Feb 13 2011 5:02am

I (Don’t) Heart You: Carnation Hate Mail

Here we are again. February 14th, and every drug store is puking pink, red, and chocolate. Where, you ask, does my overwhelming hatred of this greeting card-inspired holiday come from? Middle school. Let's all take a journey back in time. Valentine's Day, as a young child, was always fun.

The day began with a pink dress and stacks of valentine cards in your backpack. The school activity involved decorating your cards and distributing your sparkle-tastrophe to everyone in the class. When you returned home with sticky hands, thanks to those Necco hearts you kept shoving in your face, there would be a million valentine-themed cartoons, movies, and tv shows waiting to greet you. It was a nice, safe time in childhood that, unfortunately, does not last forever. Did anyone stop that little girl and warn her what was coming? Nope, she was completely unaware of the dangers that were in store. For the lucky few of you who have never experienced this, let me give you a brief rundown of this torment.

A few weeks before the day, your homeroom teacher announces that the school is participating in a local charity event. For $1, you can send a carnation to a classmate and it will be delivered to the person of your choice on the big day. Now here you are, bouncing in your seat, and because you are a silly 12-year-old girl, a romantic scenario pops into your head. The boy you have had a crush on for the past month looked in your general direction after this was announced. Your heart starts racing, and from this moment on, you are convinced that a carnation with the words “I like you” will be waiting for you on your desk on February 14th.

The entire week goes by with bated anticipation of what V-Day will bring. While you're on your daily excursion from your locker to catch a glimpse of your crush walking into his 3rd-period science class, your imagination kicks into high gear with even more ideas. After you receive your flower from your secret admirer, he will probably have the whole afternoon planned. Beginning with his mom dropping you guys at the mall, then going to see a movie—preferably something starring Drew Barrymore—followed by a stolen kiss to seal the night. Sigh. You have so much to look forward to!

On the morning of the fateful day, you finally get to wear the outfit you’ve been saving for this special occasion. Your bus ride to school involves applying your mother’s stolen mascara, blush, and lip gloss. (She won't know it's missing, and you’ll be sure to sneak it back when you get home.) As you approach the classroom door, your heart pounds and you can feel your face getting red as you hope no one notices. In the corner of the teacher's desk, you see a healthy stack of flowers. Your confidence rises. It's gonna happen.

The class quiets down. The teacher's holding the list in her hands, reading off names one by one. And so it begins. The first flower goes to that really loud girl, you know, the skinny one with the tight, low-cut shirts that support at least a B cup already. Number two goes to the studious nerd, but come on, you know one of her geeky friends sent that one. Another one goes to the drama queen, the girl with all the “emotional” issues who goes through boyfriends like toilet paper. Probably from one of her exes trying to get back in the game. Oh, look, another one for the slut. No wait, that’s three more for her. Honestly, she’s really not that pretty. And now we are onto the classic variety of popular girls who each have a flower from their robotic, popular boyfriends. Clichéd much?

Now, the pile has dwindled, only a few flowers left. Suddenly, it's down to the very last carnation. For a second, the shape of the sound your teacher begins to utter almost makes you leap out of your seat and fly across the room to claim your prize! You dare to look over at your crush and see his eyes are on that harlot who now has a grand total of twelve flowers. Your hope dwindles now, too, and you start to pray to anything that exists that the last syllables the teacher utters belong to you. It's only when she completely pronounces the name of the classmate sitting in front of that you realize you're not getting any flower at all. It hits you like a ton of bricks and all you feel like doing is running away. In the background you can hear that tramp cackling away at all the different flowers she received and your heart begins to hurt.

As the day goes on, you watch all the girls in the hallway—armed with teddy bears and balloons—while you cling tightly to your books, wishing they would magically become some red-stuffed creature with a heart. Hand-holding, kissing on the cheek seems to take place in every nook and corner of the school. How it is possible for everyone to have a valentine except you?! In your mind, you're surveying all the remaining boys in the class without a girl attached to their hip, cursing them all for their laziness and unwillingness. By the end of the day, you're practically dragging your feet to class, somehow managing to bypass the urge to trip the prostitute in the hallway twice.

It's a hard realization to deal with, but your Prince Charming has failed to arrive, to sweep you off your feet, and to fulfill your well-thought-out (and age-appropriate, I might add!) fantasy. A solemn oath is made on that day.

[cue dramatic music]

You vow never to celebrate this wretched excuse for a holiday as long as you live.

Looking back now, what lesson was this carnation supposed to teach? Let's see: If you're a bimbo, popular, an emotional wreck, or all of the above, you too can have multiple admirers. Scary how when you get older, the same remains true, but you at least have a little more control over your emotions. Still, who's to blame in this situation? Is it the romantic comedies, movies, and books telling us we will all experience true love? Is it Hallmark? Is it the public school system for deploying this ritualistic cruelty?!

