I am just going to come out and admit it right now- I am the Scrooge of Valentine’s Day. I am to the courtly lovers of February 14th what the Grinch was to Whoville on December 25th. Which is not to say that I do not appreciate the notion of love. Oh I love me some love alright. It’s the holiday that’s been built up around it that I cannot abide. And more of you are with me on this one than most of us realize.
And before you go chastising my lack of veneration for the spirit of Valentine’s Day, let me just remind you that Saint Valentine, for whom the holiday is named, was a Catholic saint put to death on this date back in 269 A.D. when Christianity was still prohibited in the midst of the Roman Empire. So yeah, that’s kind of fucked up. Not only are we celebrating romantic love in the honor of a dude who never had a partner, we are doing so on the very day he was whacked by the Romans for his religious beliefs. Ah, nothing says true love like a virgin corpse.
But really my skepticism of the unholy vestiges of Valentine’s Day comes more in the form of our underlying understandings of love itself. Ironically, Valentine’s Day can lead to feelings of isolation and ostracization for the roughly 38% of adults over 30 who define themselves as single. Sure, many of these folks will tell you how happy they are not being in a committed relationship, and some of them will even believe it, but suicide rates and and other happiness data suggest a marked discrepancy in the degree of fulfillment many feel in their daily lives when with a partner versus those without. Especially for those folks who would like to find a partner but have not found “the one”, or those just coming out of an agonizing divorce or separation, Valentine’s Day can serve as a painful reminder of what they know others have, but they do not.
And let’s also not forget that Valentine’s Day has largely been a celebration of heterosexual romanticism. But it has been gay couples who have had to hide away in the shadows or share the martyrdom of Saint Valentine as both were persecuted simply for being who they were. We can say that Valentine’s Day is a celebration of love, but is it really a celebration of ALL love, and that lies at the heart of what I am getting at here.
Love itself is truly beautiful- the precious gift of divinity wrapped in the delicate adornments of our shared humanity. It is both the essence and purpose of our existence. So excuse me for thinking that maybe we shouldn’t cheapen it in the desolate commercialism of yet another profit-driven holiday. Maybe I think love should mean just a bit more than the obligation of giving Hallmark $5.99 to say what I should find the guts to say myself.
In the United States alone, 190 million Valentine’s Day cards are sent each year, and that does not even begin to include the hundreds of millions more delivered at elementary schools throughout the country, largely as the tormented, unrequited expressions of puppy dog crushes that girls giggle at with their friends (in fairness, much of that last line may be directly attributable to personal experience). In 2021, total expenditures for Valentine’s Day in the United States topped over $21.8 billion, or just under $165 per person. This is the day flower shops live for, and restaurants will often cash in through raising prices by way of a special “Price Fixe” menu, which is really just code speak for, “We’re going to mass produce three main menu items and charge you all double.” But we all do it, don’t we? If you’re in a committed relationship, you know the drill. You take your partner out to dinner. You buy them flowers and candy. Why? A sense of obligation, that’s why. Maybe the single people out there have it right, after all.
The spiraling expectations driven by profits fuel the entire Valentine’s Day enterprise. You know that if you don’t at least get your partner a card and some chocolates, you’re screwed (or not screwed as the case may be). You will be told that you aren’t romantic and don’t really love them. I mean, relationships have ended over things like this, people. And so you walk into the grocery store on February 14th and see the long line of dudes waiting with flowers and a card in the self-checkout line, just so they can keep the peace at home that night. But what kind of love is that? Obligation isn’t love, it’s resignation.
Love comes in many shapes and sizes, and the forms it takes are rarely what we expected. Yes, the romantic love forged through partnership and intimacy can be overwhelming blissful and fulfilling, but so too can the love be for our children, our parents, our friends, our neighbors. Love is different for each and every person, but one thing I do know about love is that it is only truly love when it is freely given. It does not come in the form of the box of candy you bought on your way home from work. It is not the card you remembered to get at the last minute. If you had to say “Oh shit…” right before you made that purchase, that ain’t love, my friend, it’s obligation. Dig deeper and find the real love inside you and express that loud and clear to the ones around you. Be it your partner, child, parent, or friend- tell them with your words, not those of some dude who works at Hallmark. Wake up on Feb. 13th and pull them to you and say, “I am not going to give you anything tomorrow because I am going to give you every drop of love in my soul today.” And then they will know you truly love them.
Steven Craig is the author of the best-selling novel WAITING FOR TODAY, as well as numerous published poems, short stories, and dramatic works. Read his blog TRUTH: In 1000 Words or Less every THURSDAY at www.waitingfortoday.com