The (temporary) end of a Valentine’s era

Sad news for those nostalgic for the Valentine’s Days of decades passed: those heart-shaped Sweetheart sugar candies that were so popular for so long, won’t be on store shelves this year. No “Be Mine” and “Kiss Me” printed messages to satisfy your romantic (and simultaneously, your sugar) cravings. No more declarations of “My Love” and “Miss You” and “Crazy for You.”

I remember those little candies from elementary school. I preferred Love Hearts, a different and more tart candy with the same messages written on them, but the Sweetheart ones would do in a pinch. Some kids would include them with Valentine cards, and they’d almost always make an appearance at the class party. As an adult, I’d dig into my kids’ Valentine loot to steal a few, and I still look for Love Hearts when I’m at a small corner store, which seems to be the only type of place that still occasionally carries them.

Great as they were on the palate, the taste wasn’t nearly as important a feature as the messages on them. I can’t tell you how many times I pawed through a roll of them looking for the perfect message for some crush or another. By the time you’d bypass all the lame “Be Happy” and “Have Fun” candies to get to a “Lush Lips” or “My Honey,” you’d have eaten a whole package. And discovering an elusive “I Love You” candy was like finding a four-leaf clover.

Sweethearts dropped out of sight when its maker filed for bankruptcy and closed down the factory. Another company has since bought the brand and plans to continue manufacturing the hearts, but not in time for this year. The new company needs time to gear up to make the required Valentine’s Day quota; about 100,000 pounds of Sweethearts each day for 11 months. That’s a lot of candy.

I don’t put much stock into Valentine’s Day, never have. The day-after discounted candy and chocolate have always been my favourite part, which probably tells you everything about me you need to know.

But reading this news about Sweethearts and their impact on February 14 got me thinking about romance and love. Like a candy business, it’s difficult to keep the spark alive beyond the early infatuation stage. Enthusiasm runs fast and deep in the beginning but wanes as we negotiate the obstacles of building something more durable. Maintaining a relationship, one that matters and that brings you joy most of the time, can be a challenging job that requires both endurance and a sense of humour.

You don’t make it past the first year without learning something unpleasant about your beloved and about yourself. And you’ll never make it past the first decade (and beyond) if you define love as permanent bliss, and commitment as an automatic byproduct of simply hanging around and hanging on.

Not long ago, I watched an interview with a couple, about how to keep love alive. She was 87, he was 92, and they had been married 66 years at the time. During those years they had weathered a war, a long separation, several children, health problems, and the time demands of a business. In the video they held hands, a detail I readily noted. But they also needled each other and rolled their eyes when one or the other got an anecdote wrong or said something cheeky. True love, in other words, is not blind, but it is very forgiving.

They still fought, they admitted, and he had not made any more peace with her annoying habit of always being late, as she had with his annoying habit of always being messy. But as they both said a few different times, “You learn to compromise.”

On Valentine’s Day, we don’t celebrate compromise, we celebrate infatuation and hormones. We don’t usually honour the accommodations and understanding required to sustain a meaningful union, probably because it doesn’t have the same ring on greeting cards. As far as I’m concerned, though, the road from head-over-heels to how-are-we-going-to-make-this-work deserves to be the true focus of any holiday of love.

So in the spirit of Valentine’s Day and in an effort to help the new owners of Sweetheart, I propose a few updated slogans for the candy hearts: “Give and Take,” “Sorry About Dinner,” “Agree To Disagree,” and “You’ve Lost Weight.”