I’ve been happily married for almost 17 years to my best friend.
Until I met my husband, however, my love life was mostly comprised of angst, uncertainty, and disappointment. This was particularly true during my college days.
For as long as I could remember, I was either chasing boys who had no interest in me, or running away from boys who liked me. Unrequited love was my thing – whether I was on the giving or receiving end.
Then I met my first serious steady boyfriend in college. He was a definite improvement on the numskulls I usually fell for, but he went to a school a few hours away. Long distance romance can be hard enough as it is, but this was 1983: pre-cell phone and pre-internet, and thus pre-email. Long distance phone calls were expensive, so people actually wrote letters and sent them snail mail! We would right each other once or twice a week, call once in a while and visit each other when we could.
While I was single, I dreaded Valentine’s Day. I lived in an all girl’s dorm, and at about 10 am, the flowers and packages would start to arrive at the front desk. The phones on the dorm room walls would ring with news that something had arrived downstairs for certain lucky girls. They’d skip down the stairs to gather up their flowers, or candy, or balloons, or stuffed animals. They’d beam with pride, carrying their tokens of undying love back to their rooms. Along the way, they’d either look pityingly at the unlovable, huddled masses that were the rest of us, or they’d out-and-out gloat.
But this time, I finally had a boyfriend! The expectation was that I would finally get to join the ranks of the beloved! What would he send? A dozen roses? A huge teddy bear? Whatever it was, it would finally make me feel like I was worthy!
The day wore on. I fielded the queries asking “what did he get you?!” I checked at the front desk each time I returned from a class. Nothing. Even though it was during the week, maybe he was going to surprise me by showing up in person!
Finally, the mail arrived in the afternoon. As I walked by, I could see something in the old-fashioned glass fronted mailbox with my room number on it! As I dialed the combination lock, I could tell – it was nothing but a phone bill and a flyer for the local pizza place.
The realization started to sink in that the only thing more humiliating than not having someone, was to have someone who forgot you on Valentine’s Day!
Dejected, I went back to the second floor where my room was. Finding my friends, I lamented my pitiful situation. My friend Donna said “Did you ask at the front desk? Maybe he sent one of those really big cards and it wouldn’t fit in the box!”
With renewed hope, I rushed downstairs. The clerk thumbed through a small stack of envelopes on her desk. “Yep. Here it is. That’ll be 20 cents.”
“It came ‘postage due’” she said. “He forgot to put a stamp on it.”
Somewhat embarrassed, I forked over two dimes, grabbed the card and trudged back upstairs. My friends greeted me with happy “I told you so’s.”
I opened the card to find a folded-up piece of notebook paper – his weekly letter. It was his usual sweet letter – a mix of news and “I miss you” and signed “Love always…” with a XOXO after his name.
The Hallmark card struck the appropriate degree of cheesy romance that a 20 year old in the 1980s was looking for. Too bad he forgot to sign his name in the card.
So, let’s review. The first Valentine’s Day that I had a real live Valentine, I had to pay the postage on an unsigned card. But I did still have a sweet guy who could write a heck of a letter.
I learned a valuable lesson that day:
Love, and life in general, is all about managing your expectations.
Happy Valentine’s Day!