All My Single Ladies | A Reflection on Valentine’s Day

Posted by Michelle Pham & filed under Diversity, Identity, Pop Culture.

Esther Frid holds "El Atardecer de la Vida," a book she wrote about the stories of seven senior Latin American women living in Canada

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Above: My Father and I on his birthday

I have never dated anyone on Valentine’s Day.

Perhaps this has to do with the fact that I’m young and sweet and only seventeen (I may also be a tad bit of a dancing queen as well). Yes, my sense of humor borderlines corny (arbitrary fact) and maybe this is another factor contributing to my state of single-ness, but I doubt it. Dating season for me normally seems to start around March-October. I have a spotless mind during times of eternal sunshine, and sadly, as a Vancouverite, that time is limited when the rains fall down on our temperate rainforest region.

Growing up in North America, Valentine’s Day always fell into the grey area. My Vietnamese parents came to Canada as boat refugees two decades ago. In Vietnam, the open expression of ‘public displays of affection,’ ‘love,’ and other similar things seem to be reserved only for personal family life. Even then, after seventeen years of living with my wonderful parents, they do not exchange kisses before parting for work, nor are they often found hugging or showering unexpected gifts upon each other. This could be viewed as a prudent manner of love. Frankly speaking, this did affect my outlook on love to some degree, seeing that it took me quite awhile to actually let a boy kiss me. Why?

I never saw displays of emotion in my household while growing up. It seemed as if kissing someone was such a sacred act. Furthermore, in films such as Titanic, The English Patient, The Notebook and even Pearl Habor, my parents had a rule that we had to close our eyes during the kissing bits. It didn’t matter anyhow — I always peeked. Curiosity never truly killed the cat.

Of course, I have since evolved and my family’s thoughts regarding romance have also matured with age. My parents have loosened up, and since I hit high school, I’ve brought many a boyfriend home to meet my parents. It’s a rule of mine: ‘You must meet my parents’, but only after we’ve been dating for three months. Somewhere along the way, we broke the traditional mould of the Vietnamese daughter not dating until her admission into university. However, long before the whole university admissions process began, my parents began to give me free reign on boys. I always wondered why.

While contemplating this matter, I recalled a moment in elementary school where I was merely sitting next to a classmate named Jason in the library. When my dear Mother came to pick me up from school, I received the scolding of a lifetime for the harmless act of sitting next to a boy. I reflect on those days and often try to pinpoint the exact breaking point when things changed. I believe it was simply when I decided that I was going to date and that I wanted my parents to be a part of my personal life. I gave them a choice to be a part of that aspect of my life by introducing them to the boy I was seeing then (who also happened to be three years older than me; potential nightmare for the Mother of a teenage girl!). Surprisingly, my parents took it quite well and were extremely amicable. They did not acknowledge that I was dating said boy at the time, but eventually, they accepted it.

Every February 14th, my parents do not wake up to breakfast in bed or a dozen roses, nor does my Father book a romantic dinner at an Italian restaurant with a waitlist that extends on for months. They wake up and go about their normal daily chores. When I was younger, my Mother often helped me with Valentine’s Cards to send to my fellow classmates. I think I sent some of the best Valentine’s Day Cards over my younger years. Of course, I always sent a special one to my secret crush and those ‘Be Mine’ candy hearts always culminated in a pile on my dresser. If you want to know who bought out the cinnamon hearts at the grocers this weekend – it was probably me.

Although my parents find no use for this day of ‘celebration of love,’ I believe that they feel this way because they do small things for each other all the time. We have no leaky faucets in the house, the toilet seat is always left down, and the garden flourishes in the spring. My Mother tends to the plants and my Father prunes the mini vineyard. She will buy him sweaters and he will buy her pragmatic things that she puts to use such as the lovely new oven and Kitchenaid mixer that now shine in our rustic kitchen.

My Father is the type of man who likes to spoil a woman, and if my Mother wanted diamonds or pearls, he would grant her every whim. Of course, this is never the case for a refugee-immigrant woman. I always bring home roses for my Mom each year, or a bottle of perfume, but I am always reprimanded for being fickle with my money.

“Michelle! Stop wasting your money buying flowers! I grow beautiful flowers in my garden already!” my Mother chides.

It is always a laugh-worthy moment. In my Mother’s eyes, roses and perfume are unnecessary. She is an economic woman who saves so that her frivolous children can spend. I have learned to not buy my Mother anything overly expensive because I know that she will not use it if it’s a material good.

Comparing my parents’ perspective on dating to some of my past boyfriends’ parents, I notice a stark contrast. One of my more recent boyfriends came from an Italian family. Italians are very comfortable with expressing emotion and ‘going in for the kill.’ There is no hesitation, and I find that this is due to the confidence that they have in their ability to ‘woo,’ ‘love,’ and ‘express.’ Growing up, Italian children are immersed in kisses, hugs and physical touch (gross generalization, but true). I noticed this when I lived with a family of 23 Italians in a lovely villa overlooking the oceanic town of Rosignano. I was the awkward duck that offered her hand to shake while all the aunts, uncles, children and mothers came around to give me a small peck on both cheeks. Yes, I blushed.

Traveling alone to Italy, Turkey and various other regions in between as a single woman also changed my perspective on relationships. On flights, I was always moved for children and mothers, but most often men and women would ask me: “Are you here alone? Where is your husband?” To be fair, most people thought I was much older since most sixteen and seventeen year-olds normally do not trek around the world alone. I always ended up next to couples, but this never compelled me to feel as if I needed to be in a relationship.

Many of my female friends share similar sentiments. There is a whole new movement existing in which women simply refuse to marry or give birth, as seen throughout the world in populations such as Japan and Italy where the birth rate is below replacement level. We have financial freedom, which means that we can afford our own personal freedom. I believe that this steady rate of financial growth in women’s finances has contributed to sky-rocketing levels of divorce. If a man does not treat a woman right these days, she can leave him. In the past, he was the breadwinner, and if she left – she would have nothing. Times have changed.

So this Valentine’s Day, I’m going to be wide awake at obscene hours doing work as usual, but I enjoy it. I love my work. Is there anything I want for Valentine’s Day? I can’t deny, after five years of delivering grams and roses in high schools as part of the student council, it would be refreshing to receive a fresh bouquet of flowers.

Happy Valentine’s Day! Regardless of whether you are single, in a complicated situation, happily married or dating — it doesn’t matter. This is a day where you can indulge yourself; so do it!

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