Every year they come out… the Valentine’s Day haters… renouncing Valentine’s Day — declaring it “dumb,” “commercial,” “unnecessary,” “emotional” and “just for women…” They surface every February, condemning the need for Valentine’s Day, rebuffing the purchase of the flowers that will die, the chocolates that will be eaten, the heartfelt cards that will eventually be tossed, because THEY know what makes a marriage/relationship work — just show your love to your significant other EVERY DAY!!! Great. But I don’t ascribe to this philosophy. When it comes to celebrating Valentine’s Day, I’m completely pro-choice. If you like it, I love it.
I mean despite what these Valentine’s Day haters tell you, the 52% divorce rate proves that most people do not know what they’re doing out there. Most people don’t have the key to what it takes to make it work.
People get sanctimonious about how couples shouldn’t “need” Valentine’s Day as a day to express their love, but the reality is people don’t get married so that they can live together in order to be able to tell each other how fabulous they are on a daily basis. It doesn’t work that way. Marriage and relationships are not always lovefests. They are WORK. And quiet as it’s kept, they are not always fun. It is not always about how much you love the other person. It is not about sparks and romance all the time – even in the relationships where people say it is.
Sometimes neither of you are fabulous. Sometimes you get on each other’s nerves. Sometimes you wish you could pack up and start over. Sometimes you wish he/she understood you, talked to you, would stop talking to you, let you in, kept other people out, took out the trash, believed in you, cleaned out the garage, gave you some space, mowed the lawn, would just give you a hug, emptied the dishwasher… etc. It’s not all hearts and flowers everyday. When you live with someone, that’s not just geographical, or a physical description of your residence. You LIVE together. So it’s not all about YOU and your needs anymore. You are dealing with kids, and soccer, and cheerleading, and client meetings, and deadlines, and driver’s ed, and “can I get a car/puppy/new curfew/iPod/Wii” and “should I talk to him/her about birth control,” and dating and science projects and afterschool programs and ballet and piano and parent-teacher conferences, and broken hearts and teasing and bullying and nannies and mortgages and car notes and everything else in life to manage, NOT TO MENTION each other’s nonsense!!! Why didn’t you remember our anniversary, I told you about these tickets two weeks ago, how did you forget to pick up my dry cleaning, where are my socks, I can never find anything when you organize my space, why are you working late on my birthday, didn’t I ask you to get an oil change for my car, when are we going to start a family/try for another baby, why does your mother have to call the house so late, your friends annoy me, stop telling your friends everything, why don’t you just quit your job already, why don’t you find a job… etc… whatever your issues may be… and a lot of times after dealing with LIVING, it’s a lot more of a romantic notion to just shut out the world and get a good night’s sleep than it is to start lighting candles and playing soft music.
So I’m all for Valentine’s Day. Especially for those people who are not the greatest communicators, or the most demonstrative when it comes to emotions. It’s a time where a person can get their own personal Cyrano in the form of a card, saying all the things they wish they could say. It can be a day of new beginnings and rejuvenation. It’s a day on the calendar that reminds you that you must take time out to appreciate the person that’s going through this life with you. A special day where you have the responsiblity, amongst all your other responsibilities to acknowledge the contribution of the person you chose to be your partner. It’s a day that gives you an excuse to put the brakes on all the hectic craziness in your lives and say, “Hey… I’m still in this for the long-haul and I’m glad you are too.”
So Valentine’s Day absolutely serves a purpose. It is commercial, but no moreso than Thanksgiving, Christmas, Mother’s or Father’s Days. And no holiday is ever any more commericial than you allow it to be. If your relationship is perfect and you have it all figured out, and you’re the RARE couple that NEVER goes to bed angry and tells each other how fabulous the other one is every single day, then bully for you. Don’t participate. You do not need Valentine’s Day. Congratulations. But the other 99% out there probably do. And for those people, Valentine’s Day is a perfect choice.
It’s that time of year again. Those who are dating are under pressure to pick the perfect gifts for their significant others. They know that no other gift will be as analyzed and scrutinized as the one that comes from the love interest. Where did he get it? What does it mean? How much did he spend?
