showing your love? Can't there be a happy medium between honest emotional expression and sappy, clichéd offerings? I'd rather be swept away for a spontaneous quickie, or receive a single handpicked rose at an unexpected moment, than have someone pursue such things on February 14 out of a sense of obligation. I have a theory that there are some people who are into Valentine's Day and some who aren't, but even for those, like me, who lean more toward the latter, it's hard not to want someone to kiss and cuddle with, to send cards and get giggly over, to be all the mushy things that Valentine's Day has come to stand for. Even if you don't want to be one of those girls who dresses in red and gushes about her lover and makes kissing noises into the phone, V Day can work its insidious effect into our brains.

So that this column doesn't totally ruin your February 14th, I will tell you that some people find it a great night to hook up. My friend Art's theory is that if you go to a bar, any singles there will already be feeling rather lonely and will leap at the chance to go home with someone, or at least give out their number more easily. Gary, who'd broken off his engagement one December, had a long, sex-filled weekend with his ex as a kind of last hurrah, while for another friend, a Valentine's-night pub crawl led to sex in a bathroom stall with a stranger. Madison agrees that V Day is a prime hookup opportunity: "Single people have the most potential for fun. Think about it: You don't have anyone breathing down your neck about romance and flowers, and you can have sex with whomever the hell you want! It's one of the craziest nights of the year. All these unattached people are freaking out, feeling lonely, and getting drunk. All you need to do is stop wallowing in your singledom and make the best of the situation."

As for me, I hope the day arrives and leaves as quickly as possible, not because I'm not a romantic but because all the cheesy drama attendant upon the day is the farthest thing from romance I can imagine. Love can be expressed in countless ways, and often it's the little things, rather than the grand gestures, fancy dinners, or hours of processing that show you how someone really feels. Give me a spontaneous back rub, flowers for no reason (I like roses and gerberas), cupcakes, mix CDs, hugs, smiles, or heartfelt, racy e-mails, anything truly from your heart—not because I asked or you feel duty bound, but because you really mean it. True love is not only worth waiting for, it's worth suffering a little heartbreak along the way; but that's a lesson that needs more than one day to sink in.

Please visit rachelkramerbussel.com

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