The greeting card aisle was packed with people. The shoppers were practically rubbing shoulders as they peered at the display of countless red, pink and lacy-white valentines. It was amusing — and somewhat poignant, too — to observe the behavior of the small crowd, all of whom where seeking cards that would please the recipients without embarrassing the sender.
The cards were divided into labeled sections, making the onerous process of choosing from hundreds of greetings a little less daunting than it might have been. It quickly became clear that some sections offered cards that were easy for shoppers to select, while others demanded something more of the buyer.
Most made snap decisions in the children’s section, reading only a card or two before selecting the one they would buy. Cards addressed to fathers, grandfathers, brothers, aunts and teachers also seemed to generate minimal debate. But cards for spouses, mothers, grandmothers and friends were another story, perhaps because these relationships are seen as more delicate than some. Those in pursuit of valentines for these people read at least five cards, and often up to 10, before making their selections. The process, while time-consuming, seemed to amuse them and ultimately satisfy them, too, particularly when shoppers succeeded in finding precisely the right cards.
It was another matter entirely for those who were scrutinizing cards designed for the less-defined romantic relationship. This was evident not only in the amount of time spent on this effort but in the shoppers’ body language, remarks, uncomfortable laughter and sighs. Here was the place to witness shrugs and wrinkled brows galore, and to hear comments on the fine points of labeling a lover.
“Do you think he’ll like it or get outta here if I give him this one?” one thirtysomething woman asked another. The wording on the heart-shaped card in her hand announced “I’m so glad you’re my boyfriend!” This was mild compared with a card that came right out and stated “To my one and only soul mate,” and went on about a lifetime of togetherness. And it was tame in contrast with several valentines that sat uncomfortably on the border between suggestive and raunchy.
While the women seemed edgy about scaring off men with too strongly stated expressions of love, they also seemed to relish the opportunity to weigh the possibilities. For men, though, the task seemed weighty indeed — even agonizing — with one man even emitting a groan in the effort. While the other guys in the aisle shot him a look of commiseration, I thought it was too bad he could not tuck that groan into an envelope for the gal in his life. It might prove he put some serious care into the effort — if it didn’t serve as evidence that the Valentine’s Thing was just an awful chore!
After this foray into the world of commercial sentiment, it was a pleasure to return home to find some mail awaiting me. Amid the mix of missives was a valentine. The handmade card consisted of a piece of pink paper prettified around its edges with pinking shears. It also sported a heart cut out of floral fabric, pasted on the paper. The hand-written sentiment on it was simple: “Wishing you a Happy Valentine’s Day.” The effort was elegant, the time spent on it cherished and the overall effect simply perfect.