The Strange Case of the Day of Love
Valentine’s Day should not have survived for as long as it has. And I am saying this as a longtime fan of the holiday, but it is true. In this cynical, angry, broke, burnt-out age of #metoo, trans rights, late capitalist critiques, cancel culture, and the death of facts, why has a holiday that idealizes heteronormativity, pre-app (maybe even pre-internet) rules of courtship and dating, and revels in all-too-obvious corporate influence and advertising–how has this weird, weird holiday that uses the name of a Catholic saint yet is utterly divorced from any religious traditions still lingered on into 2020?
Yes, that’s right, reviled. The holiday of love is ironically the most hated holiday. Single people hate it, couples hate it, married people hate it, . Along with birthdays and anniversaries it’s another day to remember if you have a partner. If you’re newly dating it puts awkward pressure to be “romantic”. If you’re single you feel shamed by society for not being in a monogamous relationship (with the onus of that shame falling conspicuously on women) and if you are a member of the LGBTQ+ community, you feel forced into performing a particularly perverse form of heteronormativity. And if you do perchance happen to actually like Valentine’s, you have to inevitably couch your fandom in irony and self-deprecation “I don’t really like Valentine’s Day, just eating chocolate and drinking champagne alone lolz.”
Romance and its Discontents
I maintain that it doesn’t have to be this way. I grew up exchanging fun bags of gifts with my parents on Valentine’s Day and going out to brunch and a movie with my grandmother. In high school my best friend and I gave each other silly gifts and Kinder eggs. In college a group of friends would split a couple bottles of wine and a chocolate cake and talk about life. All of these memories were really fun, and they made me love Valentine’s Day despite all the haters. However, there is a thread between these activities that I have detected: none of these activities are connected to “romance”. Love, yes–but I think the key to reclaiming V-day is in decoupling it from romance entirely.
“Romance” as a concept has always been awful, even going back to its origins in chivalrous romances and courtly love poetry. It was always about imposing unrealistic expectations that no one ever liked but had to do because all the cool kids appeared to be doing it. At its least problematic level, “romance” forces you into doing unnaturally lame things like buying flowers for people that don’t even own vases and composing bad poetry. In its mid-level form it forces you to bend to unreasonable standards of class, gender, and sexuality. And at its most nefarious it justifies some very bad and very toxic behavior.
Lean Into Love
To reclaim Valentine’s Day we have to refocus and recenter it on “Love”. “Love” is silly and doesn’t care which karat that diamond ring is. “Love” doesn’t need to make a reservation at a fancy restaurant because it doesn’t need a reservation to hold hands in a park. “Love” is time, not money, “Love” is action, not status.
And love can be found with many people. “Romance” tries to convince everyone that the only love worth having and keeping is romantic love. You don’t need friends, you don’t need family, you don’t need community. Because you’ve got your one true love, your soulmate, who you were meant to be with and who is there to whisk you away/save you/make you the happiest you’ve ever been. So why do you need anyone else?
Well, it turns out that you really sort of do need other people (and other real people too preferably, as we all are belatedly figuring out after having spent a decade trying to form relationships through our phones.) We need bonds that extend beyond our immediate homes or partners. We need extended families, either ones that we are born into or ones we have created. We need relationships with our coworkers and the people we see walking down the street where we live. We need to be able to form relationships with complete strangers too. In short, we, as human, social beings need communities of love.
The Rebirth of Valentine’s Day
So while Valentine’s Day might be too trite and archaic in its interpretation of love, marriage, dating, sexuality, and corporate influence, it can still be a nice day to simply appreciate all the wonderful people around you. Reclaim Valentine’s Day for yourself and the relationships that give you meaning, regardless of whether they are romantic/sexual or not. Love is not sold in stores, packaged in boxes, or seen on TV. It’s certainly not found in one box of chocolates or one romantic dinner date, no matter how expensive and charming. Love is the accumulated actions performed and time spent with another person. So take your best friend out to dinner, or treat your grandmother to a movie. Or have a heart-to-heart with a sibling over the phone. Or simply go out of your way to smile at that person serving you over the counter. Love is love. And we sometimes forget that it is all around us.
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