Everyone is feeling the stress. Couples that have been down this road before either feel pressed to outdo the last gift, or compelled to redeem themselves for it; but it’s the new couple exchanging gifts for the first time that is under the most pressure of all. Not only do they want to make a good impression with their selections, but they also have the added burden of making sure their gifts are “equally yoked,” so to speak. There is nothing worse than the letdown one feels after coming up with the perfect gift idea, spending hours scouring the malls, braving the traffic and crowds to find it, proudly handing it to him, squealing with excitement as he unwraps it… all for him to hand you… a Dustbuster… “because you’re clumsy and you spill stuff.” Or, just as bad, what if you’re sitting there, ready to hand him his underwear and socks, and he hands you… a Tiffany box?
Well don’t panic, there are some simple tricks to resolve all the madness that comes along with selecting the perfect gift and to make sure that you don’t under or overdo it.
First, remember that if this is your first gift exchange, it really shouldn’t be too extravagant – but it should be heavy on the thoughtfulness.
Second, don’t get anything that you are not interested in yourself; and if you do, make sure it is transferable and/or refundable. Not cool to make reservations and buy tickets to go see his favorite team play a home game, and you get… a wallet with a built-in calculator.
Third, get a gift that can be given in two or more parts. This is a great way to give something modest, get your gift, and decide whether to leave it at that, or say, “But wait, there’s more!” He loves wine? Get him a great red that you’ve heard about, with a stopper or a corkscrew, and some pretty glasses. If he hands you that gorgeous bracelet you were eyeing in the jewelry store window, that’s the time to tell him that you also set up a tour through wine country; if he gets you jumper cables or a shovel? You can easily take a girlfriend.
Fourth, stay away from gift cards, or donations to charities, or anything that shows exactly what you’re spending. a) it’s not very imaginative and b) if you spend way more, or way less than he did, there could be hard feelings.
The bottom line is that with any gift exchange it’s really all about listening, as opposed to spending. If he’s told you he really wants to get back into writing, maybe you can get him a nice leatherbound journal with a beautiful, engraved pen. He’s expressed an interest in photography? Then maybe you can get him a handsome portfolio to store his shots. It doesn’t matter if this is gift #1 or 101, if you put some thought into it, you really can’t go wrong.
I was watching “For the Love of Ray J” and a former contestant returned to the show pregnant. Her name was “Danger.” Being on the show unearthed Danger’s tragic story. She was an admitted former prostitute, victim of abuse, groupie, and overall attention whore. Her craziness was well-documented throughout the season. And now, here she was, back on the show, and about 8 months pregnant. The first thing I said when I saw her big belly was, “It doesn’t seem fair that she gets to have a baby, when there are so many potentially great mothers, who can’t.” And my friend replied, with a shrug, “Life’s not fair.”
“Life’s not fair” is an aphorism that I think all of us have heard. It is usually said in response to someone bemoaning a decision, conclusion or event that he/she believes is unjust. And it generally means that you need to get over it, because there will always be times that things do not go the way you planned, or believed they should.
You don’t get the promotion you think you deserved? Life’s not fair. Your boss asks YOU to train the person they gave the promtion? Life’s not fair. Your car breaks down one hour after the warranty expires? Life’s not fair. And it’s the engine AND the transmission? Life’s not fair.
But after seeing Danger on “For the Love of Ray J”, I realized that there are times when it can have another meaning.
To be a driver, one takes a driver test. You drive forward, in reverse, you parallel park, you make left and right turns and you switch lanes, and you merge into traffic. The examiner assesses your capabilities and either passes you and grants you a license to drive, or fails you and tells you’re not ready – you need to put in more work.
To be a teacher you have to be certified. You get training in education, and take an exam that shows off your proficiency to the state. They too assess your capabilities, and either pass you and award you a license to teach, or they fail you and tell you that you’re not ready – you need more training.
To be an attorney one must obtain a “certificate of fitness” either before, or after taking the bar exam. The application consists of approximately one million personal questions and extensive documentation is required to support the applicant’s answers. Exhaustive background checks are run, credit reports are pulled, tax returns are reviewed. And when it is over, the state either certifies you to take/join the bar, or denies you and tells you you’re not ready – you need to straighten out some things in your life.
It is much the same process for doctors, nurses, and even public accountants.
But to be a mother, there is no license. There is no certification of fitness. There are no state-mandated exams. There is no analysis of skill, or knowledge. Tax returns aren’t reviewed. Credit reports are not pulled. Neither moral, nor fiscal responsibility is established. A birth certificate is simply a record of one being born, not a declaration of eligibility for childbearing. No one checks to see if you are ready, or if you need to put in more work, get more training or straighten out some things in your life.
