The best Valentine's Day present I ever gave anyone, including all of those cards and candies I passed around as an elementary school student (you had to, right?) and, later in life, the expensive watch I once bought for someone (it didn't last), was a cake I made for my high school boyfriend and frosted myself. On it, I wrote, "Happy V.D." because after I started writing I realized there wasn't enough room to spell out the words fully. My boyfriend at the time found it hilarious due to its cavalier double "meaning" (there was no actual V.D., nor did anyone call it that, not even in health class), and we ate the cake, and all was happy on that V.D. Day.
Not everyone would have been happy with such a cake, and that's because we are all precious pieces of heart-shaped construction paper, and some of us like chocolates and roses and "Love Me" balloons, while others of us prefer something subtle and witty and nontraditional, and maybe even something vaguely ironic or tables-turning (Love Me? Don't Mind If You Do!). Some people like teddy bears, others want intellectual or historical wooing; some accept only homemade items, others like their gifts store bought; and still others just want a glass of something crisp and minerally when they get home after a long hard day. The good news is, there's a sentiment for everyone, from Tweety Bird to Ernest Hemingway. The bad news is, you might end up with the sentiment you don't want. Of course, that's all just fodder for learning more about your burgeoning relationship. What does it all mean? Read on, lovelorn and love-satisfied friends, for the best and worst and most thought-provoking sentiments of Valentine's Day.*
The Passive-Aggressive Note. In an effort to be quirky or distinct or unusual, sometimes one might venture off the beaten path and go just a little bit awry. These are the notes that somehow serve to make the recipient feel ever so slightly concerned about the giver of the card or item. Things like, "I'd be lost without you," "Please never leave me," "Skies are grey without your smiles," "You are the only person in this entire world who could ever make me happy and I really truly mean that I DO," I mean, yes, these are sweet sentiments indeed but also they're a little ... worrisome, no? Unless you're in a codependent relationship, and really, what kind isn't? I can't live without you, dear readers. I wouldn't even know how to try, nor would I want to. I promise.
The REALLY Passive-Aggressive Note. The card at left was for sale at an actual store, and while I understand the need for a sort of urgency in romance, an accounting for the stakes in a relationship, I also think, wait, what? What is a recipient supposed to do with that, exactly? Let's all just keep things positive, people. It's only Valentine's Day. You will not die from the lack of a kiss. There is romantic, and then there is disturbing.
The Bible Verse/The Aphorism/The Astrological Card. Um, so, the only thing wrong with a Valentine's Day sentiment that comes from the Bible or your most reliable astrologer or whomever is the same thing that can go wrong with any Valentine's Day sentiment: If you're not sending it to the right person, i.e., someone who will appreciate such a thing, i.e., someone who is religious/into aphorisms/into their birth chart and yours, too, they will probably not appreciate the sentiment, even if you do, and your efforts will be for naught. But, it's better that way, you know? You have to figure people out somehow. Pisces and Scorpios are the best!
The Food-Based Pun. For instance, "I want to saturate you with my love," as said by your hottie boyfriend/girlfriend, Butter. "Please melt into my arms." Mmmmm ... artisanally romantic.
The Adorable Simile. A highly popular form of card these days involves the handy simile, in which something pleasant is compared to something else pleasant, and together there is achieved something even more pleasant. This most pleasant pairing stands in for your relationship. An example: "We go together like peas and carrots." (Don't like veggies? Try again.) "We go together like nerds and glasses." "We go together like vampires and teenagers." "We go together like coffee and people who drink coffee." You can get a little funkier with this basic idea, as per the card at right, and eliminate the like: "You are the mac to my cheese." "You are the low-fat milk in my latte of life." "You are the Valentine's Day sentiment that is the perfect reaction to my Valentine's Day sentiment." Or, "We go together like blogs and comments." Nice. Even better: "We go together like chicken and a chicken container." You win, Valentine. You win. Do be careful with your comparisons. "I love you like I loved steamed rice" ... is that a compliment? I am unsure.
The Discount Card. This says that you are thrifty, very, very loudly.
