Life / Sex & relationships

Valentine’s Day: From Awkward to Fabulous



Alan Shannon has written for a variety of publications, including Chicago Tribune and Sun-Times publications, Chicago’s Windy City Times, Viva, AAA Living, and several others. He prefers to write about food and travel, but for the the right price will write about anything. His favorite meal – other than his last one – was dinner with his husband and family at the tiny and traditional Corte Sconta in Venice.




During my childhood which straddled the late 60s and early 70s, Valentine’s Day was about anything but love. For me, the day meant decorating a shoebox with construction paper hearts, exchanging colorful, cartoon-themed cards with classmates, and consuming fruit punch, cream frosted cupcakes and fistfuls of Brach’s chalky, sugar-laden conversation hearts (except the ones etched with barf-inducing sentiments such as I Love You.)

During the 80s, it was no longer cool to exchange cute little valentines—even if they featured Madonna or Boy George. And my view of Valentine’s Day was dismissive. It was a holiday with festive elements, but it wasn’t for me. My other single friends and I might go to dinner (or, more likely, to a bar) where we mocked romance and the dinners promoted by restaurants.

By the end of the 80s, though, I was in my first adult relationship. With a man. And we even liked each other enough to talk about celebrating.

Gone was the mocking. Newly arrived was the awkward prospect of dining in public with the guy I was dating on the most heterosexual night of the year. Because neither of us had much money, we slipped into one of Chicago’s ethnic restaurants. These were the BYO joints that slapped a few giant red hearts on the windows and called the evening a Valentine’s Day Celebration.

It’s difficult to know who felt more awkward: the two of us or the Pakistani, Peruvian, or Indian waiters. Repressed, closeted gays that we were, we didn’t act like a couple and sat surrounded by straight couples celebrating the day.

What ensued was an awkward dance, all of us overlooking many things: we pretended not to notice that we were two men having dinner on a holiday that celebrates love, surrounded by dozens of straight couples celebrating that same holiday, and waiters and restaurant owners pretended that we were merely two (rather clueless) friends out to dinner.

The words that might best describe those days might be awkward or clueless. We—and probably most gays—weren’t quite prepared to take a table next to straight couples to celebrate Valentine’s Day and most restaurants weren’t quite sure how to handle the gays.

But what a difference a few years made. In the early 90s, restaurants in Boystown made a point of hosting Valentine’s Day dinners, inviting gay couples to celebrate the day. And flash forward to the aughts and 2014, when a growing number of us no longer think about such things.

This year we’ll be celebrating at Piccolo Sogno, an Italian spot that has gobs of atmosphere and tasty, authentic Italian food. It’s the same spot where we celebrated our civil union and where we’ve celebrated many other special occasions.

The restaurant isn’t located in Boystown and it’s not even near it. And that speaks volumes about how gays can celebrate the day a decade and a half into the millennium.

On Valentine’s Day 2014, it seems that Chicago, our country, and more and more places in the world are saying that any love is good love. In the end, as they say, love is love.

I’ll drink—and eat—to that.

sodomitically Alan and the love of his life Scott will exchange Brach’s conversation hearts today—even the super corny ones that say “I Love You.”



  1. So happy to welcome you to VillageQ, Alan. I was once Shy in Chi-town, too, and it is amazing how much things have changed. Thanks for escorting us down memory lane. Happy Valentine’s Day to you and Scott!

  2. Welcome to VQ and now I want to go to Venice. Sigh.

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