Random Acts of Valentines
My journey to reframe Valentine's Day
Thanks to an excellent, insightful comment thread over at Nicola Slawson’s The Single Supplement, I decided to post about how I reframed Valentine’s Day for myself through something I call Random Acts of Valentines.
My bitterness over Valentine’s Day started in 2008, when I saw a book and gift display at Barnes & Noble focused on love and relationships, and all the accoutrement of the holiday: red and pink, chocolates, fuzzy heart-shaped stuff. In late January I’d gone through a very ugly breakup and was dealing with astronomical amounts of anger: at myself for getting involved with such a flaming mess of a man-child, and at him for being such a flaming mess. I fantasized about setting the display on fire with my mind, as if I were a superhero saving the masses from an evil villain.
It took me a long time to get over that relationship and my rage. It wasn’t until 2010 that I remembered something I’d done in college for my cousin Sean while he was in the US Army, stationed in Korea. He had written to me about how lonely he was, and how much he wanted to fall in love. I bought a couple boxes of kid-style valentines, had classmates & friends sign the valentines, and then I photographed them holding up their valentines. I sent the valentines and photos to Sean in a care package. It wasn’t about finding him a love match, but sending him a reminder that there was a lot of love in the world. He ended up being the MVP of his unit for weeks after, with several of his buddies crushing on some of the women who had sent along valentines. When I saw Sean last summer, we talked about that Valentine’s Day package, and he told me how much those valentines got him through a rough patch of time. (Postscript: he did find love with a fantastic woman, who is warm, funny, and doesn’t take his crap.)
With this in mind, I got to buying kid-style valentines again, focusing on boxes that didn’t include any little gifts other than stickers or temporary tattoos. I wrote in red, pink, or purple markers FROM ME TO YOU and included the phrase “Random Acts of Valentines.” I left them on tables in restaurants, shop counters, display racks. I gave them to strangers, service providers, cashiers, servers. The more anonymous I was, the more glee I felt at spreading around a tiny paper token of kindness and affection. Because that’s how I saw the valentines: a tangible way to remember that for many of us, there was a time when giving valentines was about showing love for others, no strings or expectations attached.
In following years, with the explosion of social media and hashtags, I started writing #randomactsofvalentines on the little cards. I gave valentines out in the days leading up to Valentine’s Day and on the actual day, depending on where I was at the time. The pandemic made the last two years a little more difficult to distribute valentines, and I saw some resistance from folks who were suspicious. I try to go with my gut instinct with handing them out: I will give more valentines to women than men, because unfortunately a number of men will see it as an invitation to hit on me or engage with me. I’ll give them to small children if a parent is nearby, and give the parent one as well. Older folks are high on the list, too, and I always give them out to folks working retail or food service.
In 2021, I gave a valentine to Ann, an associate at a wine shop near where I used to live in Baltimore. She loved it so much that for the last two years I’ve made a point of returning to the shop to give her a valentine. This year, when I walked in the door, she laughed and said, “Oh, I was JUST thinking about you!” and told me how that first valentine I gave her two years before nearly brought her to tears, it had touched her so much.
She’s why I keep doing Random Acts of Valentines, and why I’ll continue doing it. Because every year I’ve seen more people enjoy getting a little valentine and reading my message on the back:
For the last 10+ years I have given out kid-style valentines to friends, family & strangers on Valentine’s Day to remind myself what it felt like to give & receive valentines as a child: it was about sharing love & friendship with others. May this little valentine make you smile.
Happy Valentine’s Day!