To this day, I will stomp on any carnation that I receive. I hate anything that has to do with Valentine's Day. Besides, it's one of those holidays that not everyone gets to celebrate anyway. On St. Patrick’s Day, “everyone’s Irish,” and on Thanksgiving, you're forced to stuff your face for four hours, trapped with your family. But this is the one day when if you don’t have someone special in your life, then you're basically an outcast doomed to roam the planet alone. Sure, you can grab your single friends and make plans to have a girls' night, but it's not the same as having a “valentine.” The day is supposed to be about all about romance and love, not a barrel of Haagen-Dazs paired with an Audrey Hepburn movie marathon.

Instead of putting myself through that heartbreak, and following along with the masses, I choose not to. I take a stand against Cupid. There's no need to seek my redemption with buckets of carnations in hand, screaming to the mountain tops “I AM NOT ALONE.” I simply appreciate that person in my life and am happy.

That’s the message we should be teaching impressionable little girls. To keep on dreaming, keep on reading, and keep on believing that romance does exist outside of February 14th. Superficial displays are not the way to show your feelings, and you shouldn't be dependent on someone else to complete your happiness.

I'm proud to have kept my promise to that 12-year-old girl.

Stephanie Treanor lives in New York, absolutely hates egg salad sandwiches, and finds romance squee-worthy.

Subscribe to this conversation (must be logged in):
1. Natasha
I feel the need to hug you, I remember the in school V-Day's and it was Kiss O' Grams...never got one and I still have a hate on for Hershey Kisses.
K.M. Jackson
2. kwanawrites
I had so much fun reading this. I was walking the hall with you. I too was the girl without a stupid carnation. I can't stand them either. Give me a tulip any day and yeah I'll take roses but carnations? No way!
Laura K. Curtis
3. LauraKCurtis
I hate Hershe's kisses, Natasha. Not just the idea, but the fact that the chocolate is *awful*!

Until I got married, my father always sent me flowers for Valentine's day. I never had the heart to tell him I just didn't care. I didn't feel left out because I didn't get them and if I had, getting them from my father would have made that somehow worse.

Now that I am married, my husband gets me flowers. I still don't have the heart to tell him they don't matter to me. As much as I love romances, these choreographed gestures don't appeal to me.
Charli Mac
4. CharliMac
I hated those candy-grams in grade school. You know you were not the prettiest girl when the only ones you got were from the teacher and mom. What was worse was watching the boy you crushed on get yours and laughing as he reads who it was from.
Aliza Mann
5. AlizaMann
I broke into a sweat just reading that! I remember those days - our Student Council sold tiny heart shaped boxes of sweet tarts that were, of course, shaped as hearts. I would wait with my heart in my throat as the perky girl walked to each girl lucky enough to have on purchased for her... I never recieved one.
Fortunately, I have pushed that little memory too far down for even my therapist to get out :-)
Lisa Hughey
6. LisaHughey
Stephanie--you brought it all back so perfectly (ugh). Stupid Valentine's day-grams continued all the way through college. Now I buy my own chocolate and roses. :)
7. CarolynJewel
Oh, the memories I'd blanked out! I remember being very glad to learn that things have changed a bit since my days as one of the painfully left out kids. When my son was in primary school, if you brought valentines, you had to do one for every member of the class. They sent home a list so that no one would be left out. And that is how it should be done in a group setting.
8. Jade Lee
I am with you in the trauma and not so sure I wanted to relive it. But we are stronger together! Smash those carnations and hug your friends for they too have suffered!
9. Ruth Ann
One school things I chose not to remember. Did have a date once who I freaked out by say how sweet to the roses before I tossed in the trash, in front of him. I hate cut flowers they die.
10. Shiloh Walker
I'm probably going to be an oddball here, but while I didn't get any flowers for Valentine's Day until I started dating my would-be husband in HS, I never had any issues with the carnation thing in middle school. Didn't get any, but didn't care to. If other girls got them... so what?

I had my books-I wanted to read my books, and I wanted to talk to my friends. That was about it. What other people did or didn't do, got or didn't get just never bugged me much.
Stephanie Treanor
11. Streanor
No oddballs here! I'm infact jealous that this had no effect on you Shiloh Walker.

To everyone else, who commented thank you for sharing!

I knew I couldn't be the only girl to experience this.
12. Caridad Pineiro
So with you on the trauma that can happen. We never made a big boy-girl thing of it with my daughter. More that it was a day to express your love to those in your life. I think she's much happier for that and not pressured that she has to have someone. That she can be complete on her own, but that she understands there is someone out there for her when the time is right.
13. MMadden
I remember this - we also had singing valentines (fundraiser for the choir) in addition to the flowers/chocolates. The only time I buy carnations now is for my grandma, who loves them.
14. Melissa Singer
I'm with Caridad Piniero on this one. I went to an all-girl middle/high school, so there are no Valentine's traumas in my past, but I've tried to help my daughter see V-Day as a day to celebrate everyone you love.

