How has Valentine’s Day shaped your relationships and perception of love?
It’s become an iconic holiday in the United States and can influence how we view ourselves, our relationships, and our expectations for “love.” Let’s take a closer look.
Origins of Valentine’s Day
The holiday has roots in the ancient roman festival of Lupercalia, and at the end of the 5th century, Lupercalia was replaced with St. Valentine’s Day (1). By some accounts, St. Valentine was a Roman priest who was killed during the persecution of Christians. One legend states that St. Valentine signed a letter “from your valentine” to his jailer’s daughter. Another legend suggests that he secretly married couples to spare the husbands from war, defying the emperor’s orders (2).
Love: A Fundamental Need
It’s no wonder that Valentine’s Day has become an iconic a “Hallmark holiday,” or a holiday that exists mainly for commercial purposes rather than commemorating a significant event. The desire to love, and be loved, is universal. It’s part of what makes us human. Consumerism behind Valentine’s Day targets this fundamental human experience and has placed a price tag on it. Retail companies have learned how to convince customers to purchase things for their loved ones, in the form of cards, chocolates, flowers, and jewelry.
Buy My Love
People are predicted to spend $27.4 billion for Valentine’s Day this year (3).
For some, materialistic expectations of Valentine’s Day can harm how they perceive “love” in their relationships. While simple, intimate expressions of love were enough in the past, they may rethink what it means to be loved and consequently expect to receive material gifts. Gift-giving can be a healthy expression of affection if gifts are viewed as materializations of emotions. However, it adopts a different connotation when viewed as commercial exchanges. How do you best receive love, and why do you think this is?
Team ‘Em Young
One of my earliest and fondest memories is exchanging valentines my first-grade classmates. I remember paper bags, decorated with stickers and names scrawled in crude penmanship, placed on each desk. Systematically, we’d travel around the classroom, dropping valentines into each “mailbox” (we were specifically instructed to bring enough valentines for each classmate, much to our chagrin) and later relish opening each valentine while we gorged ourselves on chocolates.
It was an innocent expression of affection for each other, and created a sense of community. Celebrating Valentine’s Day also allowed an avenue for children to begin thinking about more complex emotions such as love and affection. As I got older, however, I saw the connotations associated with Valentine’s Day began to change.
No Valentine, No Life
Valentine’s Day in middle school and high school began to carry heavier social expectations. Ideally, you’d already be “going out” with someone (teenage jargon for holding hands in the hallway with a romantic interest). If you weren’t so lucky, you’d better get your act together to lock down a boyfriend or girlfriend before February 14th. The concept of attaching yourself to someone, for the sake of social status and cultural expectation, can cultivate a skewed sense of romantic relationships and self-worth in adolescents. It also communicates the message: You’re not good enough unless you’re with someone.
Struggling to Feel “Enough”
In a society that places value on individuals based on their relationships status, if you’re single it can be difficult to feel “enough.” Valentine’s Day can worsen feelings of low self-worth as social expectations feed harmful self-comparison. Self-comparison can also plummet self-esteem and serve as a precursor for mental illness like depression and anxiety.
I’ve noticed growing protest against conventional Valentine’s Day traditions as an entire industry has grown around “Anti-Valentine’s Day” celebrations. These are inclusive of many types of people, including cynics tired of romance, and even those who are happily coupled but despise the commercialized culture of the holiday. For example, the alternative “Galentine’s Day,” celebrated on Feb. 13th of every year, is a day to gather with other women and celebrate female friendships — without boyfriends, husbands, and significant others.
Make Your Own Meaning
While Valentine’s Day has become a commercialized holiday — that seems to boost the economy more than anything — what you make of the holiday is up to you. Here are some questions to ask yourself to be more mindful as you go into the holiday:
Do I want to celebrate?
You don’t have to! If you’d like, you can attend an alternative celebration or forget it altogether.
Whom do I love?
Celebrating love on Valentine’s day doesn’t apply solely to romantic partners, but can also extend to friends, family, and community.
How can I meaningfully express love?
If you’d like to show your loved ones that you care about them, how can you do so in a meaningful way? This may be as simple as telling them you love them and noting specific qualities that you appreciate about them.
How can I show myself love?
Self-love often goes unnoticed in the context of Valentine’s Day, and is one of the best-kept secrets for lasting happiness. Loving yourself can be difficult sometimes. There may be parts of yourself that you don’t like, are ashamed of, or find “unlovable.” If so, this is normal. We all find flaws in ourselves that we refuse to love until they’re “fixed.” However, the radical truth about self-love is that it starts right now. The truth about self-love is that it challenges you to treat yourself with grace and kindness, just as you treat your loved ones.
If you’re unsure of how to begin loving yourself, here are some ideas:
- Forgive yourself for your mistakes.
- Have fun by yourself.
- Travel somewhere you’ve been wanting to go.
- Give yourself a break.
- Make a list of your positive traits. If you get stuck, ask a loved one what qualities they appreciate about you.
Before we express our love for others, it’s crucial that we first love ourselves. True love is always free, it’s happening right now, and it begins in you.
- The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica (2019, April 18). Valentine’s day. Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/topic/Valentines-Day
- The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica (2018, September 5). St. Valentine. Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/biography/Saint-Valentine
- National Retail Federation. “Valentine’s Day Data Center, https://nrf.com/insights/holiday-and-seasonal-trends/valentines-day/valentines-day-data-center,” Accessed Feb. 10, 2020.