It’s pretty trendy to hate Valentine’s Day. We’ve all heard the reasons: “It’s a capitalist scam invented by greeting card companies!” and so on. Which is all well and good—trust me, I hate Valentine’s Day too. But I’m going to venture and say that my hatred for Valentine’s Day is different. Don’t get me wrong, the hearts and the glitter and the pink wrapping paper make me retch just as much as the next pompous hipster. (Why do we celebrate Valentine’s Day this way, as though it’s a tax to be levied on your relationship?) But there’s something more deeply insidious that I find despicable about the holiday.
We’ve all heard that saying, “If you can’t handle me at my worst, you don’t deserve me at my best.” Modern Valentine’s Day traditions propagate this perverse notion, and that’s why I hate the vapid rituals of the holiday.
Couples are supposed to plan things, go to dinners, give each other gifts, and single people are supposed to mourn being alone. If there are seven cardinal sins of relationships, forgetting Valentine’s Day is right up there with telling her she’s put on weight. The point is that Valentine’s Day rituals presume that everybody is deserving of special treatment. Here’s the thing: maybe we’re not.
From a very young age, in elementary schools across America, we’ve been told we’re all winners. We’ve been told that we deserve accolades for the sheer accomplishment of being ourselves. We could barely tie our shoes, and we were already being lauded for being extraordinary.
It’s not our parents’ fault for loving us too much to let us know that we were only human, but the problem is that medals for participation and indiscriminating reassurances of uniqueness bolster the illusion. If we were given a bad grade or denied a position, it was because the teacher just didn’t like us, or that the interviewer didn’t understand us.
Acceptance has become the glorified measure of success in a friendship or romantic relationship, as though your personality and quirks right at this moment are so perfect and static that all it would take to succeed in a relationship is a corresponding puzzle piece to fit seamlessly against your own. But people are people, not puzzles.
Actually, it’s kind of a sad notion—a resignation to the idea that you could never become better, a resistance to the natural change and acquisition of wisdom. What weird calculus have we been fed, in which our best is so enthralling that it balances out bad behavior? I’m not saying that your partner shouldn’t know when you’re angry or sad, or that it’s not okay to ever be in a bad mood. I’m saying that love is far more complex than Valentine’s Day now paints it to be.
The stories surrounding Saint Valentine vary—what we know is that he was persecuted by the Roman Empire for performing Christian marriages and eventually sentenced to a tripartite execution after torture: beating, stoning, then decapitation. Before his death, he healed the blind daughter of one of his Roman judges. I can’t help but admire his commitment to Christianity. I think of him bruised and hurting in his cell, yet finding the strength to perform a miracle on the daughter of one of the men who had condemned him to death.
This complexity is what I think Valentine’s Day ought to inspire. We’re twenty-somethings with a life ahead of us to ruin. It’s tempting to ignore this fact—as our parents protected us from our own faults, they also tried to protect us from the jagged edges of the world, lifted our tender bare feet over the littered broken glass of war, poverty, and disease. It’s because their love for us was so great that they couldn’t bear to see us in pain, but the truth is that love is about self-sacrifice, not about glossy cards or date-night rituals. It’s not about being entitled to jewelry or flowers just because you are. These things don’t make happiness. It’s about committing your full person to becoming better.
This Valentine’s Day, perhaps it’s time to reconsider whether your best is truly a good balance to your worst, whether you’ve truly thrown all your efforts toward being giving with your time and energy to the people who are important to you. After all, your heart is not candy, falsely sweet and melting away on the tongue—it is a muscle that pumps life to the very edges of your body. It’s a muscle that grows.
all this piece accomplished was shaming single people further, so…
be proud of that. I guess.