A few days ago, a friend called me with a very important question. What do you do about Valentine’s Day when you’ve been hooking up with a guy for a few weeks? Do you give him an ironic ‘thinking of you’ card paired with self-conscious and cutesy wink, to show that you know he’s not your boyfriend but to acknowledge that he is more than just some guy you’ve seen naked? Do you invite him over to your dorm room to hang out in spite of the fact that it is a Tuesday night and you should really be studying for your Contemporary American History quiz? Do you just ignore the holiday altogether? Because if casual sex means anything, it’s that there is never an appropriate Hallmark card.
Welcome to the ambiguous and hilarious world of Valentine’s Day on a college campus, where most relationships fall into the category of the volatile and undefined. With a few exceptions, most college students do not ‘date’ in the traditional sense. The average college relationship usually involves alcohol, a party, and the assumption that you will never see this person again. If you are unlucky enough to run into them in the dining hall, you will most likely pretend you do not recognize them, that you do not remember the awkward conversation you had on the walk back to their apartment, and that you are an emotionally impenetrable stranger to whom a one night stand means nothing. Some people are lucky enough to not have to pretend. I am not one of those people.
To comfort the terrified parents reading this blog, rest assured that not everyone participates in the college hookup scene, and even if they do, the anonymous stranger hookups sparked at a frat party (sometimes referred to as ‘getting some strange’) are an extreme example. There is also the safer but more confusing act of hooking up with someone you know, either a friend or a friend of a friend that you meet at a pre-game or in class. This is usually how things get complicated, which brings me back to my friend’s dilemma. What do you do if you are “seeing” someone who you aren’t actually seeing on Valentine’s Day?
I have always done my best to ignore Valentine’s Day. Chronically single and usually alone by choice every Feb. 14th, I do my best to go to class, have dinner with my friends, and do my work as if it were any other day. This was easy in high school, as after a few hours in the red and pink bubble of candy-grams and heart-shaped cookies, I could return home and make whatever sarcastic comments I wanted to my parents about commercialism and chocolates.
College, however, makes avoiding Valentine’s Day much more difficult. I live on campus in a dorm with other sophomores, making alone time a rare commodity and escape from the whirl of festive cheer nearly impossible. There are Valentine’s Day raves at the frats, Valentine’s Day bake sales for club sports, Valentine’s Day dinner-for-two deals in the fancy dining hall usually reserved for professors and administrators. In an environment that renders real dating nearly impossible, suddenly everyone is forced to take a harsh look at what (or who) they want, and what they already have. This sometimes means analyzing a “relationship” you already have (what do you get for the partner who isn’t really yours?), or confronting the fact that you, like me, aren’t living a lifestyle that matches the dinner-for-two dynamic.
My ‘ah ha!’ moment about the difficult pairing of college and Valentine’s Day came my freshman year. Feb. 14, 2011 had been refreshingly easy, if even nice. The girl who had lived in my room the previous school year returned to leave a cupcake on my doorknob and a kind note on my white board wishing me a ‘Happy Valentine’s Day!’ We all had a good time teasing our friend when he admitted he had done nothing to celebrate the holiday, convinced that his girlfriend wasn’t the type who cared about that sort of thing. We bullied him into making a card out of printer paper and Crayons scavenged from someone’s desk drawer. Still chuckling at his dating faux pas, I dragged some snow boots on over my sweatpants and dashed to the school grocery store to buy some snacks before it closed at midnight.
Loaded up with Wheat Thins and Easy Mac, I began the trek back to the dorm, only to run into someone I had hooked up with a few weekends before. Referred to as ‘Awkward Hookup Andy’* by my clique, he was my first and only random hookup, and had taken my number and promised to text me to hang out the next weekend. The text had never arrived, and I spent an inordinate amount of time wondering if I had done something wrong. Now I know the only thing I had done wrong was hook up with a jerk, but at the time I stood mortified in my snow boots as Awkward Hookup Andy looked at me wide-eyed before staring steadfastly at the ground and walking past me without saying a word. I cried on my walk home. Fifteen minutes to midnight, Valentine’s Day had made me its bitch.
So as Feb. 14th steadily approaches, the same question remains: in an environment where caring is usually a weakness, what do you do about holiday centered on showing that you care? This year I will do as I always do. I will spend it not with a boyfriend, or a hook up, or by myself, but with the people who dried me off and picked me back up when I returned desolate from the grocery store last year. My friends. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
*names have been changed.