Sunday, February 24, 2008

Valentine's Day: The Most Depressing Holiday Ever

Portrait of the author as a lonely old man trapped in a young man's body.
Photo by Elizabeth, my Shanghai flatmate.

Why does a holiday about love make me so bitter? Instead of "feeling the love," I usually just feel crappy and glower at couples I see on the street. Valentine's should really be called "Suicidal 'cuz I'm single" day. Probably wouldn't sell as many cards and chocolates, though. Here are some random thoughts and stories on love.

The Valentine's Day Card story

In my freshman year of college, I finally got over myself and embarked on a massive Valentine's Day Card campaign. Just because I was unhappy didn't mean I could make an effort to show some appreciation to the many cool girls I knew.

I ruled out writing a generic "have a Happy Valentine's Day" greeting on every card. Only a personal message would fully express how special I thought each girl was.

To do so, I tried to put in little details about each girl and compliment them on it. This was easier said than done. I spent hours struggling to remember conversations that sometimes happened months earlier. Like how a certain girl wanted to be a singer, so in the card I encouraged her to pursue her dream. Another had told me she wanted to be a psychiatrist, so I praised her for being such a good listener.

One of my worries was that my cards wouldn't be noticed, because these girls were so magnificent. I thought, "What's the point? They have so many admirers, they probably get cards by the bag-load." I finally decided to write them cards anyway, joking to myself, "Maybe my writing will be so awesome it'll burst through the crap all the other guys wrote!"

At the end, I had a giant stack of envelopes. I dropped them off at the campus post office and promptly forgot about them.

Valentine's Day came and it was the same as every other year. I always hope a girl will suddenly confess that's she had a huge crush on me. Of course that never happens.

When I got back to my dorm room late that afternoon, the voicemail light was blinking on the room phone. Robbie, my Chinese-American roommate, said, "Dude! You have to check out your messages!"

"What? Why?" I asked.

"Just do it, playa!" He grinned.

I shrugged and picked up the phone.

The girls had loved my cards! In message after message, girls thanked me sincerely for the cards. They said I had remembered things even their boyfriends had forgotten.

Dating on Valentine's Day

I hate dating. I'm trapped with a girl I don't know and there's all this pressure. I have to be smart, funny, cool and entertaining, but I can't pull it off. Meanwhile, the girl probably wonders why she agreed to go out with me in the first place.

There's this pervasive tension. Not sexual tension, the good kind. I mean the sinking feeling when it seems like everything I do only make me look more dorky.

This all reaches a climax on Valentine's Day. I can't avoid seeing happy couples traipsing about while I feel like Quasimodo from "The Hunchback of Notre Dame." Being alone on that day is pure hell, because I feel like I'm someone that nobody wants.

I stumbled onto a solution when I was studying abroad in England. I ended up spending Valentine's Day with
Candace, a literature major from the States, and Ashley, a Taiwanese exchange student.
International Party 5--Candace Me and Ashley
It was such a relief to be around girls that I could relax with. There was no need to try to impress, since they already appreciated me for who I was. I highly recommend asking out a close female friend (or two) to Valentine's.

Before I ask a girl out, she has to pass the Say Anything test. Since most of a date is talking, I should be with a girl I can talk to freely. Not everyone gets my sense of humor, and it feels like I'm dying when I'm trying to be funny and a girl just looks at me like I'm an idiot.

On the flip side, the girl should hold up her end of the conversation. She should have opinions to share and also try to keep the conversation moving too. Otherwise, I end up prolonging the talk by asking lots of questions and feel like I'm interrogating her. It's hard to find girls who are great at conversation like this.

Brynn exceeds all this criteria, which is why I hastened to ask her to be my date for Valentine's Day. I had to beat the hordes of other guys who would try to ask her out first.
Brynn and me at Alleycat's Pizza
I took her to Golden Chicken Garden, my favorite dumpling restaurant in Taipei. It's on Yongkang Street, which is famous for having eateries from all over the world. In case we changed our minds, there was a plethora of choices nearby.

We had our usual good time talking about everything and nothing, from Brynn's ongoing quest to find a permanent apartment in Taipei to the latest travel destinations I wanted to visit.

The Art of Writing Love Letters

For me, writing a love letter was a major milestone, since I tend to hide my feelings from girls I like. Once you tell a girl how you feel and she doesn't respond in kind, it creates an awkwardness that NEVER goes away.

I could have used the practice, though. When I started to write one, the emotion flooded out of me. I aimed to spin the most beautiful and poetic prose I could.

Instead, I ended up putting in just about every cheesy line you hear in love songs on the radio. We're talking howlingly bad stuff here. Probably elicited more snickers than swoons from that exceptional lady.

Despite how horrific the writing was, I still felt a great sense of release. It was liberating to not have to hide and summon the courage to tell a girl that I thought she was a superb human being.

I closed the letter with this:

"Spending an eternity with you wouldn't be long enough."