i like fish sticks, but i love you

Over the past week, friends, acquaintances, coworkers, and bill collectors alike have been asking me what I’m doing with my husband for Valentine’s Day. “Um, nothing?” I respond, shrugging it off. Because let’s face it, we are just a couple of old married people now. Don’t these people know that marriage kills the romance dead? Duh.

It’s not that we didn’t used to try. On our very first Valentine’s Day the beau took me out for a nice dinner with champagne. I was lacking in the funds department, and the only way I could reciprocate was with a handmade gift. So I made him a book of chaiku — chaiku being a combination of the word “haiku” and the beau’s real name, of course. This endeavor perhaps sounds lofty and romantic until you actually read a sample:

punctuation is
a smack on the ass — not all
are as well-spoken

I laid each page out in a pirated version of Photoshop on my home computer and printed them out at work on nice heavy paper, which I’m sure was an excellent use of company resources. I ripped the paper for that classic torn-edge look, then sewed the pages together with red and black thread right there at my desk — clearly, I was gunning for Employee of the Year.

I’d been hoping to make a fabulous design out of the thread, but instead ended up with a strange jumble. Oh well. He liked it anyway, so I must have done something right.

Next year it was the beau’s turn to be creative. I was working full-time and going back to school for design, and Valentine’s Day happened to fall on one of the nights I had a class. I remember walking back out to my car in the middle of an empty parking lot after 10:00 p.m., utterly exhausted, to find an unexpected flower and a handwritten letter waiting under my windshield wiper. I couldn’t stop smiling the rest of the night.

After that, I think our Valentine’s Day celebrations sort of tapered off for good. But my little trip down memory lane uncovered a whole host of cute things I gave to the beau back in the early days of our relationship. For instance, the very first thing I ever made for him was this get-well e-card:

We’d been dating a little over a month. He had the flu, and he liked the television show 24. At that point, there was little else I knew about the kid, so this is what he got.

When we’d been dating for nearly five months, I made a trifold brochure just to invite him out on a date:

Yeah, I know it looks hokey, but at this point I hadn’t gone back to school for design yet and I was laying this out in that same old pirated version of Photoshop. Don’t judge me so harsh, little girl.1

The silly handmade treatment was definitely applied to gifts. For his 26th birthday, I drew him this clumsy illustration of a few of his favorite things,2 yet again while I was supposed to be working:

For our first Christmas, I seized on an offhand comment he had made one day about the ridiculous warning illustration on the cap of a bottle of Andre Brut sparkling wine. I saved the cap, scanned it, and made it into a big logo, which I then printed out and ironed onto a t-shirt. It took me many frustrating tries, and in the end it didn’t even come out that great. He still wears the shirt, though, which is all you can ever hope for in a Christmas gift like that.

And for our second Christmas together, I made him two 10×10″ paintings. That was the first and last time I’ve painted in the eight years since I graduated college, so you know what that means: I was seriously broke around that time. Oh, and I also cared immensely about my boyfriend. That one, too.

Hmm. Looks like Jack Daniels has kinda been an ongoing theme with us.

Anyway. After about two years into our relationship, these kinds of thoughtful out-of-the-blue silliness and handmade gifts just stopped. There are two main reasons for this: 1) I wasn’t quite so broke anymore and could afford to actually buy things instead of make them, and 2) we moved in together and so it became difficult for either of us to make something for each other without ruining the surprise.

A third reason I’m reluctant to admit is that we just got plain lazy. I think there’s a turning point in each relationship after which you just don’t try as hard anymore. That’s not necessarily a bad thing in the sense that our relationship is utterly doomed. But if there’s anything this Valentine’s Day and our total lack of regard for it has taught me, it’s that we can do better for each other than we have been. And not just one day out of the year, either.

I have no interest in participating in the Romance Industrial Complex’s annual production of Now THAT’S What I Call LOVE! How to Make it and What to Buy For It, Pt. XXXIV. But I don’t think the core sentiment behind Valentine’s Day is totally baseless, either. The key is in sticking to what feels romantic to you. For me, my best attempts at romance always involve creating something ridiculous and demented. So on this much-maligned day, I’m making a pledge to return to those roots. To go back to making absurd cards and drawings that show my affection for my beloved, just like I used to.

But uh, not today. It’s getting kind of late, you know, and um, I’m already kind of tired. Tomorrow, maybe? We’ll see.

What about you guys? Do you bother to recognize Valentine’s Day? Have you ever made silly things for your person? Confess or die!



2 It’s, um, the beau ascending a massive bottle of Jack Daniels on a beautiful beach while a dinosaur and an outsize fighter jet do battle in the background. I threw in the coconut-breasted Swedish twins as a joke.

15 Responses to “i like fish sticks, but i love you”

  1. Well I for one am impressed with your creativity. And I laugh at the Andre caption every time, heh.

    Fiancé and I don’t really celebrate V Day – sure, I like flowers, but I like them better when he’s not expected to get them (and pay double the amount for them). But that’s just us. Although he did buy a two month old Christmas fern yesterday….? Right.

  2. I am often anti valentines day, but I did manage to buy a “marriage is so gay” t shirt for my husband. Sometimes the political struggle is romantic, right?

  3. Wow. This just inspired me to be creative. But not today, it’s too close to Valentine’s Day. Some other time when it’s less expected. 🙂

  4. Those gifts are AMAZING!

  5. la la la Birmingham, I got a few friends . . .

    . . . those are the words, right?

  6. Oh my goodness, I love all your gifts! But why does it appear Jesus is weeping in the one illustration?

    For my first Valentine’s Day with Mr. Beagle, I painted three canvases with Japanese symbols (love, travel, and camera). Cost me about $30. Unfortunately the Beagle bought a video iPod for me. We kind of had a price difference fail there.

  7. One year early on I made John a calendar out of our travel photos. Since this was in the days before I had a digital camera this involved hunting down actual physical photographs, scanning them, and then laying out the calendar on microsoft publisher. It turned out kinda lame I have to say but I put in so much freaken effort!

    Now we celebrate Valentine’s the same way we celebrate most things – by eating and drinking yummy things. It was a fantastic Monday night.

  8. The don’t-open-champagne-in-your-face illustration is the greatest achievement in graphic arts… ever.

    • Used to be I’d always open champagne with the top pointed right into my eye. Then? I saw that warning, and my world was forever changed.

  9. We don’t actually celebrate Valentine’s Day. But last weekend, we went to an antique fair where Tony bought me an antique platter I had been admiring, and this morning, I cleaned up a giant mess that I made when I broke a brand-new jar of kosher pickles instead of leaving the smelly pickle mess for him to clean up during his lunch hour.

    It’s the little things that count. (Also, I would not want to be married to me, so I’m really glad he is willing to overlook my many “issues.”)

  10. I’m not sure How I just stumbled upon your blog.. possibly from twitter.. but hello! I just had to chime in and say how much I love all your goofy creations. My husband and I used to do a lot more of that kind of thing for each other in the first year or two of our relationship – I just recently ran across a ton of little drawings I had made in Paint for him for birthdays/valentines/whenever. The sad thing is, we are still broke so we have no excuse for having stopped doing these things! the laziness, I get it. you have inspired me to make goofy doodles more often! ..also just perusing more of your blog, sorry to have just now discovered it. I will look forward to following you now. 🙂

    • Hey, thanks! I appreciate you stopping by and saying hi! And yes, there is always an excuse for silliness. I love that you found the old drawings you did. Makes you remember the early days…

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