Essay: Sharing a birthday with Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day is among my least favorite holidays, but Feb. 14 is one of my favorite days of the year – my birthday.

I do not have a grudge against Valentine’s Day for the typical reasons – it is not about having to evaluate how lonely I am or about how committed I am to relationships. It is not even about getting fewer Valentine’s cards with candy in elementary school.

My frustration on Valentine’s Day goes back to my 14th birthday – the first year the majority of my friends were dating. I had always assumed that Valentine’s Day was a fairly meaningless holiday, mostly about candy, cards and flowers. But one by one, I heard from my friends that they could not spend time with me on my birthday because they had all planned Valentine’s Day dates.

I was stunned. How did Valentine’s Day become so important to them? It seemed like my friends had created sentimental value for a holiday that did not exist before they were dating. I could not come up with a reason for why my friends did not choose to celebrate Valentine’s Day on another day. That was the first year when I started hating the holiday, but it would get much worse.

Later, I had my first Valentine’s Day while dating. I am not a birthday diva – I do not ask for gifts. It is appreciated, but I have never asked someone for one. Unfortunately, at that point in my life I failed to understand that getting a gift for my girlfriend, on Valentine’s Day, was fairly compulsory.

My 15th birthday started with a girlfriend and ended without one.

But part of what I learned from that experience is that the holiday does have some meaning, and even if it does not matter to me, it still might matter to others. Even though my 15th birthday had a rocky start, I enjoyed it. I got to spend time with my family, and my experience helped me learn that birthdays really are not that important – and maybe my hatred of Valentine’s Day was a little selfish. I had enjoyed my 14th too, even if it was just with one of my friends instead of all of them. I started to value Valentine’s Day because it gave my birthday some extra meaning – then college happened.

My first birthday spent away from home was looming, and I was not looking forward to it. Having spent so many birthdays with just my family, I was starting to get homesick. But I got lucky – my mom had to attend a conference in D.C. for work and would be visiting me.

As a freshman eating most of my meals on GWorld, my mom’s visit presented an opportunity to finally go somewhere nice for dinner. The restaurant we went for dinner had replaced its regular menu with a couples tasting menu, and the waiter stifled a laugh when he came to our table, and I noticed some curious looks from other patrons. Among them, there were some students who I had seen around campus. In the candlelight, I came to the realization that it appeared I was on a date with my mom. I have no problem with that – my mom is awesome. But I also realized that for everyone around us, it was pretty unclear that she was my mom. We do not look alike – she is Indian, whereas I look incredibly white. In this restaurant, which was clearly supposed to be for romantic couples dinners, my birthday dinner really did not look like one.

Looking back, I doubt anyone in that restaurant cared why I was eating there, and they likely did not notice my Valentine’s date with my mother. When I came back to my residence hall for the night, my friends who had returned from their plans surprised me with a cake. I may have declared war on Valentine’s Day, but in the end my birthday has not been much different from anyone else’s birthday.

Even if I have had my share of awkward birthdays and feelings of loneliness, at least I have something going for me. For one, nobody ever forgets my birthday.

Kiran Hoeffner-Shah, a junior majoring in political science and psychology, is the opinions editor.

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