There was once a time when Feb. 14 meant dressing in a shameless ensemble of red, white, and pink, and getting to devour a volume of candy that rivaled Halloween. A decade or two older (and more jaded), and with decidedly different impressions of the holiday, let's take a moment to reflect on what it was like celebrating Valentine's Day in middle school versus now.
For starters, a few changes are very clear. When we walked through the locker-lined halls of middle school, Valentine's Day stood for a much more unrestricted celebration of love, especially in its platonic form. Heck, every single person in your class was your Valentine. Now, the romance-laden holiday comes with clearly defined expectations like roses and restaurant reservations. Years ago, once you had personally signed all your Valentine's cards with your favorite sparkly gel pen, your biggest worries were whether today was the day when your crush was finally going to make a move, or more importantly, trading with your classmates for better candy before the final bell.
Today, Valentine's Day is almost defined by the cultural onslaught of expectations that are bound to be a let down. In middle school, our expectations for the big day were just as high, if not higher, but they weren't so often broken. Sure, maybe we expected a last period history teacher to be kinder and make it a movie day, but we weren't hit with disappointments of the same proportions we're faced with today. Middle school was an idealistic time, so before we get caught up in the consumerism-driven spectacle that Valentine's Day has become, let's take a stroll down memory lane to tip our hats to more simple times.
Middle School: Sweethearts
While every now and then we were lucky enough to get a few heart-shaped milk chocolates in our Valentine's candy stash, a good bulk of the bounty was always chalky conversation hearts. Sure, they were great for reading meanings into sayings and almost as fun as passing notes, but even then we knew they weren't our prime choice of candy. Still, they were emblematic of Valentine's Day and absolutely dependable — you always knew exactly what you were getting.
Now: Expensive Candy
Today, if your Valentine is giving you candy, they're not just getting the "good stuff," they're getting the really good (read: expensive) stuff. No one gifts their significant other with a bodega-bought candy bar to show their love and commitment. Adult candy offerings occur in the form of dark chocolate hearts and seasonal truffles elegantly displayed within a red satin heart-shaped box. And to quote Forrest Gump, "you never know what you're gonna get."
Middle School: Wearing All Pink
Pink or red with dashes of white. This was the requisite uniform come Valentine's Day when at a certain age we thought it clever to show off our spirit from head to toe. Bonus points for sporting a t-shirt featuring a heart or quote specifically designed for Feb. 14.
Now: Wearing All Black
While perhaps a minimalistic touch of color is appropriate, today we make a special effort not to be caught wearing too much pink or red on Valentine's Day. The usual routine ensemble of black works just fine, especially to communicate our disdain for any overzealous observance we may encounter that day.
Middle School: Cardboard Valentine's Cards
Sponge Bob and Patrick, Dexter and Dee Dee from Dexter's Laboratory, and The Powerpuff Girls were just a few of the cast of characters to star on the cardboard greetings we handed out to our classmates and teachers. Chock-full of cheesiness like "Stuck On You" with a lollipop or "You're All Write" with a pencil, these tokens of our affection were the best part of the day.
Now: Borderline Inappropriate Greeting Cards
Gone are the days of cutesy limericks involving cartoon characters. Now if you do receive a paper card, it's likely to be some sassy spinoff of a Valentine's Day cliché aplenty with pop culture references or a raunchy proposition hardly disguised as a greeting.
Middle School: Awkward Voicemails
If you're of a certain generation and you liked someone in middle school, there was no such thing as texting or even the luxury of calling their personal cell. You had to call their house phone, meaning any member of their family could pick up. If no one did, you had the option of quickly hanging up or leaving an excruciatingly awkward voicemail that their entire family would later listen to. Hence, calls were always best made beside a BFF.
Now: Regrettable Texts
While technology certainly makes life more convenient, it also brings about a whole new set of opportunities for awkwardness. Texting gets us in trouble all the time, especially surrounding events of heightened emotion or inebriation. Valentine's Day brings thoughts of romantic partnership to the forefront of society's consciousness, so in the wake of nationally practiced romance, there are likely to be a few regrettable texts sent and received.
Middle School: Agonizing Over Whether Your Crush Likes You Back
An unrequited crush was a distraction on any day of the school year, but it consumed us most on Valentine's Day. Would he realize his card was the only one on which you scribbled "Love ya!" in your pastel gel pen? Might you two share a special moment when you both walk from the science lab down to the gym for P.E.?
Now: Not Caring... Like At All
If you don't have a significant other to get into the Valentine's Day spirit with (or avoid festivities with hand in hand), it's likely you're feeling some disdain once every outlet of consumerism is confettied with nauseating paraphernalia like cherubs and candy hearts. In a less hyperbolized setting, you like the idea of romance. You're just at a loss to come up with someone with whom you'd actually desire to experience it.
Middle School: Hanging Out At The Mall
The most popular middle school pastime was hanging out at the mall with your girl crew. You could window shop and spend forever in Claire's, then wander around where you might spot your crush out and about with his boys. If you were lucky enough to score a "date" on Valentine's Day, you probably spent it here. Nothing says "romance" like the food court at the mall.
Now: Hitting Up Happy Hour
Like most days, what better day to celebrate getting through a Valentine's workday than meeting your girls at the bar for a glass of wine? If you don't have a date for the night, maybe you'll spot some single guys who are in the same boat. If you do have a date, you're likely forgoing happy hour and heading straight home because it's going to take you two hours to figure out what you're going to wear. How do you pull off romantic-sexy in mid-February slush? Life was so much easier when red and pink casual was an option.
Middle School: Chaperoned School Dance
Come nightfall, once you had decorated your updo with enough butterfly clips to fill your own botanical garden, it was time for your parents to drop you off at your school gym for two hours of sober shuffling under the supervision of your science teacher.
Now: Sloppy Club Encounter
Now if you're looking to get your dance on on Valentine's Day, you're putting yourself smack dab in the meet market for the single set. Romance, or something like it, is on everyone's mind. Sloppy encounters are inevitable.
Middle School: '90s Slow Jams
If you were dancing arms length with a boy in your class, it was definitely to K-Ci & JoJo or Boyz II Men. When the intro to "Crazy" crescendoed into JoJo crooning about apologizing, middle schoolers started uneasily side-eying one another to see who they'd link with up for the most awkward four minutes of their life.
Now: Vaguely Romantic Top 40 Songs
Popular songs don't have the same romantic appeal they did a decade or two ago. If you're on the dance floor in this day and age, the most romantic interpretation you might get from the hit that's playing is that maybe Drake truly is concerned about his super-independent ex because he still cares for her.
Images: Disney; Giphy (16)