I’ve seen a woman withhold juice from her thirsty baby, until he gave her a kiss. I’ve seen a mother walk ahead of her toddler, with him scurrying to keep up, during rush hour in a jam-packed Manhattan train station. I’ve seen a mother walking with several children, with dirty faces, all in too small clothes and too big shoes – with another one on the way. I’ve seen a mother driving Britney-style, with one baby on her lap and another in the backseat with the seatbelt guillotine-ing him across the face and neck.
I’ve heard about mothers who leave their toddlers with boyfriends they met two days ago on Pick-a-felon.com. I’ve heard about mothers who move their new boyfriends in to live with them and their pubescent daughters. I’ve heard about mothers who say they would rather their child have s.ex and/or do drugs and drink in the home than outside on the street.
And it is these instances where “life” – as in the gift that is bestowed upon a woman when she becomes a mother, is what’s not fair. And that’s a different meaning entirely.
“Do I look like a biscuit to you? DO I LOOK LIKE A BISCUIT TO YOU??!!! Do I look like some french fries? Then why are you trying to play me like a side order?” — Havilland Savage – Hav Plenty, c. 1997.
Side orders, side pieces, chicks on the side, all variations on the same theme. They are scorned, disdained, frowned upon, and reviled by most women – particularly women in so-called monogamous relationships. Songs, movies and books tell their stories, which are usually ones of shame, rejection, despair and sometimes even insanity. After all, only someone worthless, pathetic and/or crazy would want a man who has another woman. Right?
Exhibits 1-3: 1) “Saving All My Love for You,” – Whitney Houston singing the song of a pitiful and needy side piece, 2) “Fatal Attraction” – the movie with Glen Close as the psycho side order who would not be ignored; and 3) Monica’s Story – the book about the rise and fall of the most famous side dish of all, Ms. Monica Lewinsky.
It seems side orders never get the happy ending. They are never satisfied. They don’t have fulfilling lives outside of their imaginary relationship and all they long for – their one mission in life, is to become the main course. Alas, the side order never gets the man. And if she does, it’s just an empty triumph. For no man truly wants the side piece once he has her. See, “Jungle Fever” c. 1991. Chicks on the side are doomed for meaningless and unfulfilling romances that are centered around nothing other than sex and exploitation. Anyone who dates a man who is dating others is a sad excuse for a woman and should demand more for herself. Right?
This brings to mind an article in Ebony (or Essence) back in the 90’s about the so-called man shortage amongst Black professional women and how it spawned the phenomenon of “man sharing.” The article made me bristle with mid-twenties indignation. I turned my 26 year old nose up in disgust. How could any woman settle for a man who has another woman, or other women? Any woman who consented to such a relationship has low self-esteem and even lower standards! Right?
Well, it’s about 14 years later, and since then, I’ve loved a little more and lived a lot more, and now I’m starting to wonder if all of those declarations are actually wrong. Some might say that time and experience has jaded me, or eroded my resolve, even lowered my standards. But to that, I say no, I’m neither jaded, nor irresolute – my priorities have just changed. Back in the days when I looked at the so-called “man-sharers” as pitiable idiots with no self-worth, I had nothing but time on my hands. Precious time that I was willing to devote to a man – the right man. Hell, even the wrong man, as evidenced by my failed relationships since then. I had nothing but time that I wanted to invest in a relationship. I had time to spare.
Well now, I am reconsidering my position on this issue. And I think there’s something to be said for not wanting to have full-fledged ownership in a relationship. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying I would carry on with married men, like with Whitney’s song, Glen’s character, or the world’s most famous intern. I do not condone infidelity, or believe that there are excuses for cheating. But what I am a proponent of, is the lost art of dating. And it is a lost art. Dating someone amongst other people can be a wonderful thing. It’s like licensing as opposed to transfer; renting as opposed to owning.
With ownership come responsibilities, expectations and obligations. In column A) we have: “Where are you?” “When will you be back?” “I’m coming over” “Who’s going with you?” “Why are you wearing that?” “Who is he?” “Why didn’t you call?” “We need to talk” – All questions and demands that come along with the expectations of ownership.
