WARNING: There is a rude, animated image at the bottom of this post, so scroll down slowly if you wish to avoid it.

Before I move on to other things, I would like to point out that, uhm, there is still, a-hem, voting going on over at One Woman's World for the First Annual Share the Love Blog Awards.

That's all.

Yesterday was Valentine's Day again for the thirty-third time in my life, and just like anything else that has come and gone thirty-three times in my life, the sheen's kind of come off the button. Actually, the sheen was never really on the button; I just wanted to say "the sheen's come off the button".

(Note that semicolon in the preceding sentence. I never was uncomfortable using them, but I just finished reading Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss and was reminded of how nice they can be).

I was born with dull Valentinian buttons.

In elementary school, I hated the competitive nature of giving and receiving Valentine cards. I loved the part where we made construction-paper mailboxes with sparkles and pipecleaners glued on and then taped them to the sides of our desks, but the part immediately following where the kids would wander up and down the aisles picking and choosing which mailboxes they would deliver to was awful to watch.

I always thought that it was terribly wrong somehow to have adult teachers condoning playground caste cruelty within the confines of the classroom. The classroom was supposed to be my safe place away from that, but on Valentine's Day, my comfort zone was transmogrified into a demoralizing trap. It pained me to stay, but I was not allowed to leave, and I had to watch as each pink or red ballot was tossed into other people's boxes, casting votes for the official recognition of their popularity.

It is not as though I didn't get any valentines. I did, but they were from people like the dorky boy named Clarence who buttoned his shirts all the way up to his chin or the shy girl who smelled funny and drew clouds and kittens all over her looseleaf or, worst of all, the student teacher who smelled like pea soup and managed to drag the zzzzz in Ms. out with a subtle lisp that made my skin crawl.

During high school and until about the age of twenty or twenty-one, I could not figure out which sections of the male-female gender continuum were of interest to me, so I tried to stay away from any kind of romantic interaction. I managed to make it out of my teen years with only one boyfriend, some furtive lovemaking with a neighbour girl, and not a single desired valentine behind me.

When I did start having relationships, I quickly found out that romance was not my thing. When I was twenty, my first serious boyfriend set up a romantic picnic for me in his living room, complete with mulled wine and his playing classical guitar. I found the situation aggravating and just wanted him to drag me up the stairs to his room already. While he was stroking my arm lightly and confessing his feelings, I was getting squirmy and wishing that he would pull my hair at the back of my head and take me.

I am still quite a bit like that, but I like to think that I have acquired a little more sensitivity. For example, the Fiery One and I will have this kind of exchange:

Fiery One: I love you, you know.
Schmutzie: Uh huh. [I am staring intently at my shoe or the computer or a tree or something and not terribly aware of the moment].
Fiery One: I think you're more beautiful now than when I married you.
Schmutzie: Do you think my sleeve smells weird?
Fiery One: What?
Schmutzie: Because I kept smelling something weird at work today, and I can't tell if it's my sleeve.

[In the past I would have just keep going on with this inane non sequitur, but I now know that I should stop to appreciate and acknowledge another's sweet overtures].

Schmutzie: Wait, I'm sorry. I'm doing it again.
Fiery One: Yes, you are.
Schmutzie: I love you, too.
Fiery One: [He smiles and squeezes my hand].
Schmutzie: So... [I hold out my arm]. Does my sleeve smell weird?

Luckily for me, the Fiery One is very tolerant and doesn't let my boorish behaviour undermine his romantic sensibility; however, we both allowed depression, stress, physical pain, nausea, and gastrointestinal complications to dampen our February the 14th. It's one thing for me reply to an I will love you until my last breath with a comment about bleaching my shoelaces, but it's quite another for us to try to summon up sweetness when one or the other of us is flat out on the sofa, doped up on muscle relaxants, battling a sinus infection, and releasing farts that smell like the sulphurous air inside a tin shed in the hot sun filled with wet matches.

When I say "one or the other of us", that's my fancy way of saying "me", by the way. My earlier cold has graduated into a sinus infection, work stress graduated into muscle tension and an out-of-joint neck, and the gas was just a bonus from all the extra vegetables and fruit I've been downing lately in an attempt at healthy living.

I am the best valentine ever.

Do any of you have any good ideas for how we can celebrate our fantastic love after we've made full recoveries? (And when I say "good" I mean "extremely cheap", and when I say "after we've made full recoveries" I mean "when I stop being so revolting").

Lastly, I offer the thing I warned you about in the title. I'm sorry if you were already caught unawares:

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Oh, don't make that face. You know you love it.

Whoever you are, I fear you are walking the walks of dreams,
I fear these supposed realities are to melt from under your feet and hands;
Even now, your features, joys, speech, house, trade, manners, troubles, follies, costume, crimes, dissipate away from you,
Your true Soul and Body appear before me,
They stand forth out of affairs—out of commerce, shops, law, science, work, forms, clothes, the house, medicine, print, buying, selling, eating, drinking, suffering, dying.

Whoever you are, now I place my hand upon you, that you be my poem;
I whisper with my lips close to your ear,
I have loved many women and men, but I love none better than you.

- an excerpt from "To You" by Walt Whitman