Not to be unromantic, but Valentine's Day is a tar pit of potential disaster. All of the ingredients for trouble are wrapped up in one pretty package. Unrealistic expectations, too many glasses of champagne, budgetary constraints and romantic jitters can cause real relationship strain. And when it comes to sticky subjects like matters of the heart, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Xpress has a Valentine's Day gift for you, better than any bouquet of flowers.
We quizzed a few locals particularly in the know about Valentine's Day traumas and disasters — namely florists, tattoo artists and restaurateurs. They helped us come up with a fine guide to help the unschooled and rusty emerge from this tricky holiday unscathed (not to mention unbranded with tacky tattoos).
Don't brand yourself
Local tattoo artist Kitty Love, aka Miss Kitty, has seen her fair share of skin disasters. There was the woman with the name "Habib" tattooed in a sensitive area, much to the chagrin of Bob, her husband. There was that guy who tattooed "Lisa" into his bicep inside a conspicuous heart festooned with mounds of flowers. “Of course, the more prominent, the more real your love is, right?" says Love, smirking.
Shortly after the tattoo was indelibly inscribed in the poor guy’s flesh, it seems as though someone had an abrupt change of heart. "He came in literally four days later and said, 'What do you think we could do to cover this up?'" Love recalls. "And when we do tattoos, they're dark and solid. It's really a sad thing to look somebody in the face and say, 'You're in trouble.'"
What happened to Lisa? "I think Lisa found the fact that he had gotten this tattoo really pressed the issue of how, actually, she wasn't quite that interested." So, if she's just not that into you? "The tattoo will let you know," says Love.
And Love, under no circumstances, recommends getting a lover's name tattooed into your flesh. "It's like a curse. It really is. It's like guaranteeing your relationship to fail if you do it. That's the legend around getting a name tattooed."
And the way Love describes it, inscribing someone's name permanently into your skin isn't quite as romantic as some think. "The popularity of tattooing didn't just come into modern American culture in a bubble. It came out of bikers, sailors, the kind of shadier side of America."
Historically, sailors tattooed the names of those they left behind on dry land and bikers were simply marking their property. In other words, says Love, "You're basically Smoky's bitch at that point. It was an underscore for that cultural reality, you know. That women are owned in biker culture. It's like a cattle brand is really what a tattoo with a name is."
"Some people would question the judgment of getting the tattoo at all," says Love with a shrug. "Fortunately neither love nor flesh are permanent."
Don't get even
Isabel Loan, the manager of Shady Grove flower shop on Lexington Avenue, says that potential customers can order some rather unorthodox gifts around Valentine's Day.
"Sometimes people will be not happy in love and come in and ask us to send bouquets of dead flowers," says Loan. "Generally we're not so into that, but we'll 'donate' old flowers to someone to do with what they will. But we're not going to make dead things." Shady Grove has provided "the ingredients" for jilted lovers to make their own broken-heart bouquets. "People get all kinds of weird ideas when they're falling out of love," says Loan. "Someone once sent flowers that were beautiful, but they came with a card that said, basically, '[screw] you, don't ever talk to me again.'"
Don't be a Valentine’s cliché
Courtney Bloomfield, the owner of Shady Grove, says that it's always a good idea to plan ahead.
"The more time they give us to work on their order, the more time, energy and love is going to go into their order," she says. And Valentine’s Day doesn't necessarily mean roses, says Bloomfield. "Some people are turned off by roses — some people even hate roses." Though Shady Grove sells its fair share of the classic romance flower, Bloomfield doesn’t necessarily encourage customers to buy them. “Roses cost almost double on Valentine's Day than they would normally," she says.
Do make sure she's not already married
Bloomfield also recommends not sending flowers anonymously. “It never quite works out the way you'd expect,” she says. "From the customer's point of view, they think it's sweet, romantic and endearing. From the other end of it, it's not. Most women really want to know who they’re coming from," In fact, she says, there's a chance the gesture might cause trouble.
"One time I had a really nice man come in, and he wanted to send flowers to a woman at work. He was adamant about not saying who they were from," says Bloomfield.
Eventually, the florist relented, delivering a bouquet to the workplace of the admired. Predictably, Bloomfield said, the woman called to question her almost immediately.
"I tried to smooth it over and tell her that I didn't know where they came from," says Bloomfield. "Finally I heard her big, mean husband in the background cursing and demanding that I tell her where the goddamn flowers came from … And she said, 'That's my husband, can you hear him? He works with me and would like to know where the flowers came from.’"
Don't be cold-hearted
If you must dump someone in a neutral zone, like a bar or restaurant, at least try to wait until after Valentine's Day. Why? First of all, if you have to ask, you're exactly the type of person for whom this article is written.
As Lesley Groetsch, co-owner of Tingles Cafe and Sazerac says, it can be pretty traumatic for a person to be dumped on a day that they might consider a milestone (for that matter, you also might also see your story end up in a newspaper article).
Groetsch recalls one particularly wrenching Valentine's Day break-up scene at Sazerac during a multi-course prix fixe V-day dinner. Not only was the beleaguered couple beholden to the timing of the meal, it was just plain awkward, she says.
"Halfway through the meal, it became pretty obvious that this girl was using this public place to break up with the guy. He was getting upset, but was trying to compose himself," says Groetsch. "And you know, it's close quarters in Sazerac, and every table is highly visible. It's kind of a people-watching place anyway, so everyone around them was acutely aware that they were breaking up."
There was no obvious loud scene, says Groetsch, but even without tableware being flung across the room, it was readily apparent what was going on. "She was talking him through the breakup, like she knew it was going to happen ahead of time. They didn't even finish their last course."
Do, she says, have a girls' night out and save the breakup for some other time. "You're ruining a holiday for someone, even though it is a manufactured holiday."
If nothing else, she says, choose your location wisely. "That's my rule on Valentine's Day: Don't break up at Sazerac. Take that stuff elsewhere," she jokes. "Really, just go out with your friends instead and make Valentine's Day a celebration of all kinds of love."
— Mackensy Lunsford can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.