This was originally posted on my Medium profile on February 14, 2017.
I used to hate Valentine’s Day with an all-consuming passion. Before that, I adored it.
In my childhood, Valentine’s Day was great. It was my half-birthday (approximately 6 months from my actual birthday) so my parents (well, mom mostly) made a big deal of it and how I was their Valentine. It was about celebrating family love.
I got a little older, and my best friend’s little brother would ask me if I was his Valentine every year — and I would say “Yes, of course I am!” because he was a sweet kid.
I got a little older, and the teacher had to order the other students to give me valentines so my envelope wouldn’t be empty.
I got a little older, and I realized that not only did no one else give a shit it was my half-birthday, no one even knew what a half-birthday was. Apparently it had been made up by my crazy family.
I got a little older, and Valentine’s became a day for the girls in high school to show off how much their boyfriends were willing to spend on them. You couldn’t navigate the halls for all the balloons and stuffed animals milling around with their owners.
I got a little older, and Valentine’s became all about romantic or sexual love, and thus not for me, because I was a hideous monster.
I got a little older, and my boyfriend told me he cheated on me and then dumped me on February 13th.
I gave up on Valentine’s Day. It was a shitty day and I hated it and I hated everyone around it and I just hated everyone.
Enter Mr. Katje, the guy who is now my husband, the guy I call Hagrid because if I am a hideous monster I’m one that he loves. On our first Valentine’s Day he gave me a bouquet of roses — my actual favourite flower — completely unbidden. I wasn’t expecting anything because years of experience had told me the day didn’t matter; I didn’t matter.
As our relationship progressed he’s not gone all out like that again, but that’s mainly because we’re broke and roses are fucking expensive. He still remembers to wish me a Happy Valentine’s, and let me know that I am loved.
I’ve finally come around to not hating Valentine’s Day, but that doesn’t mean the way we act around it as a society isn’t damaging to people. There’s a reason this time of year can be so tough on people, and it’s not one hundred per cent applicable to S.A.D. There’s a reason I never met my husband’s friend from the States, a reason this time of year is bittersweet for Mr. Katje.
I used to be in the camp of “Bah humbug, fuck this holiday anyway, it’s all consumerist garbage,” and somehow I thought this was actual resistance against the horribleness of the day. But it wasn’t. It didn’t change anything, just contributed to me being miserable.
We’re not going to get Valentine’s Day to go away just by pretending it doesn’t exist or ranting on Facebook about how it’s consumeristic garbage. Things don’t actually work that way.
But we can work to change the holiday.
Right now the problem with Valentine’s Day is the focus on romanto-sexual love, the ideal of having a relationship like that as being The Goal for people, and the idea that it’s a day exclusively for couples.
Well, no. Couples, you have a day exclusively for yourself. It’s called your anniversary. If it’s important to you to have a day that’s set aside for just you and your relationship, then that’s it.
(If you’re in poly relationships and you want a day to celebrate all those relationships, then Valentine’s Day is as good a day as any. But if we’re talking two people in a monogamous relationship, y’all have an anniversary.)
Valentine’s should be about love. All types of love.
The history of Valentine’s doesn’t matter at this point. It was a feast day for a saint (or possibly more than one) about whom very little is actually known, except somehow he became associated with the idea of courtly love. Before that, this time of year held a pastoral purification festival for the Romans and possibly people before them (often called a “sex festival” by modern pagans, but that’s not really the full story). Which is all interesting, but at this point has little actual bearing on what the day has become: ostensibly, a day to celebrate love.
Except that that “love” often gets defined as romanto-sexual, monogamous, and often heterosexual (though that is slowly changing).
We need to expand our view on love.
Romanto-sexual love isn’t only monogamous or heterosexual, and love itself isn’t restricted to romanto-sexual love. It’s not a noun, it’s a verb, and there are so many kinds of it out there. We need to stop assuming that being in a relationship is the goal for everyone — some people choose to be single, and that needs to be respected.
(I would have chosen to remain single if I hadn’t met Mr. Katje. I like being married to him more than I like being single, though.)
This idea has been within me for a while, but the words didn’t really occur to me until last night, when I was searching for a funny, fandom-related valentine to post on my best friend’s wall and I had to sift through approximately a million ones that were so sexual I found them gross. Me, queen of inappropriate jokes and flirting and sexual innuendo.
I finally found one that was Gollum holding a candy heart saying “Be my Precious”, which is great for us on multiple levels (so many inside jokes from our teen years), but the search was frustrating. I wanted to find something silly and fandom-related and for FRIENDSHIP, not “lol it’s Valentine’s, let’s bone”.
Because this is the way I resist the shitty side of Valentine’s now: I actively display my love for more people than just my husband. (He knows I love him anyway; I only tell him a million times a fucking day.) I celebrate the platonic love I have with my friends, the familial love I have for my mom and my bonus-mom, the protective love I have for non-human animals, the messy complicated love I have for my fellow humans. The adoration I have for books, and coffee. The love that galvanizes me into activism, into action.
I tell my friends I love them. I share silly valentines on their walls. I post FB stickers with hearts and animals hugging. I let them know they are valued by me. Little by little, I chip away at the assumption this day is for couples only.
Because it shouldn’t be. It should be for all forms of love, and the only way we’re going to make it that way is if we actively work to change it.
Skype your best friend. Visit a friend who might be alone today. If you have family and you love them, tell them that. (I don’t presume that everyone has family members they love.) Give your fur friend a hug. Go on a march, because “justice is what love looks like in public.” (Cornel West.) Volunteer at a soup kitchen or the food bank.
It’s okay to say “I love you” to friends.
If you have serious issues around those words, you can express your love in other ways. (I can count on one hand the times my husband has actually said he loves me, but I’ve never doubted that he does, because his actions scream it.) It’s okay to express your platonic love to friends. Today, tomorrow, any day.
If you’re in a relationship, stop going insular on this day. Pay attention to your friends. Especially ones who might be hurting or find this day painful to get through. Let them know you love them. Let them know they are valued. (If your partner has a problem with you expressing platonic love to your friends on this day or any other, there are some issues you guys need to work out.) Cook them a meal or send them a card or give them a hug.
And if you have kids, talk to them about the many different types of love. Encourage empathy. Get them to consider the feelings of the kid in class that no one likes, on whose behalf the teacher has to intervene so they don’t have an empty Valentine’s envelope. Tell them that Valentine’s can be hard on people, and that it’s up to us to make it a little easier on them, to make the future a little brighter. If we want a better world, we need to raise the next generation to do better than we have.
Let’s work on making this day better for everyone. Let’s celebrate love and have empathy for our fellow human beings.
Happy Valentine’s Day.