In elementary school, they did the "everyone has to have a valentine" thing. In middle school (we're in NYC) there was no celebration or acknowledgement of V-Day at all.

Now my daughter's a freshperson in high school and her school is doing candygrams (with no opportunity for parents to buy in, lol). She's spent most of the last few weeks explaining to her classmates and friends that it's fun to send and receive such things regardless of whether or not you're paired up with anyone.

She's bought a few for her closest friends and sent one to her bff (who is at another school but who has reciprocated; they ceremoniously exchanged $1 bills so they could buy each other a valentine). I hope some of her friends have sent some as well, but won't know until I get home tonight.
15. ceebee
so sorry Stephanie.
we were not tortured by flowers in school.
I feel for all of you who endured the walk of( as perceived by a 12yr.old) shame.
luckily the teachers had us all make 1 card for each child in the class so no one would be left out.
16. Terri P
Ah such perfect timing. The 15yr kid is home and we've had this now she can read it too.

She calls it "Single Person's Appreciation Day."

Yup, my kiddo is smart.
17. Renee Rearden

I'm your adolescent twin. Painful isn't a strong enough word to describe those (for me) high school memories. At first, I didn't care what everybody else was getting or doing. BUT then some of those girls that received the gifts, candy, attention decided that wasn't enough for them. Oh no. Those, ahem, wenches decided to point out how sad for the girls who didn't get anything. As if there was something wrong with we'd been born without some romantic-worthy gene!

(I call it the "not putting out" gene but hey, that's just me!)

I'm blessed with a husband that shows me how much he loves me all year round. Romance, passion, fire...heck, he even does the dishes if I mention it! I don't need an enforced holiday to feel special or loved. Just him and the life we've built together.
Tia Nevitt
18. TiaNevitt
Sounds familiar. For us it was Candy Grams. My geeky friends and I exchanged them, so I always had at least three. No one had to know they weren't from boys. :)
Santa Byrnes
19. santasmbslt
Phew! I thought I was the only romance writer in the world who hates Valentine's Day. I was THAT girl for more years than I care to count (okay, so it was only for six years but it was six llllooongg years). Imagine my delight in finding a soul mate who feels you should express your love in non-commercial ways everyday - not just one day a year.

Now - can I still call myself a romance writer even if I don't adore chocolate?
20. CindyS
You know, I think it started even earlier than grade 6 for me. I remember that my mom would buy valentine's cards and that I would fill them out but not to everyone in the class. I was sooo shy. But it was odd to watch how people's piles of Valentine's Day cards would bloom up and out of those specially made pouches we stapled together earlier in the week. I was always lucky to get maybe 5. Now whether I noticed this on my own or if it was pointed out by others I can't recall but it always made an impression.

And everything you posted above is about right. I felt like quite an ugly duckling in school. I wish schools would at least deal with VD differently. I understand fund raising but not every teenager has a part time job and not every parent can help their kids send even 10 dollars worth of cards. Heck, I had a part-time job and I didn't want to spend 10 bucks to get a bunch of friends a flower. But I'm selfish like that.

I do however have my soulmate now and we love each other every day. But his gift to me this year was to NOT be nailing down flooring while I slept. And it was awesome.

Louise Partain
21. Louise321
Sorry I loved getting flowers, but only on the occasions that I received them from someone who I truly admired or loved. If I didn't, I didn't fret about it. I came to see that I could only be who I was. I was comfortable with that. If someone liked me enough to send me flowers, I was comfortable with that as well. Now I have been married almost 35 years to a man who hasn't sent me flowers in over ten years, but says "I love you" to me first thing every morning. Nothing is sweeter! Certainly not a candygram.
romance reader
22. bookstorecat
Feeling rather bitter post-V-Day. Why do I even have a boyfriend if he's not going to get me some decent chocolate & flowers once a year?
23. K. Denise
Wow, hadn't really thought about this in, well..never. Much like Shiloh, I never really paid much attention to all the twittering. It helped that I had an older brother who pretty much isolated me from boys my age (who would only make him want to kill them). No crush could compare to a good book and the breath taking romance available at my finger tips. And now that I'm married, my husband brings a funny valentine and a book off of my "To Be Bought" list.
24. filkferengi
To quote Maurice Chevalier, "Ah, I remember it well." No matter how needless, pointless, or silly in retrospect, at the time it was very intense & real.

Now, nothing says love like multiple genre books . As ze spouse pointed out, they all even have red covers. :)
Warren Ockrassa
25. warreno
I'm of the opinion that middle/junior high school should actually be abolished, owing entirely to the Lord of the Flies cruelty that gets enacted there every day. For that two or three years, the kids would be working as apprentices or something instead.
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