February 10, 2015


Island Living:
Why I hate Valentine’s Day


By JOY CRIST



I hate Valentine's Day.

And I’m a newlywed who’s in the intoxicating throes of exciting young love. (OK, it’s actually the throes of laid-back, middle-aged love, but still.)

In fact, Valentine’s Day has always been one of my least favorite holidays, where I would traditionally watch as all of my excited colleagues got flowers delivered to their desks, while I jealously looked on in my intentionally all-black work outfit. After work, I’d drink beer while fishing or bowling with other single friends -- which is literally the most un-Valentine's thing you can do -- or head home and watch a documentary, horror movie, or "Deadliest Catch" marathon.

Once I was finally attached, I still wasn’t that big a Valentine’s Day fan, because there’s this unspoken and universal assumption that, as a woman, you’re supposed to make yourself look sexy -- or at least presentable -- and go cook something awesome for your loved one. I don’t know about you, but I am absolutely horrible at both of these things.

I married well because Mr. Smith is completely fine with my preferred and time-tested way to spend this romantic holiday – which is, of course, bowling and/or fishing.

But the more I think about it, the more I wonder if my distaste of the holiday is somewhat misplaced, especially on Hatteras Island where the environmental conditions for ogling, flirting, and even love are arguably at their best.

Whether you’re single, attached, or even an old married crazy lady like myself, Hatteras Island really does have a suite of benefits for a coastal romantic.

So as we approach this polarizing holiday, take a moment to appreciate the following great things about Hatteras Island that add a little amour to every resident’s life, regardless of relationship status.

I never paid attention to these fantastic island attributes at the time, but if I had, perhaps I would have had a better Valentine’s Day than chugging brews in an old, black rock-band T-shirt. (Not that I didn’t have a great time doing this. Ever.)

And let’s start with a bang, with one of the best aspects of the local Outer Banks scenery, which is…

SURFERS

I have to preface this by sharing my very favorite joke, which was told to me by a local lady who married the surfer love of her life:

“What do you call a Carolina surfer without a girlfriend?”

“Homeless.”

But all kidding aside, our incredible local surfers are dedicated, athletic, and appealingly driven.

And, by George, do they look freaking fantastic on the water!

There’s a reason why the top fashion designers in the world prefer a model with a “surfer build,” and we lucky island ladies get a free show every time we go to the beach.

Granted, it’s wintertime, so unfortunately most of the guys are going to be covered up in wetsuits -- what a horrible invention for us shameless oglers. But bear in mind that Valentine’s Day is just three months from Memorial Day, which is typically when the wetsuits come off, and the six-packs come out.

For married ladies like me, a pair of sunglasses will surely protect you from your obvious and potentially creepy ogling, allowing you to look fully engrossed in your novel while you’re subtly, but unnoticeably, checking out the goods.

Unless you do something completely stupid like admit in print that you do this. My apologies, Mr. Smith.

And, meanwhile, single ladies can get in on the action by striking up a conversation, perhaps by asking a random surfer if he’s seen a brand new Natural Art surfboard, which she won in a local surfing tournament but which was suddenly lost somehow right near where he was surfing. (Not that I’ve ever used this technique before in my single days, of course.)

In any case, Hatteras Island has one of the highest concentrations of surfers, kiteboarders, windsurfers, and fishermen on the Eastern Seaboard. This fact alone should make formerly bitter ladies like myself step back, take a big old breath of fresh salt air, and just enjoy the shoreline scenery.

GOOD TIMES AND FREE DRINKS

Back in my day -- and the use of this phrase alone is yet another indication of my old age -- Thursday nights were considered by some of my more eloquent gentlemen friends as the “Meat Market” nights.

Known locally as “Little Friday,” Thursday night is when you headed out to the bar to meet and greet with other singles, and see if there was a Chuck Woolery-approved Love Connection just waiting for you in the after-hours Hatteras Island scene.

It was kind of a blast to go out with girlfriends, chat up locals and visitors, and typically head back home with those same girlfriends while swapping stories about some of the cuter bar patrons. (See the aforementioned “Surfers” section.)

