Who says you have to consummate your desire, or even know your Valentine’s name for that matter?
If your childhood involved any Catholic schooling, you likely know that Saint Valentine is one of many in a roster of saints acknowledged throughout the year. Wikipedia tells us that “Saint Valentine of Rome is a widely recognized third-century Roman saint commemorated on February 14 and associated since the High Middle Ages with a tradition of courtly love.”
Click on “courtly love” and you’ll soon find out it was typically unconsummated. Courtly love was intended to be a test of will, a kind of character building—a concept that today refers more often to unpaid internships and bootcamp workouts. But that more chaste definition of passion can reveal the true mettle of a lover by requiring them to ask the question, “Will you be my Valentine?” It doesn’t matter what it actually means to be someone’s Valentine. Rather, it’s about the asking, about taking a risk.
Generation Z and younger millennials who were born into a society offering participation trophies for simply showing up have been insulated from the experience of coming in last. The prevalence of inclusiveness extends to birthday gifts, sports victories, and Valentine’s Day. Madison has to give everyone in her class a Valentine, not just her friends.
Gen X, on the other hand, brought teen angst, unrequited love, and risk-taking to new levels. John Cusack still reigns as the King of Risk Takers for his role as Lloyd Dobler in Say Anything. So epic was his stance with boom box outside Ione Sky’s window that a local NYC band, The Cooper Vane, released a song titled, “Getting Your Cusack On.” The Queen of Taking Chances would be Kerri Russell, of course. She’s done a great job reinventing her onscreen persona as a Russian spy, but scores of viewers will always remember her as Felicity, the good girl from California who followed her high school crush to college in Manhattan.
I vividly remember when Felicity first debuted. The language, the situations, the experience of college was still so fresh for me. I could relate to her awkwardness, her having to juggle a part-time job to pay for tuition, her struggle with a grumpy, goth-girl roommate. In my case, my roommate was a sophisticated, well-connected grad from Beverly Hills High whom I had an equally hard time relating to, coming as I did from Saint Francis Prep in Queens. I had joined the crew team, made a few friends and had a few dates, even managing to catch the eye of a JV basketball player.
But by the time I reached the second semester of freshman year, crew practice switched from 6pm to 6am, sororities claimed many of my new friends, and my JV crush ghosted me for a girl on the volleyball team. I was ready to pack my bags and transfer to another school. Worse still, Valentine’s Day was around the corner with its constant reminders: girls carrying roses, talk of formals and dances.
I padded around my dorm room one cold February afternoon brooding, glad my roommate wasn’t there so I could sulk in solitude. I was reluctant to answer a knock at the door, and when I eventually did I found four guys I didn’t know. I expected some fraternity prank, but then one of the guys asked for me by name. “We’re the Chamber Music Quartet,” he said, “We’re here to bring you a singing telegram from a secret admirer.”
The next few moments were a rush of shock, mystery, and wonder as they sang in beautiful, masculine harmony. It was a song I didn’t recognize but who cared, they were singing to me! Next to my husband’s marriage proposal, it was the most romantic moment of my life. I almost wished my roommate had been there as a witness because the whole thing seemed too good to be real. I felt validated and beautiful and desired. But desired by whom was the question.
That moment I realized that there were people out there who actually found me attractive. There were people who wanted to date me. There would be one very special guy who eventually would want to marry one very special me.
Those four minutes made me more confident as a woman, and it all came down to someone taking a chance on me for Valentine’s Day. I made it through freshman year and this spring I’ll be going to my 20th college reunion. To this day, I still don’t know who my secret admirer was, so when I head back to campus I might start asking around. Just to thank him after all this time.
Carrie Crespo-Dixon is a marketing director living in Oakland, California.