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Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Column: Love lessons from grade school

I have a box sitting at the bottom of my closet. It’s supposed to be my “keepsake/memory box,” although it doesn’t look anything like those antique, vintage trunks you see in the movies – you know, the ones you find in a shadowy corner of your attic, waiting for you to dust away its dark family secrets.

My box is a clear, blue-lidded Rubbermaid. It’s packed with the most random assortment of things – ticket stubs, Harry Potter trinkets, Starburst wrappers.

The only time I ever bother looking through this box of randomly useless stuff is when I pack to go home to L.A. (It’s a good way to prolong the annoying part of actually packing.)

So as I attempted to pack for this weekend’s trip, I inevitably dragged out the box and rummaged through the birthday cards, baby photos and numerous Legolas bookmarks. (Back in middle school, all the girls loved Orlando in his long, silky hair. Trust me.)

Buried under all this was a pile of valentine grams from grade school – the perforated ones with Pokémon and Rugrats that you bought from Target and made sure your crush got the cutest one.

The simplicity of the cards amazed me. Each bright pink or red card had phrases like “Stay cute and smart” or “I like you because you share your markers” emblazoned upon it in beautiful third-grade calligraphy.

I couldn’t help but grin at all that was written. This got me thinking about how effective simplicity is in the matters of love. I mean, back then we didn’t bother with all that “poetic” stuff we love to write now – the overused images comparing love to a bright, sunny day or overcoming some type of storm.

I once “proofread” an acquaintance’s love poem to his girlfriend. It was filled with comparisons to climbing the highest mountain, rainbows, green pastures and any other imaginable thing related to nature. Basically, it was an attempt at Shakespearean language. The problem is we’re not Shakespeare.

I felt myself turning intensely red just reading all the complex metaphors and similes, and the poem wasn’t even directed toward me. From the poem, I couldn’t really sense the power of love. But I did sense how tiny we are in comparison to a mountain.

When we encounter that breakup stage where we either transform into a raging monster or hibernate in our rooms, taking a clue from our younger selves is yet again helpful. My sister and I used to pull out our yearbooks and draw ugly flowers on annoying classmates’ (aka heartbreakers’) shirts. (Poking the eyes out of their photos seemed too cruel – although it was never out of the question). It was the easiest form of quality therapy.

And when the making-up time rolls around, there’s usually that oversized bear, two-dozen roses or maybe a 20-karat diamond ring. But none of that is really … physically nourishing. Emotional stability? Sure. But there’s still that empty feeling.

Our 10-year-old selves totally understood this, which is why we spent our allowances on all those supersized bags of Nerds, Snickers and Skittles. The sweetness overload is satisfying to the body and soul. Flowers, on the other hand, don’t create a hyperactive sugar rush.

We’ve forgotten to get back down to the basics. As our younger selves knew, the most effective tactics are simplicity and straightforwardness. They would probably laugh at the hours we spend articulating exaggerated, half-hearted poems or picking out flowers that all look quite similar anyway.

This Valentine’s Day, go ahead and buy that Pokémon valentine gram or supersized bag of Nerds. Just be ready to be called “cheap.”

TIFFANY LEW thinks the best thing about Valentine’s Day this year is it falls on the same day as Chinese New Year. Contact her at tjlew@ucdavis.edu if you would like to celebrate with her.

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