There’s a particular picture I’ve always had in my head: It’s fuzzy, overexposed and transient, but it’s something that’s stuck with me for quite some time. It’s a picture of Valentine’s Day, the one that doesn’t exist where I’m from. It’s Westernized and steeped in all of the cliches that permeate the holiday.
Hong Kong doesn’t have Valentine’s Day; instead, it has White Day. The community in which I lived tried a haphazard version of it a few years ago, back when the thought of the color pink revolted me. The holiday is like the second wind of Valentine’s Day, a month after gifts are reciprocated by the other partner. It exacerbates Valentine’s Day but uniquely dilutes the “American Dream” of Valentine’s Day that I had envisioned.
Growing up as an American and digesting all of the classic rom-com stories spoon fed to American teens on an illegal movie website was different. I found myself thinking: Am I worth the beautiful roses waiting at doorsteps or hidden in lockers like those we’ve seen in mid-90s films?
Yet here I am.
Despite the shortcomings of Valentine’s Day I had, and still do have, the inevitable longing for something more. I’m finally back in the United States, at college no less, and want the glamorized and idealized love I had tried to actualize abroad in Hong Kong.
Unsurprisingly, no one took the hint. I couldn’t help but romanticize the thought of coming to college and finding that mid-90s-film love.
From what I’ve seen, there is a dominant, universally accepted notion of hookup culture in U.S. colleges. What I didn’t expect, however, was the prevalence of it. I feel my romanticization got the better of me — again. Hookup culture just couldn’t be this domineering force dashing all of my rom-com Valentine’s Day(dreams). I was confident in my resolve on this. But would — and could — it be easier to just let all of my expectations go, allow this culture to slowly erode my expectations?
However, I thought that being at the No. 1 public school in the world had to account for something, right?
For more than I care to admit, UC Berkeley is not a loveless campus. There are all types of love present in that feel-good, Hallmark-esque type of way: The drives of couples hand-in-hand cruising across Sproul; the “study-buddies” who look up from their books to steal a glance at one another when the other is unaware; the pairs of couples tightly fitted onto the electric scooters, one hand casually grips the other’s waist, the other on top of the handles.
I romanticized, daydreamed about, craved these things. I had so much time in and around Hong Kong reading romance novels to not want to covet these expectations once I finally started my American college experience.
All of my expectations for college-level displays of love and Valentine’s Day were dwindled down to a mere Google form. To have my locking-eyes-across-the-room moment replaced by a Google form designed to match students on their compatibility and Rice Purity score: that was a new one that quite literally left me reeling.
Was my romanticization of Valentine’s Day a little too transparent that even my friends were trying to cushion the blow of having all of my expectations subverted when the day finally came around? Am I simply reading way too much into this effort? Should I be a tad concerned about a public Google form solely basing my preferences for a partner and subsequently matching us on our Rice Purity scores?
But I gave into algorithms of matchmaking because maybe this is just the way things are; maybe this is all there is to it.
As my friends and I began filling out the questionnaire, it felt like a bonding activity — a communal effort, if you will. One in which all of my other single friends began laughing at how ludicrous this all was.
Even though, by definition, we were all “lonely singles” looking for the Google form to pan out in our favor, I had never felt less alone.
I had to remind myself that randomization and the concept of online dating are what very well may help you meet your soulmate. You know, just so the obligatory, “How did you meet?” question is not met with the equally obligatory but somewhat stunned silence and shame after having admitted I met them through a dorm-unit questionnaire.
But is Google Forms really any different from Tinder? Hell hath no fury like an embarrassing Tinder meet-cute story, after all.
If there’s one thing that I took from the leadup to as well as the actual day of Valentine’s Day in the United States is: Where did all of these tropes and cliches originate from, and how did “The Notebook” portray such a heartbreaking love that it brought me to tears?
The expectations of an “American” Valentine’s Day, which I had solely been collating throughout my youth in Hong Kong, had certainly been dashed in such an underwhelming way that it almost seemed fake. It could have potentially been my fault: not being on campus at the right time, choosing the wrong classes, crossing the street at an intersection too early. The possibilities are endless for not having my rom-com meet-cute moment just yet.
Hopefully, by this time next year, all of my preconceived notions on the Valentine’s experience will have been totally fulfilled. This continuation could be an annual rumination where I reflect on the inevitability of being reminded of our singleness and everyone else’s togetherness.
The hopeless romantic in me won’t accept anything less, unfortunately.
Regardless, I am looking forward to all of the online sales and themed stuffed animals.