Cupid no match for groundhog. . .or wingman

Last year I was giving a talk at a bookstore in Newburyport, Mass., on Valentine’s Day. My wife was home in Vermont with our daughter. This year on Valentine’s Day — next Saturday — I will be speaking at a bookstore in Nashville, Tenn. Again, my wife will be here in Vermont.

Yup, I am one heck of a catch as a husband.

The thing I found most bizarre about my store appearance last year is that Valentine’s Day occurred on a Thursday night and still there were actual signs of human habitation in the bookshop. There is no way I would spend my Valentine’s Day with me if I didn’t have to. Most of the people there admitted that they had dinner plans after the event and so I shouldn’t feel the need to embellish any stories I was telling or write anything lengthy in the books I was inscribing. They wanted out of there as quickly as possible, which I like to believe says more about their commitment to their partners and less about my breath or their faith in my work.

But here’s the thing: As important as Valentine’s Day is to my wife and me, we have always looked to another key date in February as our date, the unique amphora that gave our particular romance shape: Groundhog Day. (Reason No. 2 why I am such a catch: Over the years, I have encouraged us to celebrate our love on a day reserved by the rest of the world for a weather-forecasting ground squirrel.) We met on Groundhog Day when we were both 18 and in our first year of college, and we have been together ever since.

Our meeting was the stuff of an epic romance, especially if your idea of an epic romance involves awkward teen boys. I saw a blonde woman across a room at a college party and realized that a guy I knew from my dorm was hitting on her. So I tried to help him out — do that “wingman” thing.

“Henry,” I began, draping my arm fraternally around his shoulder. “How the heck are you?”

The woman looked at me and didn’t bother to hide her disgust. “You know Henry?” she asked.

“Henry? Oh, we go back,” I said, since we had indeed known each other a solid four months. I was pretty sure (but not positive) that I even knew his last name.

“Well, then,” she said, shaking her head and leaving us, “you’re a bigger jerk than he is if you’ll admit that in public.”

Yes, that would be the woman I would somehow convince to marry me. Only later that evening would I learn that Henry was not an especially smooth operator.

Now, none of this means that Valentine’s Day is anticlimactic for my wife and me. But it does mean that by the time the big day rolls around, we have already celebrated the uniqueness of our own courtship and saga. In other words, we marked our own personal Valentine’s Day last weekend.

And there are very definite advantages to sharing a holiday with Punxsutawney Phil — or, to be precise, riding the rotund rodent’s coattails. It’s a whole lot easier to get a dinner reservation the weekend nearest Groundhog Day than it is on the weekend nearest Valentine’s Day (unless, of course, you’re actually in Punxsutawney, Pa., in which case you have either lost your mind or you’re a meteorologist). The roses look a little less sorry and overworked in the first week of the month than they do in the second. And the chocolate that has been pumped into the stores like bottled water before a hurricane is a few weeks fresher.

But the most important benefit is the sense of uniqueness that married couples will recognize from their wedding anniversaries: Feb. 2nd is our date and our day, and again this year we didn’t have to share it with anyone.

Except, of course, that groundhog.

Happy Anniversary to my own special inamorata — and a Happy Valentine’s Day to all.

(This column originally appeared in the Burlington Free Press on February 8, 2009.)

Chris Bohjalian

Chris Bohjalian is the author of nineteen books, including his forthcoming novel, The Sleepwalker. His other novels include the New York Times bestsellers Midwives, The Sandcastle Girls, The Guest Room, and The Double Bind.