People often say that Valentine’s Day is a “made up holiday”, as though there are natural holidays. Or they’ll say that it’s a commercial holiday, as though there is any holiday that has escaped commercialization.
I do, however, regret the extent to which the holiday has become so focused on romantic love. While I can hardly think of anything more worthy of celebration than love, romantic love is intensely problematic. It is elusive, it is exclusive in so far as it is a privilege that people use as a weapon against those without it, it is a popular impetus for frauds, and in spite of our idealized understanding of it, it seems so brittle so much of the time. And we do the holiday a further disservice when we go one step further than making it all about romantic love, and make it just about romance, no matter how superficial and unserious.
I don’t think that any of those are sufficient reason for why romantic love shouldn’t be part of the celebration, but I think focusing on romantic love makes the holiday particularly vulnerable to cynicism. One can hardly blame people for not wanting to celebrate love when love has been used against them as a weapon.
And yet, love is what gets me out of bed in the morning. Love for my family, unrequited love, love for my husband, my husband’s love for me, love for my community, love for friends, love of travel, the love I feel for people I don’t know but who inspire me. I’m all for celebrating a day of thanksgiving, but on that day the biggest thing I’m always grateful for is love. Even in its capacity to inspire incredible pain and heartache, it’s life affirming to be able to be moved by such strong feelings.
I’d like to see Valentine’s Day used as an opportunity to reflect on love. To talk openly as a society about how love, both out positive and negative experiences, have shaped us. How our parents’ love sustains us, how the absence of a parents’ love influences our current relationships, how it feels to be loved unconditionally, and how it feels for love to be used as a cover for abuse. I think we’d be healthier as a society if we talked about love as a concept, not just in the form of anecdotes and consequences. If we could sit around with loved ones on Valentine’s Day, and talk about love the way we talk about gratitude on thanksgiving or how we talk about people on their birthdays or how we talk about our goals on New Years. Maybe then we’d have fewer people proclaiming love on the Bachelor on their first date, and maybe we’d have fewer people saying that love drove them to be adulterous or to commit a crime. Maybe we as a society would be more willing to properly label the motives behind those things, and thereby more effectively address the root issues.
I’m going to celebrate Valentine’s Day by wearing all-pink business attire to work, by telling my family how much I appreciate them, then having a nice homemade dinner at home with my husband, telling my husband how much I appreciate him, and finally eating a heart-shaped cake. And Valentine’s Day will have fulfilled its purpose for me: reminding me to show love and appreciation to the people in my life, reminding me to take time to stop and quality time with my loved ones, and making me think: about what love means to me, how I treat the people I love, how the people who claim to love me treat me, how love has shaped me, and how I can do better going forward in the name of love. All without any commercial intervention.
Posted in: Love