There are a few days every year when it is wise to stay away from social media. Rumored days of the Apocalypse are one; the three months leading up to a presidential election and the week following are a few. But I can think of no greater time to avoid Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, whatever else you kids are into these days, than Valentine’s Day.
Valentine’s Day and social media go together like most couples under the age of 18: They don’t. People come out of the woodworks to express their emotional place in life, and it’s usually not the place you want to be. Relationships that have existed for three weeks will express the same feelings of “she puts up with me no matter what” and “he’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me” as couples that have been married for over 30 years. You don’t know who to trust, so you start to trust no one. Every gushy tweet and status makes you look behind your back to ensure that Cupid isn’t lurking behind you in a bush.
Or you get your classic Single’s Awareness Day posts. I am convinced that single people spend the whole month of January and first half of February thinking of clever or depressing cries for help to throw out into the Interweb simply because they have nothing better to do with their time as no one loves them romantically (we’re all thinking it!). You’ll get the lazy posts of “just another Thursday.” You’ll get the carefully articulated posts of “happy where I’m at in life, even without love.” My favorite single people are those who post a version of, “Single, and I couldn’t care less.” The very existence of such a post proves that you care enough about being single to share it with people you may have only met once but added them on Facebook anyway.
I myself like to tweet what I think are funny jokes, but I’m denied that right on Valentine’s Day. Any inclination to be clever is drowned out by the subtext of, “You poor thing, trying to be funny when we all know you’re eating for two tonight.” I can’t make witty observations about the men I see buying out Dollar Tree’s stock of heart-shaped candies and balloons. I can’t point out how I love myself too much to have room for someone else to love me. I’m stuck between Hallmark and the comedy club, and it’s not safe to go either direction.
If you’re like me, social media has possibly made you bitter about a day that is supposed to be filled with love. I am a Positive Pat when it comes to most things, but romantic holidays sometimes have the power to bring out the cynic in me. Recently though, a junior high student with a lot of nerve taught me an important lesson about days like this.
I was subbing at the junior high last week when a 7th grader walked up to me with that look in his eyes like he’s got a story to tell. He is one of those well-intentioned nerds who gets picked on just because kids are mean and don’t give out too many chances. The cruelty of preteens doesn’t stop him though, and I admire that.
Before he even got to my desk, he started in. “So there’s this girl I like,” he began excitedly. I could tell this was going to be good, or really disastrous. “So I wanted to ask her to the Valentine’s dance. I gave her a teddy bear and chocolate and asked her and…”
At this point he was too happy for this to go wrong. He had set the story up with so few details that I was roped in by the mystery of it all. He spoke so fast that I felt like I was fast-forwarding through The Notebook. And now, he had put the dramatic pause right where it needed to be, just before her answer.
“…she said ‘no,’” he stated with finality.
I was crushed. I felt like he had just rewound The Notebook on me. Told me a romantic story and then ended it with tragedy. He broke my heart and I wasn’t even involved in their nonexistent relationship. How could she be so cruel? I wanted to know who she was so I could give her a D-hall for being a jerk. And then give him D-hall for setting me up for failure.
But he continued. “She said that she was going out of town with her family so she wouldn’t even be at the dance.” He wasn’t making it better. How many of us nerds have endured the classic out-of-town-so-I-can’t-even-go excuses? Too many have fallen for that, our tears left to fall into our shirt pockets.
He still wasn’t done. “So I asked her to a movie instead.” Please, I was silently begging him, don’t do this to me. You already endured the torture; don’t make me go through it too.
But you know how he finished his sad tale of unrequited love?
“And she said ‘maybe.’ And that’s why you should always have a backup plan.”
I have never seen anyone so excited to basically be told no. The very possibility of a chance with this girl made this kid happy to be alive. His feelings for her more than compensated for her lack of certainty or sincerity. His will to succeed was far greater than any success he could have with this chica.
This kid’s courage called my cowardice out on the carpet. I spend a lot of time avoiding Valentine’s Day on social media sites because feelings are weird. People having emotions makes me want to hide all of mine away in sarcasm. I make fun of people who share really personal things because they just want someone to care.
In a way, I am writing this to thank that kid for reminding me the power of bravery. For having a high enough self-esteem to not shy away from feeling something and acting on it. For being happy with possibilities and not just certainties.
But I also want to say to you that if you are alone on Valentine’s Day, you aren’t really. The world is alive with opportunity; everyone around you, whether they’re with someone or not, feels like they are facing the day by themselves every once in awhile. Today, have the courage to share how you feel with someone. Don’t be afraid of being rejected; be afraid of forgetting that people do love you. We just might not always be brave enough to say it sometimes.