I really could have done without Valentine’s Day.

New kid at school, awkward, dirty and dorky. Not exactly a chick magnet at 8 years old, and it didn’t get much better over the years.

When the rest of the class started passing out their gifts, there were those little cards with cartoon characters (I remember getting one featuring the overly amorous Pepe Le Pew, for some reason; probably because I smelled bad) quoting cute little sayings. And there were those tiny candy conversation hearts. Remember those? Stamped with something like “So Sweet” or “True Love” or some other sappy little phrase.

The other kids were passing those around when a girl stopped in front of my desk to hand me one. This little heart said, “Be mine.” She read it right before she dropped it into my hand, recoiled and dug around until she found a blank one to give me.

Yeah, I could have done without that day. Named for St. Valentine, a guy who was executed. Yeah, what a great idea. Create a holiday designed to leave us all feeling as if we’ve just gotten our heads chopped off.

I hadn’t grown any fonder of the holiday by the time I got to the eighth grade. Then, we had a dance, and I spent weeks working up the nerve to ask my crush if she’d go to the dance with me. Bless her, I guess she didn’t want to hurt my feelings, so she told me she was planning to go alone.

She had her heart in the right place, but mine was scrambled when she came to the dance with another boy. That same night, I gathered the guts to ask another girl to dance. I couldn’t dance a lick, but I just wanted one dance. I figured I could avoid stepping on her for at least a single, four-minute song. She politely declined, telling me her feet hurt. I guess they felt better a couple of minutes later. She didn’t miss another dance the rest of the night — all with different guys who weren’t me.

My teen years? Sheesh. Do we have to go there? Someone should have warned me that high school girls aren’t attracted to clumsy, pimply dudes. I could have tempered my expectations at least a little. I knew friends who were getting cards in the mail. I confess to checking my box a little too long after the day in hopes of getting one. Nope.

Maybe valentines should be more like cigarettes or alcohol: No one should be allowed to participate until they’re 21.

Or not. Even as an adult, I found ways to massacre St. Valentine’s Day. I learned the hard way all about those traditional boxes of chocolates. All the candy inside looks chocolaty on the outside, but some of the insides are just plain nuts. Others just flat leave a bad aftertaste. I have no doubt some of those other chocolates say the same about me.

Man, why does love have to play so rough? I was way better off when it was ignoring me. We go into it thinking it’s about finding the “perfect” one and come away wondering if it’s more about finding someone whose tolerance for our flaws is enough to create something somewhat lasting.

By the time I reached the advanced stages of adulthood, I’d given up on ever getting a real valentine. I’d stick with the blank candies and be happy to see other people dancing.

Then, when I finally stopped checking the mailbox to see if I’d ever get a card, I received a lifetime supply.

I met my wife. I was 45 years old, and I felt just as awkward and weird approaching Susie as that 8-year-old new kid had all those years ago.

She didn’t switch the candied heart on me. She didn’t decline my date offer. Here we are years later, and she’s still my everyday valentine.

I didn’t just get a box of chocolates. I got the whole sweets factory. I got the hearts with every message: “Be Mine,” “Tru Love” and everything else ever stamped on a heart.

Now? I don’t just get one dance. I get all the dances. Admittedly, I still can’t dance. I mostly stand there and try not to step on her while she flies around the room, but she’s flying around me, and I’ll take it.

Seeing other people who wait years for real valentines and who find them later just makes me happy. Years of blank, candied hearts finally ending up with all the right messages. I hope for the same happy ending for all my friends.

For the ones still checking their mailboxes, I can only offer advice from a guy who did the same:

Stop looking, because when your real valentine finally gets here, you’ll forget whatever you thought you were missing.

You’ll get all the cards, all the candy and all the dances.

And Valentine’s Day will feel a lot more like a holiday — and less like an execution.

Gary Stallard is a regular contributor to the Opinion page of The Lufkin Daily News. His email address is garylstallard@yahoo.com.

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