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Valentine’s Day; a day supposedly focused on love but is instead steeped in cynicism and criticism – admittedly, for a good reason. It has undeniably become a consumerist holiday. Shop shelves fill up with depictions of gender stereotypes pulled straight from the 1970s and heteronormative rhetoric. According to the Greetings Card Association, it is the second-largest card-sending holiday, and the typically anonymous nature of these messages can be reminiscent of the idea of romance as an unwilling pursuit.
But this is not meant to be another cynical article detailing all possible issues with the aim of removing all joy from the day. There is little need to worry about the fate of Valentine’s Day being ruined by these sentiments as it has outlived criticism since 1898, as reported by The Dundee Courier;
We have grown too matter of fact nowadays for Valentines. Sentiment has been laid aside with sewed samplers and our croquet sets, and the modern girl, with her bicycle, and her golf sticks, and her independence, has herself rung the death knell of poor St Valentine.The Dundee Courier
If those girls with their radical ‘independence’ couldn’t rid the world of Valentines centuries ago as they did sewing samples, it is doubtful today’s feminists and activists will be able to ruin it for you. Not that this stops these worries – with commentators stating that the #MeToo movement was taking the fun out of Valentines Day. My own opinion lies with that of Jaclyn Friedman with her clear and definitive response; ‘The only people for whom #MeToo is making the world less sexy are abusive men and their enablers.’
One thing that arguably is upsetting about Valentine’s is the loss of the history surrounding it – most dismissing it as a vague Christian holiday appropriated by capitalism. There are reports of exchanged Valentine’s gifts being as early as the 17th century. It is generally agreed that the story behind the holiday is that of a Roman priest who secretly performed marriage ceremonies while it was against the law. Sentenced to death for this, he fell in love with his jailer’s blind daughter and wrote her a sonnet before his death, which legend says restored her sight. And the sonnet? It was signed, ‘from your Valentine.’
While largely a fictitious account, it highlights the best elements of Valentine’s Day. It is meant to be a day of celebrating love and allowing couples to express their gratitude towards one another. Yes, this should be valued every day of the year, but we all use singular days to show our appreciation in a special way – why else would we celebrate anniversaries and birthdays? In a society where independence often leans towards isolation, and unhealthy, unbalanced relationships seem to be almost a rite of passage, people could use the opportunity to express their love for those around them freely. While Valentine’s Day acts often tend towards performativity, with equal marriage bills passing in countries all over the world, it is also a way of allowing couples often pushed into the shadows an excuse to show off their love proudly.
The only element of that story I would question is the suggestion that love can cure all the problems in someone’s life – even blindness. This is problematic not in the least because of people who have no desire for a romantic partner – either on the aro/ace spectrum or situationally, cementing the false rhetoric that one’s life is incomplete without a partner to share it with. It is no secret that Valentine’s Day can be a bitter and isolating affair for those who do crave a romantic relationship but aren’t in one.
This sentiment has been combatted almost aggressively with what was intended as an empowering movement and turned into yet another opportunity for profit – ‘Galentine’s’ Day. It’s healthy to be reminded that both self-love and platonic love are just as valid and important to us as romantic love is and I wouldn’t criticize anything designed to encourage us to express love for one another. Yes, spend time with friends and treat yourself – even if you genuinely are happy for others, loneliness seems to get free reign on Valentine’s. Still, I have to admit that the way these ideas are suddenly everywhere on a day originally meant for couples gets a little stifling.
It is how self-love is advertised and seen as a substitute for a romantic partner that leaves a sour taste. It seems as if it is presented as a stepping stone or crutch that you deal with until you find someone to fulfil the role of loving you and self-love is no longer necessary. Self-love is not something that should be discarded – this leaves someone entirely dependent on another for their self-worth and happiness, leading to an unhealthy reliance on the partner. This not only puts a lot of pressure on loved ones but can be a factor in why people stay in damaging relationships. Instead, self-love is something to be cultivated and maintained no matter what your relationship status.
An increase in self-love and a wider acknowledgement of the validity of platonic love is guaranteed to improve your Valentine’s day, whether you’re ‘alone,’ or are celebrating with someone special. Not to mention having the restraint not to spend your entire month’s budget on tacky but somehow compelling Valentine’s merchandise that will end up in the bin. Wait with the rest of us and cash in on the discount chocolate.
So yes, Valentine’s day is probably a soulless, consumer-driven, corrupted capitalist holiday built to extort you. It is undoubtedly riddled with problematic elements. It also happens to be focused on love – something that seems to always be in shortage, despite that, unlike St Valentine, we won’t be executed for it. It’s not always a bad thing to put on your rose-tinted glasses, shed your cynicism and revel in the love that can be found around you in all its many forms. Remind someone that you love them, express your love for yourself. After all, it’s only one day.