Valentine’s Day has always been commercialized as a day for couples. Whether they stay together or not, couples have this day to celebrate their love for each other with flowers, candy hearts, cute stuffed animals, and fancy dinners. Sure, people can protest all they want about how Valentine’s Day should be a day for all kinds of love, which I don’t deny or disagree with. But why do we need a Valentine’s Day at all when it causes more heartache than heart flutters? A holiday initially inspired by the Roman festival of Lupercalia, and the actions of a priest named Valentine, has now become a twisted, manipulated, and modernized celebration of superficial love that certain people can now reap benefits from. People are always in the business of making money, and if people can take a pure and innocent emotion and corrupt it with the promise of green hundred dollar bills, they will.
Valentine’s Day is a stressful day for everyone. From people who are single, florists, chocolatiers, mail carriers, merchandise store workers, teachers, parents, third graders, couples, etc. Yes, even for the couples who the holiday was designed for. When you are in a relationship, you create expectations of your significant other. Within the relationship, you may expect him or her to listen to you vent about your day at work, take the trash out before bed, or to pay each time you see a movie. These expectations are both healthy and reasonable standards we want our partners to live up to. The completion of these day to day tasks illustrate how reliable and trustworthy they are when it comes to our assessment of finding someone we can and want to share our life with. Now, imagine the daily pressure of these tasks being packed into one day: Valentine’s Day. I remember sitting on the hard, blue mattress of my college dorm bed, crushed because my first long term boyfriend had forgotten to get me anything for Valentine’s Day. I remember being asked by my ninth grade students last year if my boyfriend and I were doing anything for Valentine’s Day, after having made the decision to take a break in our relationship the night before. It took everything in me not to collapse and to disappear into a puddle of tears in front of my wide-eyed, hopeful, and lovestruck teenagers. William Shakespeare said that “expectation is the root of all heartache.” And Valentine’s Day has always been a day of disappointment for me no matter what sort of relationship I’ve been in. Even though the guys I’ve dated haven’t been ideal matches, I know that the problem isn’t them. It is society’s attitude toward the holiday.
Generally speaking, most (but, not all) women tend to expect a lot on Valentine’s Day. This could come from the evolutionary need to feel cared for and protected by their mate and being given a tangible thing on a day (that has always been regarded as special) is a way for women to feel cared for. I think most men, on the other hand, view Valentine’s Day as more of a chore or a responsibility that they have to live up to. It’s a day where they feel that they have to purchase extravagant gifts, take their partner out to an expensive dinner, and surprise their lover through a laborious day of exhaustive planning. All because they are the provider and the protector in the relationship. If men don’t live up to the impossible demands of this critical day in the eyes of their partner, the relationship immediately feels less than what it was in the hearts of women. In the blink of an eye, all trust, hope, and desire is lost in the relationship because the woman’s emotions no longer feel cared for, while she painfully compares the image of her relationship to her friend Jenny’s relationship (who received a dozen roses and was swept off to a Caribbean beach for her Valentine’s Day). In today’s day and age, we (both men and women) put a lot of stock into one holiday that causes more pain than pleasure for both parties. Love shouldn’t be rooted in anxiety, obligation, and insecurity. That’s why people break up. That’s why some kinds of love never grow. Love only grows stronger when two people are passionate, compassionate, and secure enough with themselves to know the true meaning of love. This kind of love doesn’t come from buying chocolates or roses on a day that society unfairly pressures couples to compare their love to others and to feel insecure about the worth of their overall love. Unfortunately, this is the message Cupid has conveyed to many couples on Valentine’s Day for decades, and it creates more friction between two hearts than bridges.
On the other hand, Valentine’s Day, or Singles Awareness Day, often makes people who are single feel lonely and unimportant on this day. Why? Because Valentine’s Day is marketed primarily as a day for couples. You’re single? Oh, too bad. I guess you can’t join in on this luxurious day full of love, affection, candy, teddy bears, kisses, and cuddles. Single people on Valentine’s Day often feel like dogs left outside in the pouring rain while their owners are happily dancing, sipping wine, and having a good time within the confines of their cozy home. Valentine’s Day is an all couples club house with a sign attached to the front door: No singles allowed. We feel singled out. And because the hype of Valentine’s Day revolves around being showered by love in the form of gifts and outings, single people dread Valentine’s Day before it even begins because they know their dog slobbering all over their cheek after eating poop in the backyard is the only kind of kiss they’ll get. I have spent countless Valentine’s Day feeling this way (minus the whole poop slobbering bit). I sit on the couch eating an entire bag of Baked Sour Cream and Onion Chips wondering why I’m still single, and occasionally asking the question, “What the hell is wrong with me?” Why aren’t I in a relationship and why do I feel like there is a void in my life because I’m not in one?
