Gay On Valentine’s Day

One man shares his ups and downs with that love-fest known as February 14th…

By Stephen F. Milioti

y difficult relationship with Valentine’s Day started in high school. It was a private school, very Catcher in the Rye, with both rigorous academics and athletics. When I couldn’t master the latter, some of the kids started calling me
Just because a guy doesn’t excel at sports doesn’t mean he’s gay.
gay. “What idiots,” you, as an open-minded reader, might think. “Just because a guy doesn’t excel at sports doesn’t mean he’s gay.” But in my case, the idiots were perceptive… and correct. High school got tougher and tougher, and one of the hardest of the days was always Valentine’s Day because the school had events — from socials to single-rose sales — designed to foster love among opposite-sex future Ivy Leaguers. This was awful the first three years.

Then, in my senior year, I developed a major crush on my married English teacher. In his creative writing class, I wrote a play about a gay couple. He liked it. He told me to go see Angels in America on Broadway. OK, that was a bit of a dramatic play for a high-schooler, but basically, my teacher got it. I felt supported. I started calling gay and lesbian centers across the country, even attended a gay teen group meeting at the local university. The Valentine’s Day of my senior year, the flower sales didn’t phase me. I knew I would soon have the chance — in college and beyond — to ring in a romantic V-Day with a guy. I’d just needed a little more time to figure it out, and I’d need time to meet someone.

Fast-forward to college: I met a guy online who at first seemed great. It was fall, just before the holidays, perfect for romantic-holiday-fantasy fodder. We chatted by phone for a couple of months and then sometime in early February, he said, “Hey! Let’s make a time to go out!” I felt encouraged. “Well, there’s Valentine’s Day coming up…” I said, with a half-giggle like I was joking, but I think it was clear I wasn’t. No, I was the type who longed to navigate Venetian canals in heart-shaped canoes. “Oh — I’m not into Valentine’s Day at all,” he said. “It’s silly. It’s a commercially created holiday for straight people.”

I was crushed. My dream of Valentine’s Day romance was broken. I never called the guy again and spent that Valentine’s Day sulking. But not for long. Accused of wanting to celebrate a straight holiday, I pulled myself together and vowed to have a good gay Valentine’s Day.

And what does that mean? Well, I tried to find out the next year. I’d met
It’s not about adapting one hard-and-fast rule…
someone new, and through the holidays, it was a nice, light, casual dating relationship. February began, and I waited. Then I got the call I’d been awaiting for years. “Want to do something on Valentine’s Day?” he asked. “SURE!” I tried not to scream.

When I showed up at the restaurant he chose, I realized something horrible: The restaurant was covered in red velvet. Additionally, the décor featured many different, clashing brocade prints. All my previous Valentine’s Day hopes flashed before me. Is this the culmination of all I had dreamed? What happened to a single red rose? What happened to the subtlety of a kiss shared in secret? What happened to clean modernist décor?

Making things even worse, the place was filled with sorority/fraternity types, all seemingly straight — which wouldn’t have been a problem had one couple not obviously snickered at me and my date from across the room. Not only did I feel conspicuous and uncomfortable, but I didn’t even feel that it was worth fighting for my right to stay there, because I didn’t want to be there. The fact that my date went into a monologue about love, karma and spirituality didn’t help either. Was it that I wasn’t into the guy, or I wasn’t into Valentine’s Day as much as I’d thought? The whole thing felt too traditional. Was my college heartbreaker right, that Valentine’s Day was simply a cheesy imitation of the hetero-world?

In the years that followed, I learned that the way to answer the question — to celebrate Valentine’s Day or not — is, simply, not to answer it. It’s not about adapting one hard-and-fast rule about whether or not to celebrate Valentine’s Day; it’s about giving yourself the freedom to change your mind and navigate the day as suits your particular relationship. And, most of all, it’s about allowing yourself to be spontaneous.

Case in point: A few years ago I met someone really nice, and I didn’t over-think things on V-Day. I didn’t get overly romantic and goopy, nor did I act aloof and jaded. I didn’t care much where we went when we found ourselves out on the night that happened to be February 14th. We went to a normal café with no red velvet or cupids and had standard cake and coffee. Then he said, quietly, “Happy Valentine’s Day,” and right after that, “But more importantly, I enjoy hanging out with you on any day.” Bingo. I’d found a happy medium. It’s then that I had the realization: It’s dangerous to make Valentine’s Day a focal point of one’s romantic life — but, if you stay open to it, it can make for a happy moment.

Stephen F. Milioti is a New York-based writer who has contributed to New York and
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