With renting come possibilities and light-heartedness. In column B) we have: “Can I see you this weekend?” “Will you be free?” “Can I call you sometime? ” “Are you busy?” “Is this a good time?” “Do you mind if I come in?” “Would you like some company?” And these are all all rental questions. And I have to say that where I am right now, I’m in more of a column B) state of mind.
Like I said, I don’t condone cheating, or lying, or anything less than full-disclosure of all parties, and while I choose to supplant the term “man-sharing” with “dating,” it all boils down to the same thing. I’m not settling, or bitter, as one might surmise. I’m just at the point in my life where I can enjoy a man’s company without seeing china patterns, white picket fences and baby booties dancing in my head. I’m secure enough to wave goodbye to him at the end of the night. Because there’s something to be said for a brother that drops me off at my door and goes home. There’s something to be said for missing someone. There’s something to be said for looking forward to seeing him again. There’s something to be said for having the house to myself. And there’s definitely something to be said for me investing some, if not all of the aforementioned time that I used to have in vast abundance, in me.
This doesn’t mean that if I meet Mr. Right (again?) that I will not fall head-first into column A) and be in full-on commitment-mode. But for right now, I’m okay with being the fries that go with that shake.
I was having dinner at a friend’s home when a sparkly pink cell phone began shimmying its way across the kitchen table. Her 14 year old daughter ran over and picked it up. The conversation went as you would have expected, first about one boy, then another, then about the jealousy of some girls, but just before she hung up, she mentioned that she was “getting a Louis Vuitton bag and wallet for Christmas.”
When she got off the phone, I first asked her why she wanted, or needed a Louis Vuitton. Her response was, “why can’t I have one??? YOU have one!!!” After I took a deep breath and regrouped, I asked her how much she thought a Louis Vuitton bag and wallet cost. She replied, “The bag is $900 and the wallet is about $600.” Her nonchalance almost made me cough up my pork chop, but I managed to ask, “Do you have $900 and $600 to put IN them?” She laughed heartily in response. Silly me.
At that point, her mother came to the table and said, “all the little girls have them.” And it was then that I realized that it was not all about little Sally trying to keep up with little Susie, but as sad as it is, it was also about their parents trying to keep up with and outdo each other.
Children today are a different breed. At 12 they’re wearing makeup, high heels, and carrying $300 cell phones. At 13 they’re getting their hair and nails done and have their own laptops. At 14 they have significant others and are in “relationships.” By 15, they’re wearing $300 jeans, $200 sneakers, and carrying $900 purses. And by 16 they are driving $50,000 cars, traveling out of the country unsupervised, and getting plastic surgery.
It’s obvious to say that it is the fault of the parents, but I just don’t get it. I’ve spoken to some of my upwardly mobile friends and heard them say things like, “she’s a great student,” “she’s a good kid,” “she deserves it”; or “but this is what all of the kids have.” Well, I grew up in a two-parent household and my step-father and mother never believed in the philosophy of keeping up with the Joneses. They operated under the philosophies of “so the hell what,” and “you were supposed to.” I did well in school? So the hell what, I was supposed to. I cleaned my room and washed the dishes? So the hell what, I was supposed to. I was respectful, and stayed out of trouble at school? So the hell what, I was supposed to. Don’t get me wrong, my accomplishments were acknowledged and celebrated. But my mother celebrated to the tune of a congratulatory greeting card and a meal at a nice restaurant, not a boob job and a handbag that costs as much as a mortgage.
The parents of today want it both ways. They want to give their children everything they never had at that age, but yet they expect the kids to act like they did at that age by respecting their property, understanding its value, and being grateful. The irony of it is, that the very reason our generation respected what we had and understood the value of dollar was because, we weren’t handed everything on a silver platter. Most of us worked for our extras, and bought them with our own money. And besides, luxuries for us were quite modest. A video game here. A tape/CD there. Pager service. A new beeper. Nothing too ridiculous. It’s tragic that these parents are raising monstrously self-indulgent children with entitlement issues, but it’s even sadder still that they’re dooming them to be perennially unfulfilled because they won’t have a thing to look forward to.
So if you’re a parent and you’re feeling bad because your kid works part-time, goes to school, pays his/her own cell phone bill and juggles multiple responsibilities? I applaud you and say, “So the hell what. They’re supposed to.”