I’ve always hated Valentine’s Day. I was an awkward kid, the perfect target for bullies and mean girls. In school, class Valentine’s Day was a sore spot considering I didn’t have many friends…or really any friends at all. It didn’t improve as I got older. Like many Black girls in private schools, I didn’t realize that I was attractive in any way until after I graduated. In middle school, the girls that had boyfriends had long legs, full faces of makeup, and zero fat…anywhere. I was the only Black person in middle school and the only one from my city. The other kids found me more of a –what’s a nice way to say this?–sideshow attraction than a suitable love interest. They didn’t want to date me, they wanted to inspect me. Once I entered high school, I found partners off campus or online – never among my peers. These dates often went wrong for many reasons, most of which were because of my school schedule. Those interactions were definitely few and far between and they were seldom positive.
College brought much more of the same. I was still one of the only Black students on campus and one of the few bisexual ones (at the time I was bisexual), but I thought that I would have a little bit more luck because the dating pool was bigger. I didn’t know that bigger didn’t mean less shallow. Many Black women who went to private schools both in high school and in college have reported similar experiences but I didn’t find that out until I found the “Black At” posts on Instagram in 2020. So many of us discussed what it was like feeling like the scum at the bottom of the bucket. None of us connected it with the schools we were in until we were well into our 20’s; it’s hard finding companionship with other people of color in those spaces unless you search for it off campus. And so, I continued to associate Valentine’s Day with negative emotions. All of the times I tried to be everything for someone that was looking for anyone but me. It reminded me of being the oddball, the person with no friends. It made me feel lonely and incredibly unwanted.
I compensated for those feelings by loathing the holiday. I spoke often about the holiday being only for white women who were fairly popular. While I was in school, that was true. After all, I did work in the post office in college and saw waves upon waves of gifts coming in for popular white girls. Most of them didn’t have any manners, and I’m not talking about not saying “please” and “thank you.” These were the people that made a mess in the hallway of the student center just because they wanted to watch employees clean it up. That didn’t stop me from wanting to be them, from wanting to have someone plan out something special for me so that I, too, could feel special. At least a little bit.
I would lament to my mother about it often. My freshman year, she decided to send me chocolate and a stuffed animal for Valentine’s Day, a decision she turned into a habit. She’d always find an animal with huge eyes because she said it reminded her of my eyes; sweet with just a little kick of heat at the end. The gift wasn’t much but it always made me smile. The stuffed animals were a welcome comfort in my room and kept me level-headed when things weren’t going as I planned…which happened daily. Then, by my junior year, a friend I met in the multicultural program and two I met while hosting them on campus started exchanging things for Valentine’s Day. It was nice having things to look forward to on a day I so dreaded.
I’m now 26 years old and I have an 8-year-old daughter. I hate to admit it sometimes, but she reminds me of myself in so many ways. She is slow to make friends, but craves that companionship so much. She tries hard with other children and is often a target for bullies and mean-spirited young people. She wants to fit in. I remember that yearning, that ache of Well maybe if I just do this one thing…they’ll invite me to hang out with them. But things don’t work that way. As an adult who’s been there, I warn her often about doing things she’s uncomfortable with in an attempt to make friends. I know that it never ends well and often makes you feel terrible inside. But as her mom, I want her to have meaningful relationships where people genuinely care about her and the person she truly is.
When I think about her future Valentine’s Days, my biggest hope is that she won’t spend them wondering why no one wants to be her Valentine. It took me a long time to develop other Valentine’s Day habits and rituals that didn’t depend on romantic love. I’ve been researching what others have said were their Valentine’s Day rituals with their parents. I didn’t know so many parents had developed special rituals around this holiday with their children outside of the things that were done in schools. So many Black women that I look up to talked about the joys of having hot chocolate and watching romantic movies with their parents on Valentine’s Day. Some had full spa days and others could expect a nice big treat or a new pair of shoes when they got home from school. It reminded me so much of what my mom had done for me.
As a young parent, I struggle with the notion of creating my own traditions. I’m never sure if I can keep them up monetarily or if they’re even good ideas to begin with. But seeing so many older women in particular speak about those Valentine’s Day memories with their parents so fondly has made me reassess. I want my nugget to step into her pre-teen, teenage, and young adult years open only to the people who want to love her whole self. I wasted so much of my time trying to be someone that everyone else wanted that I forgot who I was. I want the opposite for her. She should be able to claim this holiday as her own and know that the love that we share as mother and daughter is a valid one to celebrate too. As is the one between friends, acquaintances, and mentors. Valentine’s Day shouldn’t be a day of feeling less than. And it won’t be for her. Especially not with the giant cookie we plan on making.