Valentine’s in a Time of Trump

Illustration by Max Burbank

BY MAX BURBANK Valentine’s Day is about a week away, and it’s going to go badly for you. Sorry to be a “downer,” but I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know, or at least strongly suspect, am I?

The preponderance of research I pretend to have read reveals that Valentine’s Day ends up being a pleasant experience for about three out of every 1,000 people.

Are those good statistics for you, personally? And don’t bother telling me you’re from Virginia. The state slogan, “Virginia is for Lovers,” was originally “Virginia! Marginally Better Than West Virginia, If You Like Speed Traps, Venomous Snakes, And More Deer Ticks Than There Are Stars In The Sky!” — but that made for an unreadably tiny font on the bumper sticker.

It’s not your fault. Valentine’s Day only works out for a very select group of couples, where each partner loves the other exactly equally, and both are exactly equal in their ability and skill to select (and succeed in acquiring) a pleasing gift and card that in no way exceeds the pleasingness of their partner’s gift and card. Any difference, no matter how seemingly insignificant, means one partner “wins” Valentine’s Day and the other “loses.” Veiled feelings of shame and disappointment are gifts you should feel lucky to end up with, as these emotions easily snowball into anger, resentment, depression, confirmation of a deep-seated belief that your life has been a series of terrible mistakes too late to go back on, break-ups, divorce, homicide, and, this year, possibly nuclear Armageddon.

PERSPECTIVE: Express Yourselves

Did you like that clever segue to the national stage? Because I don’t want to name specific names, but a certain celebrity turned bizarrely unqualified most-powerful-man-on-earth and his Slovenian mail-order bride are very likely heading for a “Stormy” Valentine’s Day. See what I did there? Of course you do. It was easy. You could have done it yourself, but you don’t have a column. Let’s just say that the nice heart-shaped box of chocolates Hope Hicks picked out for Melania from Donald? It better cost more than the sack of hush money his lawyer gave a certain leading lady of the adult film industry whose legal, non-working name turns out to be Stephanie Gregory Clifford.

Oh, damn, I named a bunch of specific names there, didn’t I? I guess now it goes without saying that the card better have nicer poetry than an interview detailing how the president enjoys to be spanked with the issue of Forbes magazine that has his family’s picture on the cover. Also, he’s terrified of sharks. There’s no real way to parallel that with some aspect of Valentine’s Day and I’m not even going to try — I just think it’s hilarious. I mean, it’s not as if there were real sharks around for him to be terrified of, because can you picture Trump in the ocean? You certainly can’t, because first you’d have to picture him in a swimsuit, and that’s more than enough for most folks. No, it was “Shark Week.” Donald Trump admitted to a porn star he was trying to seduce that he was scared silly of pictures of sharks on TV. If you voted for this man and you are not a Russian, you need to take a good, long look at your decision-making process.

My point is, if the leader of the free world is going to have a crap Valentine’s Day, why wouldn’t you? And me. I’m not excluding myself here, because it’s all of us. Be honest. Take a moment and review every Valentine’s Day you ever had, from making stuff for your folks they said nice things about but clearly didn’t want, to being required to give every kid in your class a crappy little dollar store valentine illustrated with a movie that was popular six years ago, to whatever semi-adult fiasco you engage in annually now.

Looking at how things worked out for Saint Valentine, it’s difficult to imagine how this whole holiday dealio ever took off in the first place, as it’s a somewhat less charming tale than you might imagine. Long story short, and spoiler alert, it ends with Valentine’s head and body being too far away from each other for comfort and one of his desiccated severed fingers on permanent display at Whitefriar Street Carmelite Church in Dublin, unless they’re just kidding and it’s, like, the drumstick half of an old Buffalo Wild Wing.

See, Claudius II, emperor of third century Rome, had this idea that married soldiers were less likely to make the ultimate sacrifice and more likely to desert than single soldiers, so he passed a law saying young, able-bodied gentleman below a certain income could not wed. Valentine was all about the love connection, though, and secretly performed weddings, but not secretly enough, as he was soon caught and got “tossed in the pokey.” That means “thrown in jail.” The other thing you’re thinking of is incorrect and might account for why your Valentine’s Day is going to end so badly. While incarcerated, he promptly fell in love with the warden’s daughter, as prisoners often will. Legend has it he signed the love letters he wrote her “Your Valentine” — giving rise to the tradition we celebrate to this day. Maybe, but my guess is his mash notes were less romantic than your standard “Roses are red, violets are blue” and tended more toward “Please try super-duper hard to get your dad to not cut my head off.”

Apart from the absurdity of a romantic holiday being inspired by a gruesome tragedy, February 14 is just halfway through what’s already the shortest month of the year! That’s very little time to plan, and if you’re like me, you’re still hung over from New Year’s. It’s a set-up, and secretly everybody wants to chuck the whole thing! So here’s what you do: Have a nice sit-down with your significant other, force them to read this delightful column, and come to an agreement that neither one of you will do a damn thing for Valentine’s Day.

Then get them something really nice. It’s not like the day was ever going to go well. You might as well win.

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