A long time ago, I liked Valentine’s Day.
Back in kindergarten and grade school, Valentine’s Day was a fun opportunity to tell everyone we knew how much we liked them. We spent hours making valentines for schoolmates, teachers, family members, even pets. All topped off with the little sugar valentine hearts and copious amounts of glitter.
But then, in high school, the import of Valentine’s Day started to shift; it became about “having” or “not having” a sweetheart. The winners, and the losers.
As I grew older, Valentine’s Day became even further tainted for me by commercialism. “If he really cares, he’ll buy you this,” ads seem to say cheerily. Disappointment in the day seemed inevitable: an expensive “date night” could rarely live up to expectations, but not having expectations at all felt defeatist. To my partner’s chagrin, my preference was to opt out entirely. “No flowers!” I’d declare stonily, “they just…wither…and die.”
This year was my first Valentine’s Day as a single gal in over a decade. Given my grim resistance to the holiday, you’d think that I’d feel relieved. But rather than feeling liberated, I found myself hypocritically nostalgic. To top off my loneliness, a last minute cold knocked me out of my usual teaching schedule, so I was on my own, without plans, and under the weather. So there I was at 7 pm on February 14th, trudging around Whole Foods, sniffling pathetically, wondering if I’d reached a new low by vitamin shopping on the Most Romantic Night of the year.
Just as the internal melodrama was reaching a crescendo, I got a call back from a gal pal who was just out of a relationship and in a similarly solitary situation, so we commiserated as I sorted through my kale options. Then I got another call from a friend checking in on my cold (she was on her way to a date). A final chat with another friend (in a relationship) took me the the rest of the way through the vitamin selection and check out. Where I realized that I wasn’t feeling so pathetic anymore.
I did have a Valentine after all. In fact, I had several.
I’d gotten so trapped in the idea that intimacy equated partnership that I’d forgotten to appreciate the people that I already had in my life. Partnership – while it can be fulfilling – is just one of many kinds of human connection that we can nurture and be nourished by. But somehow I’d forgotten something that I’d understood as a little kid: anyone you love can be your Valentine.
I am hereby reclaiming my kindergarten understanding of Valentine’s Day. From now on, Valentine’s Day doesn’t have to be about cupid’s arrow, expensive dinners, red roses or champagne. Instead, it can simply be a day where we take the time to tell someone else that we care about them. And we can relay this message through a phone call, an email, or a fabulously glittery card with glued on sugar hearts.
In “The Art of Happiness,” the Dalai Lama’s message on intimacy is relayed:
“At this very moment we have vast resources of intimacy available to us. Intimacy is all around us. … If what we seek in life is happiness, and intimacy is an important ingredient of a happier life, then it clearly makes sense to conduct our lives on the basis of a model of intimacy that includes as many forms of connection with others as possible. The Dalai Lama’s model of intimacy is based on a willingness to open ourselves to many others, to family, to friends, and even strangers, forming genuine and deep bonds based on our common humanity.”
Now, that’s a Valentine’s Day that I can get behind.