Memories of a Valentine’s Day Heartbreak
French Fridays with Dorie
If this photo gives you the impression that I am hostile towards Valentine’s Day I can assure you that I am. I owe the day no loyalty as it has tried earnestly for years to sour me on its sweet promises. Ultimately I will tell you that it has failed in its goal but my experiences with this day have left me with more real-life lessons than one can fit on a pithy greeting card.
I know you don’t visit this blog for sappy platitudes anyway and this heart-shaped blob of milk-fat is probably one of the sappiest of all Valentine’s Day desserts. So seeing as how Valentine’s day sweetness is all around us this mid-February I feel compelled to share with you the sour story and slightly acidic story of my 25th Valentine’s Day. Some flavor balance is in order.
This is The One With Dr. Frank.
I was 25 years old and somehow managed to suppress all dating activity until I had exited college just a few years before. Doing so had the effect of imparting a premature sense of urgency each time the hint of possible romance presented itself. Each chance at love seemed as if it were my last chance passing me by. Looking back I now know that the sweet-spot for true love hadn’t even yet begun! No readers, I was not yet the bitter Valentine food blogger you see before you today. No, these were the days when Valentine’s Day was something special and romantic!
And then I met Dr. Frank.
Dr Frank was “all that and a bag of chips”. In fact when I met him he was holding a bag of chips and cruising me heavily at the supermarket. His forward, overt interest was something I had not yet experienced and his complete lack of shame in showing interest was inebriating for me. I think I may have actually turned my head to look behind me to make sure it was actually me he was staring at. The guy who had survived the previous 15 years by becoming invisible would need a few more years to shed this reflex.
I scampered off sheepishly to the safety of my bachelorhood after botching this first meeting. I imagined Dr. Frank as annoyed with my inexperienced and awkward small talk. No matter. I just wasn’t ready to let Dr. Frank “close the deal”.
We would meet again several months later at a party thrown by a mutual friend. Dr. Frank recognized me immediately as the guy from the market and then proceeded to flirt even more shamelessly than he had before. I immediately fell under the spell of his confidence and his full attention. He asked me if I would like a cocktail (which was all the qualification necessary those days to secure a date with me) and by the end of the evening I was head-over-heals planning out our wedding and eventual retirement together to the Italian countryside.
He seemed to be everything I would ever want. Five years older than me, he was handsome beyond measure, successful, confident, unashamed, and most importantly: interested. Inwardly he was, well, lets just say I hadn’t quite learned how to see the insides of people.
Dating Dr. Frank was never easy but it was always a thrilling exciting ride and a very passionate one at that. I could never count on him to call when he said he would and at most times I never knew when I would see him next. This of course made it difficult to work out our future married life together in my Dr. Frank fantasies but I learned to make do. I was quite good at projecting onto him any “reality” I felt was required.
“He just forgot to call because he’s under a lot of work stress right now.”
We had dated all of 3 months by the time February 14th rolled around and I knew this would be my first special Valentine’s Day — the romantic celebration that I craved for years! The 25 year old me who had never dated anyone for that length of time anxiously (and passively) waited for Dr. Frank’s invitation. Surely he was planning something special and would call me after he had it all arranged!
Dr. Frank eventually invited me to the local hot-spot restaurant in town which was doing a special Valentine’s menu for the occasion. Wow! I would get the double satisfaction of a romantic prix-fixe dinner date with my super hot doctor guy AND I would get a full-scale pubic presentation of us as a couple. I had grown a bit frustrated that we hadn’t yet managed to be seen out publicly as a couple so this night, coupled with our happiness on display, had me forgetting all about that unimportant detail. Score!
Coeur à la Crème
In hindsight there were many signs which I chose to ignore that might have indicated the night (and our relationship) would not end well. Dr. Frank didn’t pick me up that night in his pride-and-joy Mercedes as he usually did but instead asked me to meet him at the restaurant.
“He’s so busy taking care of patients. I don’t mind at all if this makes it easier for him.”
Even though I did mind.
After I parked my car and walked in alone I was shown to our table by the host. As I approached I could see to my astonishment that there were four other people sitting at the table with my boyfriend!
Dr. Frank saw me, stood up, and then came over to kiss me hello. On the lips. He introduced me to our table-mates: there was Tom (his “ex” who was very handsome), Darrel (his “other ex” and even more handsome), and finally Carlo and Michael — whom he introduced as “the other guys I’m dating right now”.
What I remember feeling next was a dizzying punch to the head followed by a loud cacophony of unintelligible table chit-chat which my pounding heart would not let me hear because I was trying so hard to keep composure. My WASP upbringing has taught me never to show emotion in public but this value was strained as I struggled with so many hitting me all at once.
Was I to have already known about these people? Who were they? And why were they here at MY Valentine’s Day celebration?
Had this been a theatrical movie or play this would have been the moment where I would shout out “how very dare you!” and throw my cocktail in his face and storm out while calling him an asshole. WASP training is hard ignore however so I found myself quietly sitting down to a dinner with Dr. Frank’s other boyfriends.
I must have realized that a self-debrief of the last three months would take place at a later time (probably with a therapist) but in that moment all eyes in the restaurant seemed to be on me and watching to see how I will react to Dr. Frank’s apparent Valentine dinner tradition.
I opted to keep my cool. Besides, Carlo, one of Dr. Frank’s other unsuspecting boyfriends was kind of hot.
Carlo was dark and Italian looking and we quickly bonded over the mutual injustice that had been done to us by Dr. Frank. We drank expensive cocktails and sharpened our wit, both at his expense. Our table for six turned into a flirty table for two and despite the fact that we were sitting next to the wreckage of our previous “relationship” we were determined to make the best of it. It was like our first date!
Carlo too was bold and full of confidence and he too won my attentions when he asked if I would like another cocktail. Why not? Evidently I was single again and I couldn’t afford to let love pass me by.
Carlo and I eventually got up and said our tipsy goodbyes to Dr. Frank and his romantic past. They hadn’t paid much attention to us anyway nor we them and we doubted they would miss us much. Besides, it was getting late we were eager to leave them to the rest of their lives.
We made a big show of walking back through the restaurant together holding hands and acting as if we had just had the best dinner of our lives. We kissed goodnight at the front door and Carlo offered to walk me to my car. Such a gentleman!
Then as we passed by what was probably the one true love of Dr. Frank’s life, his beloved Mercedes, Carlo quickly took out a serrated steak knife he must have pocketed from the restaurant and plunged it effortlessly into the driver’s side front tire — simultaneously deflating the poor doctor’s ride home and my hopes for a new boyfriend.
It would be the last time I saw Carlo. I was finally ready to learn how to paying attention to ‘the signs’.
I consider that lesson that my Valentine’s gift from Dr. Frank and I do remember him fondly for it. It would not be the last time I would ever see Dr. Frank, however. He would return later to make several key re-appearances later in my life – but never again with the same sense of gravitas and drama he had when I was only twenty five and in a hurry.
Damn Valentine’s Day.