But, honestly, even if a love connection was not meant to be on that Thursday night’s episode, you usually left with a free beer or four, and a great story from a new acquaintance.

Some of my best nights, and some of my best friendships for that matter, happened while scouring the Hatteras Island singles scene. One of my good buddies -- the first time I met him, no less -- told me about the time that he hit a low-clearance bridge and thus ended his day-long career as a professional  firefighter, while another invited me over to check out his awesome collection of signed Steve Martin memorabilia, which he “borrowed” from some of his ex-bandmates.

Needless to say, I am still really good friends with both of these guys.

You make fantastic friends when you’re going out and mingling with the 3,000 or so other Hatteras residents who are cool enough to appreciate living on an island as much as you do.

And, honestly, sometimes you get lucky.

I met Mr. Smith at a local bar on a Thursday night. He was solo and doing one of those video game puzzles that are stationed at some of the Avon bars.

Being a snoop and a know-it-all, I brazenly reached over and completed a very intellectual word scramble he was working on -- the answer was NASCAR driver Rusty Wallace -- and we were living together three months later.

The point is that it’s fine to go out on the town in Hatteras Island with the expectation that you will meet someone interesting, exciting, and who will be in your life for a long time.

And if you strike up enough conversations, romantic or otherwise, you definitely will.

RIDICULOUSLY ROMANTIC  BACKDROPS THAT ARE ALSO CHEAP

Once you fall in love on Hatteras Island, you’re lucky.

And it’s not just because you get to ride off into a Pamlico Sound sunset with your beloved. It’s because you have a Pamlico sunset as a backdrop to begin with.

I can’t imagine how people in other locales, like Iowa or Nebraska -- or really anyplace that’s not sandwiched in between two massive bodies of saltwater -- find inspiring locales to set the stage for a budding romance.

And if you’re in a new relationship, or a growing relationship, or a decades-long relationship where it literally doesn’t matter if the bathroom door is open or not, Hatteras Island is the place to be.

Because on Hatteras Island, all you have to do to find a beachfront locale, pop a squat, and watch a quiet and completely beautiful ocean sunrise or sound sunset.

And if you wrap your arm around the person you love in the process, or pop open a bottle of wine, then you’ve created the perfect setting for love – and all without spending more than $6.

Case in point is in the early days of my relationship with Mr. Smith. He took me to a beautiful soundfront lot in the evening that was barricaded off by a wood piling and a rope fence.

There was a small cluster of people behind the fence admiring the view, but Mr. Smith went past the crowd, hopped over the fence, and walked briskly to the bulk-headed edge of the water.

We sat there and watched the sun set for 10 minutes, as I mentally practiced ways to ask him to move in with me.

It was much later that I finally asked him if he owned the lot, or at least a part of it, which would explain why he was able to access the site.

In response, he said “No, but I figured out that if you walk with confidence and purpose, you can do whatever you need to, even if it’s just impressing someone you want to impress with an awesome sunset.”

I think the statute of limitations for trespassing has expired by now, which is why I can share this story. But that’s when I figured out that I didn’t just want to live with this dude, I wanted to marry him.

Regardless, the thing is that when it comes to romance on Hatteras Island, you have everything you could possibly require, from the casual beachside eye candy to the perfect soundfront setting for a romantic encounter.

Really, there’s a reason why Nicholas Sparks’ attention is always focused on coastal North Carolina, and it’s because we have a population of fantastic and genuinely interesting people, a laid-back lifestyle, and a gorgeous setting that ties it all together.

And who knows? Maybe the overall romance and appeal of the island will make even the most reluctant Valentine’s Day observers like myself become converts and embrace a holiday that’s all about absolute beauty, appreciation, and love.

Nah.

Granted, it sounds lovely, but I’m sticking with Plan A this year, and am going bowling with my hubby in my black Ramones T-shirt.

Happy Valentine’s Day, Hatteras islanders!

(Joy Crist and Mr. Smith are spending this Valentine's Day at their spread in the western North Carolina mountains, though they plan to be back to Pamlico Sound sunsets one day very soon.)

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