Alert: Contains Sentimental Married Lady Stuff
Early tomorrow morning I will fly to South Bend for the University of Notre Dame's Edith Stein Project conference. I am very excited! For one thing, I know I have readers driving there, and I am delighted and flattered. For another, I know Wendy Shalit and Dawn Eden are also speaking, and I've always wanted to meet both of them in person.
The conference, then spans February 11 and 12th. On the 13th, a Sunday, I will go to Mass and then fly back to Toronto. On February 14th, I will still be in Toronto, and not home with my husband, which means no Valentine's Day for me.
For years I have been poking fun at Valentine's Day, but somehow when Father Z, who obviously is a man, did so yesterday, I felt rather taken aback. It's one thing for women to laugh about Valentine's Day, but it feels rather different when men do--although they are perfectly right to critique the crass sexual messages. The truth is that many, many, many women take Valentine's Day very seriously indeed. And when wondering why I felt so cold to Father Z's joke that men should give their girlfriends or wives mantillas (someone else, I think, suggested they be red*), I put my finger on it.
Women want to feel loved. Men want to feel loved, too, but they don't seem to have the same attachment to calendar dates as women do. On Valentine's Day, many Single women feel very poignantly their need to feel loved, and Married women feel a need to be loved the way they were loved when their husbands were first courting them. Traditionally, women love to be wooed by the men they love, and these days if we aren't wooed, we'll woo in the hope we'll be wooed back. This has rather mixed results.
We can make fun of Valentine's Day excess, sure, but we can't make fun of women's need to feel love, of Single women's loneliness, of Married women's worry that our husbands just don't find us particularly exciting anymore.
Sentimental Lady Stuff begins here:
On my first Valentine's Day with B.A.--we met in person one September, remember--I had travelled back to the UK to see him, and we went to a small French bistro. He gave me a small antique pin featuring a baroque heart set with a pearl. It was made in the 1920s and B.A. joked to the storekeeper, "This belonged to Nancy Mitford, right?"
"I never said that," said the storekeeper, like a shot, until he realized BA was joking.
But I love that story--which illustrates the fact that B.A. knows who my favourite authors are--and I think of my pin as the "Nancy Mitford pin."
On my second Valentine's Day with B.A., we were married and money was tight. I think this is a frequent song of newly married people. There's more money for romantic presents before you're married than after. So I really wasn't expecting anything and trying not to feel bad that I wasn't expecting anything.
But I did get something. B.A. made me a valentine out of red construction paper and went out to the woods and picked the first snowdrops of spring. (Spring comes early on the east coast of Scotland.) He put the snowdrops in a little vase by the bed, and stood the valentine by the vase, and it made the biggest difference in the world.
This will be my third Valentine's Day with B.A., only I will be over here, and he will be over there, and my birthday extravaganza rather emptied the ol' bank account, so...
I don't know what he's going to do. I know I feel feel sad if he does nothing, but what can he do, poor man? I will just have to lump it, and be in solidarity with the women of the world who are also lumping it.
End of Sentimental Lady Stuff.
Single women who suspect V-Day could be a tough day can prepare ahead by sending their own Single women friends cards and chocolate (and maybe my book!), by meeting up with pals for a mini-Valentine's (or anti-Valentine's) party, by arranging a special treat for themselves that night or by volunteering for the evening shift. Single men, if they are feeling lonely, could contemplate how much money they are saving by not taking women to eat at the vastly inflated Valentine's Day prices which, incidentally, are not women's fault.
Married women and, above all, Single girls with boyfriends, should temper their expectations. But boyfriends and husbands, if they do love their girlfriends and wives, should step up to the plate. Women who are uncertain if they are loved read a LOT into little things. A Valentine's Day gift to a girlfriend or a wife does NOT have to be expensive, but it does have to be romantic. A special lunch if dinner is too expensive. One rose instead of twelve carnations. A lacy scarf. A valentine cut out of a sheet of red construction paper with paper lace glued to the back. It really is the thought---the CAREFUL thought--that counts.
A mantilla (especially a red one) is not romantic. I know Father Z was joking, but I cannot imagine a worse gift. Some Catholic girls are happily and voluntarily choosing to pin on a mantilla when they go to Mass, especially the Extraordinary Form of the Mass. But others are weirded out by it, and think uneasily of burqas. Ofred in Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale had to keep her head covered, and her dress--the dress of all the sex/baby-slave handmaids--was red. And the last thing a Catholic woman needs, as she works out how to be a Catholic woman, balancing tradition and modern life, is some man shoving a veil at her, telling her, in effect, to cover up.
It's almost Valentine's Day. Tensions are mounting. Let's all be extra gentle and understanding of each other and ourselves.
*Now I can't find any reference on wdtprs.com to a red mantilla! Did I dream it? I pondered the red mantilla question all evening!
P.S. The comment stream is a hoot. I feel badly for the woman who is knocking herself out to make a special Valentine's Day dinner for her boyfriend. My one consolation is that the comment is so over the top that it must be a spoof.
By the way, Father Z has asked bloggers to get their readers to vote on his mantilla poll here. I voted Woman/Yes/But voluntary. Where I got to Mass, some women wear mantillas, others wear scarves, others warm hats, and others nothing on their heads at all. I usually wear a mantilla, but if it is really cold, I leave my wool beret on.
Some women honestly just don't like dressing "like women", and I don't see why they should have to.