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Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Column: Forgetful Valentines

Memory

Valentine’s Day is almost here, something many of us may wish to forget. If you’re in a relationship, then bully for you. That’s just great.

You’re celebrating, while we’re commiserating. You can stop reading now. Go away.

Maybe love is elusive, but it’s not hard to find. It’s perpetually redefined in our songs, TV shows, movies, books — whatever you like. We are reminded every day of love (or lack thereof).

Such a brazenly gaudy, vulgar, fake, evil, discriminatory holiday must be unnecessary … writes the lovelorn single.

Valentine’s Day says who we love is no more important than when we love them. Bless the fool who neglects buying flowers until the 15th. He’ll end up like the rest of us.

To be single on Valentine’s Day compels us, however unfairly, to find someone. A date on the calendar puts love on a timetable. It’s a task to be completed by next year.

Whether you like it or not, the day has significance, that much is clear.

According to a recent consumer report done by American Express, 6 million proposals out of 14 million this year will happen on Valentine’s Day. How original.

We validate the holiday with our wallets, if not with our hearts. Total spending for Valentine’s Day 2013 is expected to reach $18.6 billion. We will spend $1.6 billion on candy and $1.9 billion on flowers.

Condoms reach their sales peak in February. Despite best efforts, home pregnancy tests reach their sales peak in March. This holiday is full of surprises.

Where did all this knee-bending, gift-giving and rumpy-pumpy come from? I present some (incomplete) history:

There are at least three martyred Christian saints named Valentine or Valentinus. One legend describes Saint Valentine performing illegal marriages. In another tale, he falls in love with a girl who visits him in jail. Allegedly, he sent her a note before his death, signed “From your Valentine.”

These stories of romance were popularized by authors like Geoffrey Chaucer, who once wrote “For this was Saint Valentine’s Day, when every bird cometh there to choose his mate.” However, whether this was Feb. 14 or some other date is still unclear, as Chaucer wrote before the modern calendar.

Unfortunately, we’ve forgotten exactly who’s to blame for all this, but we can still decide why Valentine’s Day resonates today. Forgetting our own romantic past is part of that resonance.

We know that the most vivid memories are associated with strong emotion. And romantic love surely counts. It was a novel emotion once, perhaps not too long ago for some. To those who haven’t loved yet, the spotless minds, forgive my ranting.

We might be content in our youth to remember more. Better memory allows us to recall everyone’s name, every answer on a test, where we left our damn keys. Then we fall in love.

At the cost of sounding cliché, the first love is the best and the worst. It’s something worth remembering and forgetting at the same time. Inevitably, it’s hurtful, and it’s a frame of reference for the future.

Each year, when Valentine’s Day rolls around, our personal lives are so perversely called to the fore. It’s hard to fight painfully debilitating memories of past loves — whether it was the first, or the second, or the third, or you’re a fool who falls in love with everyone you meet.

But Valentine’s Day is for fools, and I mean that in the best possible way. Science is now backing Freud’s theories on willful repression of bad memories. Substituting those memories with equally intense emotional experiences can mask what happened before.

Sharing your life with a new significant other, creating new memories of love, are one of the most effective methods for getting over the past. Foolishly forgetting the past is an important part of living in the present. You don’t need a scientist to tell you that.

The chalky candies, flowers, diamond rings and overpriced dinners (and sex!) are as much an act of forgetting as they are a celebration of love.

Maybe only fools take part, but only fools fall in love. They’re the ones who open themselves up, with full knowledge of their vulnerability.

I humbly prescribe, without any pretense of originality, lots of foolishness this Valentine’s Day. Hopefully it won’t be too unforgettable.

SEAN LENEHAN was only fooling with the bitter single act, but you can still totally email him at splenehan@ucdavis.edu.

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