Love's labors lost

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This time of year, between last-minute supplications for restaurant reservations and timely flower deliveries, you might be tempted to grumble over a holiday whose popularity comes and goes. Back in 1910, The Times editorial board worried that the Valentine's Day custom was going out of style, not imagining that decades later 190 million cards--not counting those perforated-paper ones circulated in classrooms--would get sent each year.

In an editorial from Feb. 13, 1910, The Times defends Valentine's Day.

The Valentine"Tomorrow is St. Valentine's day, All in the morning betime!And I a maid at your window,To be your valentine."Which the same would not be regarded as good poetry, although it was the immortal Shakespeare himself who wrote it. But, no matter; the heart throb is there, and heart throbs are all that are worth while in this world, now or ever, commerce and trade and the jingle of iron dollars to the contrary notwithstanding.
"The sending of valentines is a harmless folly which is dying out," says a high authority. Well, 'tis more the pity. There are a lot of other follies and things that are not follies that were better dead than the sending of valentines. God be with the times and the people who reveled in the folly of it. […]
Think back — think away back along the track of the wild years to the day when you sent your first valentine. Don't be afraid, do not fear that some one will discover your thoughts, for that they cannot do. And even if you were to be discovered, what matter? It was the holiest hour of your life — the holiest and the sweetest. No more again can there be such another hour. […]
"The sending of valentines is a harmless folly which is dying out," says the big book at our elbow. We accept the edict in sorrow. We weep for a world that has lost its charm. We look with supreme commiseration on the boys and girls of today who have let slip from their grasp the most adorable custom ever invented by man.

Two years before, The Times had waxed equally poetic – though with a more melancholic streak.

Life's pretty follies. Life without its cap and bells were a dull thing. Indeed, Were we not the creatures of folly we were but fit company for mourning doves and the banshees of Ireland. Think of a world peopled with long faces and brooding brows, and it is to think of the crazy house and Dante's poems. Let us be thankful that we still take the children to the circus, that women have not forsaken ruffles, that we send one another valentines and encourage the Democratic party to keep up its organization.
The follies that lead to tears, to loss, to heart-eating remorse and gray despair are, of course, to be decried. God save us from these and from every folly that embitters life! No matter how merry the dance that ends in gangrene, in the palsy of the body and spirit, and in a piper's bill, that we are beggared to pay, it were better not to have been born than to indulge in that. There are those who say differently, we know; those who say it were better to have been Paulo with Francesca, though hell were the end of it, than never to have felt the thrill that was theirs; better to have had one hour of Egypt and her fragrant bosom than an age of shield-encircled Rome. But this is a false theory. A mild, midsummer madness that but swaps signs with the evening breeze is not so bad, but of the raving madness of love and drink and gold, let all beware.
Of the mere pretty follies of life we have much more need, now as always, and perhaps much more now than at any time since the world began . […]
So, ho for St. Valentine and his Day!

In 1912, the board even used the 14th of February to welcome Arizona to the Union:

Forty-seven great commonwealths are sending today to the sun-kissed forty-eighth a valentine of greeting--"Come in out of the drip, Arizona dear. Come to our huckleberry picnic. In the language of schoolboy Romeos,
"The rose is red, the violet's blue
Sugar is sweet and so are you."

But the board's fear that Valentines were a dying breed may have been self-fulfilling – The Times experienced a century-long dry spell punctuated only in 1952 by one rather academic editorial exercise:

Valentine ReminderSince the lacy protestation of love is fast becoming a back number in this frank and forthright era, the American Heart Association suggests that Valentine's Day might be employed for consideration of heart diseases.
To the incurably romantic this clinical digression may be distressing, but even young hearts that palpitate as one are subject to the ills which the Heart Fund appeal is striving to isolate and minimize.
Your contributions to the Los Angeles County Heart Association, the local affiliate, will help in the worth-while work of prolonging human lives and lightening human suffering.

