Originally published February 14th, 2023.
Hallmark commercials, overpriced red roses, and blood diamonds for days. Our ideas of Valentine's Day are intricately linked to a capitalistic view of what love is. Like most holidays in Western society you have the Christian/Catholic story layered over the previously celebrated Pagan tradition. Valentine's Day is no different. Taking the celebration of Lupercalia, removing the ritual sacrifices, random picking of a sex partner from a jar of names, and public flogging of women by naked men -some of these traditions are still practiced privately today by followers of Lupercal- and tossing in the supposed patron saint of heteronormative romantic love with sprinkles from the rising greeting card industry (thanks to low postage cost) and you have the foundation for what we experience today.
There have always been haters of V-Day. From those who saw (and still see) its connection to Lupercal as godless hedonism to a crop of mostly white third-wave feminists who saw it as another tool of the patriarchy to keep women focused on things other than equality and equity. There's always someone willing to shade Valentine's Day celebrations. Even I toyed with tasting the nectar of anti-Valentine's Day sentiments for a while. It would be easy to say my anti-Valentine's Day sentiments were a result of coming into my identity as a woman and seeing the harm of Valentine's Day, but that would be a lie. It's over-commercialized, like most major holidays in our society, and we should look objectively at the way capitalism is equating love with spending money and the long-term effects it has on our ability to build meaningful relationships, but that doesn't mean we have to throw the arrow toting baby out with the bath water.
At the beginning of my journey through adulthood, I was apathetic and at times hostile toward Valentine's Day not because I didn't see the beauty in a holiday dedicated to love, because I did, no my disdain was rooted in my own longing that was going unmet. A longing to be showered with love, and to shower someone else as well, for no other reason than it was February 14th. After my divorce, while I was firmly in my "I can buy my own flowers" era of hyper-independence I took time to reflect on various traditions -which ones I wanted to toss away and which ones I wanted to get better at adhering to -, and Valentine's Day was at the top of the list of traditions that needed further examining.
My experiences with Valentine's Day go way back. I don't remember the first time my father bought me a red rose but I do remember when it stopped, I was in high school and dating the man that would eventually be my first husband. My father, in true narcissist form, acted like I had betrayed him and withdrew the few signs of love and affection he had shown me up to that point. Instead of teaching me what I should look for in a partner and how to establish boundaries, he taught me how to settle for less than my worth. So I did. Each and every year after that. Add the proximity of my birthday to Valentine's Day and there were many years where I was expected to be content with an all-in-one gift like a bargain basement disappointing all-in-one body wash, shampoo, and conditioner combo. Nothing ever felt authentic or meaningful, instead, the treatment of both days was rushed to check a box. Wanting to save myself the disappointment I removed the box and raged against it.
Why, do we hate Valentine's Day so strongly when our lives don't fit the cookie-cutter Disney image of romantic love? Because we've put romantic love on a pedestal and equated the lack of it with a personal failing. We sell ourselves short on all the love the world has to offer us when we only see Valentine's Day through the eyes of the perfectly posed Instagram photos and large bouquets on colleagues' desks. The reality is that Valentine's Day doesn't have to only focus on romantic love and there is absolutely nothing wrong with having a day where you shower those you love in their love language for no other reason than you're happy they exist. Sure, we should be doing this all the time. But let's be real, we're not going to. Much like we're not going to be able to maintain the spirit of Christmas all year long we aren't always going to stop and think "Maybe I should spoil my bestie today". Yes, I know there's Galentine's Day but that has always felt like a white feminist attempt to have Valentine's Day without having to commit to loving on everybody while still, conveniently, leaving themselves a pathway to celebrate Valentine's Day when the "right" partner comes along.
Valentine's Day has been placed in a box of unrealistic expectations for what it means to show up for and love on your people. Every year Valentine's Day gives us an opportunity to remind those we love and ourselves that love is powerful and it can be shown in a multitude of ways. It's saying yes to your kids playing hooky on the 14th -and joining them on the couch to watch cartoons and eat heart-shaped Fruit Loops-. It's brunch with your best friends where you remind each other that yes we can buy our own flowers and there is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting someone else to as well. It's babysitting your neighbors' kids so they can have a few hours to hear themselves and each other. It's calling extended family that you often don't make time for. It's centering your joy and pleasure. It's an opportunity to focus on the thing that makes us uniquely human, the ability to love beyond the bonds of blood and duty. It doesn't have to be a day for bitterness and rage.
It can grow into a day that centers our desire for connection, love, and understanding. We can make it more than a Hallmark ad. Any day that calls us to love one another more deeply deserves the chance to grow beyond the confines that capitalism has placed it in.
Rayven Holmes Copyright(c)2023