OPINION: This Valentine’s Day, Eat Italian Food

Pasta alla carbonara. By Luca Nebuloni from Milan, Italy [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

By Connor Harrison
BU News Service

Two Valentine’s Days ago, I sat across from my significant other pounding away at spaghetti carbonara in a small, mid-tier Italian restaurant crammed between other upscale chains in a strip mall along Orlando, Florida’s International Drive.

I remember feeling like a fat dad, my Ralph Lauren polo constricting burly lumberjack arms – more fat than muscle – which was tucked conservatively into some brown, wrinkled pants that I probably “ironed” by running in the dryer. I love Italian food. I probably looked like a sloppy, mythological boar chowing away at greasy bacon pieces wrapped in thick noodles.

I think it’s funnier this way – imagining myself inhaling pasta and drinking an overpriced IPA just a bit too quickly for a date. If I could hang out with my past self for fifteen minutes there in Orlando, I’d buy him a second beer and tell him to keep his head up. We’d both laugh and pretend we were in a Christopher Nolan time travel movie.

I remember observing the couples around us. I wanted to measure up to them to impress the girl across from me, to prove to myself that I could be molded into her vision of long-term happiness that hung its hat on a traditional relationship, like something out of a Paul Ryan family sitcom. Valentine’s dinner was a fat dad step in the right direction, and whatever I lacked in non-stuffing-my-ass-with-spaghetti relationship sophistication, I made up for in making sure she understood how happy she made me.

It was genuine, and almost enough to get me back across a table from her the following year. Instead, I went out for bottomless mimosas with friends and acquaintances in my Florida hometown. That night, I sat in my Mazda listening to and feeling as sad as Kanye West’s “The Life of Pablo.” I texted her the long version of the “I want to get back together” spiel as “30 Hours” blared in the background like an MTV music video. And then life went on.

The mistake I made – and what I hope you don’t – was letting a day of the year compound grief. It’s not poetic that I went from happy to sad and learned a lesson. There’s no reason to use Valentine’s Day to measure anything. It’s not even recognized as a public holiday anywhere in the world.

If you asked me, I couldn’t tell you what I did most years. From 4 to 21, it’s a cliché montage of chocolates and candy hearts cradled by scotch tape in paper cards, predictable awkwardness, and try-hard urgency for a few girls I liked in high school.

My favorite Valentine’s Day was a year before the carbonara one. I told friends we were going to have a romantic evening of bar hopping out in midtown where we could all be each other’s Valentine’s over cheap wells doubles. It was meant to be as stupid as it sounds. But that evening among other college seniors, a new philosophy emerged over rum and diets that I wish I hadn’t forgotten over Pablo.

Valentine’s Day bothers you a lot less than you’re willing to admit. The anti-Valentine’s Day movement is more played out than millennial words like “adulting”.

I know loneliness on Feb. 14 – it’s human. I needed advice and love from friends and family to get over a break-up like the rest of us. So why compound real, emotional trauma with something as trite as a day of the year where some people happen to make it about romantic love? Why it can’t it just be about love?

What if instead of rolling your eyes at the couple eating one of those big ass Mrs. Field’s cookie cakes in the mall, you smiled at them because they probably are as happy as we all deserve to be. Call your mom, seriously. Call your friends. Buy some Patrón and drink it with them. And stop feeling like it would be awkward to just say hello to someone on the street who might need to hear it.

It’s never self-righteous or otherwise harmful to be genuinely happy for someone else – it’s uplifting.

Tomorrow it’ll be the 15th for all of us. Don’t be so damn hard on yourself. You’ll be happier next year. Or, tomorrow. Or just, right now. It’s just one day of the year.

I have no date tonight. I’m going to a birthday party and then walking to a subway stop in snow slush listening to Lupe Fiasco’s new album and riding thirteen stops back to Cambridge. I live across from an Italian restaurant, and they serve carbonara.

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