I was twenty-four years old when I had my first “real” Valentine.

Oh, sure I had my fair share of drugstore Valentines exchanges and moments of “I like like you” and awkward slow dances and fumblings in the dark, but this was different. I had a boyfriend who I was crazy in love with and I wanted to have the Valentine’s Day that the commercials had promised me all those years.

I wanted a romantic dinner by candlelight. I wanted strawberries and champagne, caviar and roses, and boxes of Godiva chocolate.

But I was poor. And so was my boyfriend. So, instead, I settled for store-bought cupcake batter and ready-made, pink icing, and a Netflix romcom.

My first clue that my Valentine’s Day wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be, was the fact that I planned everything.

Actually, that was my second clue.

The first sign of trouble in paradise was having to remind my boyfriend about Valentine’s Day in the first place.

“So, you’re coming over for Valentine’s Day, right?” I asked him a few days before.

“Oh. Right. Yeah, I guess.”

Sure, my type-A tendencies could have been to blame for my take-charge attitude, but looking back, I knew better than that.
The truth is, I was ignoring that feeling. That gnawing, nauseous feeling that sits at the bottom of the stomach, screaming at you: something isn’t quite right with this.

The feeling had started to come up over the past few weeks whenever my boyfriend and I talked. But, I was tone-deaf. Or, more like, love-deaf. I told myself we were just going through a rough patch. He was stressed with school, I was in the midst of a quarter-life crisis; we were just a little fucked up at the moment, that’s all. No biggie.

I wanted to celebrate Valentine’s Day in the most clichéd, conventional fashion because I was missing love and attention from the guy I loved. I hoped the spirit of the holiday would inject the romance back into our love-starved relationship.

As planned, my boyfriend came over to my apartment. We baked our pink cupcakes and ate Chinese take-out on the couch. We chatted, but our conversation was stilted and small. There was something hanging above us. A heavy, unspoken weight, otherwise known as The Talk.

But it was Valentine’s Day! And no breaks up on Valentine’s Day.

So, in full-on denial mode, I decided to pop in the movie. I had chosen what I had thought would be the ultimate romance, The Way We Were.

I had absolutely no idea what this movie was about. I knew it was considered a romantic classic and starred Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford, but I didn’t know that (spoiler alert!) THEY BREAK UP IN THE END!

Granted, the title alone suggests something past tense, but I was hopeful that these two crazy star-crossed lovers would get their shit together and make it work. “If these two can make it,” I thought, “maybe we can, too!”

My third clue happened after the movie ended and Babs and Robert had gone their separate ways FOREVER. My boyfriend turned to me and said (without a hint of irony): “That was the perfect ending.”

I was dumbfounded.

“How can you say that?” I said. “Sure, Barbra and Robert were polar opposites from each other and fought like crazy, but they had passion. And they loved each other.”

“Sometimes love isn’t enough,” he said.

He was right, of course. Truthfully, we were opposites and we wanted different things out of life. We had mad crazy chemistry, and there was love there, but we had spun a complicated yarn of a relationship. It wasn’t enough to transform into something long-lasting. This was becoming more apparent everyday, and we had chosen to ignore it in our own ways. Like, Streisand’s Katie, I had pushed and pushed for us. While he, like Redford’s Hubbell, chose to let go and not try.

Officially, we didn’t break up on Valentine’s Day.

That would happen a few days later when he dumped me.

But it was that night when we both knew it was over. (My fourth clue happened when he didn’t want to have sex with me, to which my heart, head and loins told me in unison: “It’s done, sister.”)

I finally allowed myself to surrender to that feeling in the pit of my stomach. It hurt more than I care to remember.

But I do remember the pink cupcakes we had baked together made great comfort food.

I still think Valentine’s Day is romantic and clichéd and commercialized. I still want caviar and champagne and Godiva chocolates. But I know now to recognize that sick “SOS” feeling and to address it ASAP. Before the 14th of February – because no one woman should ever eat pink Valentine’s Day Day cupcakes out of a trashcan.