I don’t really do Valentine’s Day. In fact, my husband and I tend to forget about it completely. (The day after, though, is our dog’s birthday, and she gets spoiled. Can’t forget that.) I know some people really enjoy having a special day to celebrate their relationships, but we just haven’t felt a particular need for one.
But my lack of affection for the holiday goes beyond that. It’s not just because the modern celebration of Valentine’s Day is marked by persistent advertisements for sparkly jewelry, mass-produced chocolates and cliched greeting cards, although that consumeristic element annoys me. And don’t get me started on all the gendered expectations around “dating” traditions, which seem to get thrown into high relief on this holiday. No, mostly it goes back to my memories of Valentine’s Day in grade school, and how much I hated it.
In the early grades, V-Day was a whole-class thing; everyone made cards for everyone, and placed them into little folded-paper “mailboxes” that we hung at the front of our desks. This wasn’t terrible, but it was awkward. I never knew what to write to anyone, and the cards I got were equally as vague. It never felt like any of the cards I got were actually written to me (and, to be fair, the ones I wrote were probably just as devoid of connection).
Later, of course, when kids were starting to pair off, Valentine’s Day at school started to take on the qualities of the romantic holiday adults celebrate. In junior high and high school, kids could buy candies or roses to have delivered to their “sweethearts” during class. I was always torn between terror that one of those deliveries would be for me — thus bringing me unwanted attention — and despair that no one would ever think of me in that way. To my memory, my first wish remained intact; I never received a Valentine’s delivery in school. But every hour of that whole day, each year, I would feel torn in half by those diverging desires.
None of this is meant to elicit sympathy; it’s not meant as a “poor, lonely me” story. It’s an illustration of the larger pattern of how I see this holiday playing out for large swathes of the population. Even as adults, people are bombarded with messages about how people are giving their loved ones gifts in a celebration of romance, and isn’t it wonderful that everyone’s so happy, and…aren’t you pathetic if you’re left out. I mean, isn’t that the flip side of seeing the holiday portrayed as if everyone is happily (and heterosexually, I might add) partnered up?
At least the public display of Valentine’s-worthiness that marked Valentine’s Day in school (I think some students even did these kinds of gift-delivery things in college, too) segues into something more private in adult life — but to me the holiday is still tinged with this worthier-than-thou feeling that leaves out so many people. And once I started to have my own romantic relationships, it never felt right for me to abandon my standing critique of Valentine’s Day and wholeheartedly embrace the gift-giving spectacle. It felt like that would be a sort of “too bad for those suckers, I’ve got mine now” attitude.
I feel the need to say at this point that I’m mainly talking about the cultural trappings of Valentine’s Day — the advertising, in particular, and practices like those I saw in school, where public displays of relationship status are encouraged in a way that (I think) is alienating to others. I don’t have a problem with anyone’s personal celebration of the holiday, or happy feelings on receiving gifts from a loved one. I like gifts, too. 🙂 But I also want to say that it can be a really crappy day for people who are feeling lonely, or who aren’t lonely but don’t fit the mainstream sexual/romantic relationship mold and are tired of having people think they should. Ultimately I just think it’s ironic that a holiday supposedly about love can feel so mean.
So a happy Tuesday to everyone who isn’t into Valentine’s, for whatever reason. And tomorrow you can celebrate my dog’s birthday instead. 🙂