In the new millennium, though, V-day references came back with a vengeance. From February 13, 2005:

Your Heart Was BrokenYou know that feeling when, out of the blue, your loved one says it's not working and it'd be better to move on as just friends? Oh, and by the way, there's someone else. Turns out that awful hollow feeling, that twisting painful stew of shock, loss and betrayal that permeates every cell, has a medical name now: stress cardiomyopathy.
It seems, according to a new study in the New England Journal of Medicine, that we were right all along to call it a broken heart. It's a kind of passing heart attack. […]
Perhaps by next Feb. 14, the nation's quivering romance industry will offer a new candy medicine, a heart-shaped red pill available only by prescription from best friends that will mend the broken heart and even coax the love-addled mind back to an unromantic reality.
Right now, what this country really needs is a whole new rack of cardiac-friendly greeting cards for stricken former lovers: "Roses are red, Violets are blue, My EKG says, I'm not over you."

As if that wasn't enough, just four days later the board thumbed its nose at a well-intentioned school Valentine policy:

The Anti♥ Gets Our VoteDear Breanna: It was really mean when you told the kids not to let me join the game at recess. I don't like you, and I wouldn't even give you this card if I didn't have to. Happy Valentine's Day. Love, Liam.
Put that in the category of valentines we'd love to have seen this week, now that the self-esteem police -- otherwise known as teachers at most elementary schools and preschools -- require children to give valentines to everyone in the class, if they give any at all.
Dear Alani: I like you and the brownies your mom packs in your lunches too. And if you don't hand it over at recess today like always, you know what I'll do to you. Happy Valentine's Day, Noelia.
Are Southern California's children feeling universally loved after having been through this exercise? Or is it possible that they, along with their parents, see a bit of farce in all this mandated affection?
Dear Samara: Please stop looking at my paper during spelling tests. I love you. Your desk mate, Skylar. […]
We can't help feeling a surge of subversive glee over one true Valentine story this week concerning a local second-grader who risked his teacher's wrath by refusing to make a card for a classmate who repeatedly had been cruel to him and others -- and told her why. Unconditional love might be grand, but you've got to love this show of honesty and independent thinking. Maybe the little girl will think about her actions over the year and earn a batch of sincere valentines come next February.

In 2006, though, The Times dropped the tough-board act and railed against St. Valentine's holiday in the name of true love:

Massacre Valentine's DayST. VALENTINE WAS SUPPOSEDLY a martyred 3rd century priest, not a shill for the flower industry or a marketing genius for a certain Kansas City, Mo., greeting-card titan. Still, with all due respect to his martyrdom, we think it's high time the holiday bearing his name be abolished.
Call us hopeless romantics on this page, but we find that true love is overwhelming, irrepressible and spontaneous. Romance shouldn't be confined to a particular day; nor need it be triggered by the arrival of Feb. 14. Compulsory love is an oxymoron. […]
So be a real romantic and say no to mandatory love. Show up empty-handed tonight; don't sign that card. Repeat after us: "Honey, I won't submit my boundless love for you to this manufactured charade. Honey, listen, I...."

And last year, the board used the saccharine holiday to address related human rights violations:

One of the sad facts of life in West Africa is that poor parents sometimes sell their children into indentured servitude, in some cases selling a year of slave labor for about the same price as a large box of See's nuts and chews. Children as young as 9 are taken from their homes to work in the cacao fields, with frequent whippings, no schooling and no family contact. […]
There's no reason to throw away your Valentine's chocolates. Not only is a consumer boycott impractical, it would probably do more harm than good because West Africa's economy is reliant on cocoa, and anything that hurts the industry would just worsen the desperation that drives people to sell their children. One way to be socially conscious without going through chocolate withdrawal is to seek out Fair Trade chocolate. […]
Meanwhile, those who already feel guilty enough about indulging in high-calorie treats without adding child exploitation to the mix can always go with vanilla.

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