The Demanding/Quirky/Thoughtful/Retro/Weird/Molestery Piece of Candy. "Be Mine." "Love Is Sweet." "Home Run." "You're Tops" "Main Man." "Hug Me." "Sweet Cheeks." "My Baby." "So Fine." "#1 Fan." Basically anything you can put on a conversation heart (keep the letter count to 1/32nd or less the size of a 140-character Twitter missive) is fair game here. Such messages are largely meaningless, so you can get away with being demanding or quirky or thoughtful or retro or weird or molestery. No one takes that little heart all that seriously, and if they do, you can eat it really quick, before things get awkward.
Wow, We Are in an Incredibly Healthy and Self-Actualized Moderately Dysfunctional Relationship. This one lays it all out on the table, because, communication, communication, communication. For example, a card I saw in another actual store (photo at left) featured this message: "I still love ya, even if sometimes we're not on the same page or even in the same book." Aw, we're different but we can still get along, right? Wait, are we in a fight? Put a bird on it and we're all good.
The IOU. I confess, I dislike IOUs greatly because if you can't actually give the thing, give something else. But I suppose they have a moment, like, if you've ordered something that hasn't arrived yet, or if your beloved just really loves back massages and is always begging you to give them to the extent that you decide you're going to stop giving them for free and require a payment of some sort, in the form of IOUs you make for said person. That's pretty much why IOUs are weird, plus, who can keep track of paper anything these days?
The Sexually Motivated Missive. On Valentine's Day, you can threaten to die if you don't get kissed, and you can also go with slightly more/less subtle maneuverings toward a lip lock, or more. For example, just say, "Let's hook-up!" But make it cute, add a picture of a trailer and a truck. Or try a card that hints at sexuality ... or flashlights. Or go all reverse-psychology with this card, which might be the opposite of all of that — unless it isn't.
The True Believer (in Hallmark). This is the perfectly serviceable card sentiment that either means you don't know the person you're dating very well, or that you do know them, but that neither of you are all that original. That's O.K.! You're not going to win big points for creativity or for acknowledging how you and he or she really have the same unique sense of humor with this, but you don't need to. Cards and notes and Valentine's Day gifts bearing phrases like "Happy Valentine's Day," "Sweets for the Sweet," "You Are Special" and "<3 <3 <3 <3 <3!!!" are safe. They're not going to get you dumped or anything, but they're pretty mediocre as these things go. Unless your beloved works for a greeting card store.
The Old-School Valentine. Example: "You are so neat and clean and fine / You make an ideal Valentine." Very good for people who are clean and like old things.
The Erudite Quoter. No one says it better than a published author like Shakespeare or one of those other dudes who really did romance right!
The Platonic, All-Encompassing, Feel-Good/Feel-Bad Card. This is the card you get for your friend that mentions how neither of you are dating people but it's cool, Valentine's Day is for everyone, and aren't you glad you have each other. But wouldn't it be better, maybe, to dispense with the card-buying charade entirely here and just drink a bottle of wine at one of your apartments? The best thing about being single on Valentine's Day is no pressure whatsoever to have to do or buy anything for anyone other than yourself. Giving in to the card-pressure (no matter how tongue in cheek the card) means you've given in.
The Parental Note. Thanks Mom and Dad, we love you too. But, er, see above. If you really want send something to show you care, can we interest you in a little investment in the business of us?
The Instructional Card, aka, a Reminder of What Love Is. Love is good and kind and love is being secure and selfless and love is being O.K. with this card that I'm giving you because if you're not you must not really love me. I'm not saying such sentiments aren't wise or correct or that they might not even help your relationship stay healthy and strong and good. But if you give them in card form, that might not help your relationship, either. See also: Passive-aggressive notes; really passive-aggressive notes.
The Accidentally Creepy Card. Consider the context! Note both giver and receiver! (Do not give card at right to a baby-sitter, give it to the person with whom you have a baby.)
Just, Happy Valentine's Day. Say it to a stranger on the street; shrug when they say it back; steal some chocolates from the communal candy jar and eat them all at your desk and feel just great about that. This sentiment is for all of us, single, married, engaged, happy, sad, whatever. Tomorrow is another day. Hang in there, baby. That is all.
*Any of these sentiments are perfectly lovely for the right person.
Babysitter card via Flickr/ttcopley.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.