Because, on Valentine’s Day, it makes me more aware of the fact that I am 24 years old and I am single. And it is only on Valentine’s Day that I feel like less of a person because I have not found my partner in crime, my travel buddy, my soul mate, the one, what have you. Every other day of the year, I don’t think about it as much because I’m not inundated with images of couples being cute and flirty together on Instagram, nor do I walk to the store and feel overwhelmed by all the handsome fellas buying jewelry, cards, and flowers for their lovers. I don’t enviously stare at the lovestruck teenagers strolling through the aisles hand in hand, gazing into each other’s eyes like they are each other’s forever. On every other day of the year, I accept my solitude and I see it as more of a blessing than a curse. I see the other 364 days of the year as an opportunity to see the beauty and to embrace the truly magical moments of being single. The moments where I can wear sweatpants, drink tea, and read a book while under the covers of my own bed. The moments where I can spontaneously agree to a week long adventure in Finland with a girl pal for April break, without having to confer with anyone beforehand. The moments where I can be silly, boring, brilliant, creative, interesting, unattractive, clumsy, and wholeheartedly me without the possible judgment of another weighing on me. But on Valentine’s Day, I want to curl up in a ball and enshroud myself beneath a blanket from dusk to dawn. It is a day full of doubt and uncertainty, causing me to question if I should have given Gary another chance even though he smells like tuna and forgot my birthday (after having reminded him the day before). Yes, this wonderous celebration of love makes me wonder if I should settle for a half-assed tuna and forgotten birthday kind of love rather than wait for a love so fierce that it will erupt from the bottom up like a volcano and tear through me like a hurricane, all at once.
With Valentine’s Day coming up in the next few days, I’ve given a lot of thought to how I want to spend this particular one, and how I want to approach this holiday in the future. I don’t want to sit on the couch eating a bag of chips and feeling worthless for not being in a relationship. This Valentine’s Day, I want to try and take part in as many acts of kindness as I can. Whether it’s paying for someone’s coffee behind me in line, giving someone a hug in need of one, or taking more time out of my day to play fetch with my dog. I want to show as many people (and animals) as I can that they matter, that they are appreciated, and that they are loved. Today, I started a yearly Valentine’s Day tradition of sending an arrangement of flowers to a friend as a little act of love, kindness, and appreciation for being the wonderful friend that they are. In the end, Valentine’s Day should not be about being in a relationship and lavishing loved ones with gifts. It should be about taking time out of your day to spend fleeting moments with them. But this brings me back to my initial point and question. Why have a Valentine’s Day at all when we should be taking the time out of each day to spend with loved ones anyway?
I think the answer lies in the idea that our lives tend to feel busy. From working, to exercising, to eating, to sleeping, to errands, and to other mundane tasks we fill our lives with, we often forget, take for granted, and underappreciate the people that make our lives feel more bearable and beautiful. Living is a difficult thing, and the connections we have with people make us feel less lonely and isolated. Here’s a question for you: Have you ever looked up at the sky and realized just how infinite the universe is? Well, I have. And let me tell you, it can make you feel pretty insignificant when you think about everything else beyond yourself. But when I think about all of the people that love me and care about my wellbeing, I feel as immense and luminous as the moon. Suddenly, the world doesn’t feel so big, so isolating, and so daunting. It’s funny how a feeling can change your perception on the world, and the connections we make with people are what drive us to keep pursuing our dreams, our passions, our goals, and to keep living.
So this Valentine’s Day, whether you are single or in a relationship, really think about what love means to you and how you want to express your love for others in meaningful ways. If it’s going old school and making a homemade card for your boyfriend or girlfriend, then do it. If it’s having brunch with your mother and clinking glasses over mimosas, then do it. If it’s sending a small arrangement of flowers to a single friend’s doorstep, then do it. No matter what it is, make it meaningful. Don’t do it out of a feeling of obligation or anxiety because you’re afraid you’re girlfriend or boyfriend might break up with you because you didn’t buy them diamond earrings or didn’t remember to take you out to a fancy dinner. The fact that you are having those feelings is a huge red flag that the person you are devoting your time and energy to is someone that loves the idea of you and what you can offer, but isn’t truly in love with you.
According to the Beatles, “All you need is love.” And more often than not, the fiercest kinds of love begin and grow stronger by remembering the little things, by five hour conversations about nothing and everything, by tender touches, by soft “I love you” whispers, by little handwritten notes next to a mug filled with coffee made just the way you like it, by quick kisses snuck between goofy grins and behind empty aisles, by showing up at a friend’s door when they are deep in turmoil, by caressing your grandmother’s hand in her hospital room, whispering to her, “I love you and it’s okay to let go,” as you feel the warmth leave her hand, by spending two hours at the park with your dog and putting your dog’s need to run and play above your task to complete the piles of grading you have to get done by Monday, and by the way your eyes lock onto an individual in an effort to selflessly give them your undivided attention to their issues and needs in that moment. Everyone in the world wants to feel important, and the only way we’ll ever feel as significant as we want to feel is if we are willing to put in the same quality and quantity of time to make others feel just as worthy of love and attention. This year, make Valentine’s Day a day where you remember and showcase your love for others in a world where it is easy to forget how important the people you love are to you.