I’m all for hating on holidays that make single people feel marginalized. Or any event that does for that matter. (Even as I type I can hear the voice of every lector at every wedding I’ve been to where the bride and groom have chosen the reading that starts “Two are better than one.” That may be romantic when you’re the couple getting married but when you’re the single friend with no plus-one you kind of want to hurl the program at the officiant’s face.)
But I love Valentine’s Day. Or, as my friend Marc likes to call it, Valentime’s Day. I’ve had one or two romantic Valentine’s Days. And I’ve had some Valentine’s Days when I was dating someone and we felt sheepishly obliged to observe the occasion by squeezing in dinner at a Thai restaurant between classes. But some of my favorite Valentine’s Day memories have nothing to do with so-called “partners”. They were made memorable by significant others whom I was not at all dating, such as my mom, who made “Valentine boxes” for my classrooms when I was growing up, decorating discarded boxes with wrapping paper and doilies so that each child in the class would have an occasion-appropriate mailbox in which to drop off their Valentines for each other kid.
My earliest Valentine’s Day memory is of living in Athens, Greece (so I must have been between the ages of 3 and 7), and finding that my grandmother had sent me those pre-cut perforated Valentines from the glamorous, tech-savvy US. I can’t remember whose image graced the cards–Snoopy? A cat and a puppy frolicking together, as on my lunchbox (their names–Wags and Whiskers–just popped into my head!)? But I remember laboriously filling out the name of each person in my class, tearing the cards apart, and slipping them into the mini envelopes. Thus was born my love of mail. Nothing is more exciting to me than a personal letter, card or parcel. (Junk mail I scorn, however.) I like mail so much that I even enjoy writing thank you notes, although I owe about five at this very moment.
I also had a great Valentine’s Day in college when my aunt sent me a teddy bear that, when squeezed, frenetically hopped around saying “I..I..I..I..love you!” I don’t remember what my boyfriend gave me that year but my aunt’s teddy bear lives on in my mind.
And I remember at least one hilarious Valentine’s Day in New York when a bunch of us single girls banded together on the theory that if we spread love some would come back to us and volunteered at a home for the elderly. My favorite part (naturally) was joining the residents in the “pub” where we served them their two-drink maximum. “A lot of the ladies and gentlemen enjoyed a drink after dinner in their own homes,” the nun in charge, Sister Mary Michael, told us. “Why not have that here, too?” I’ll drink to that, Sister!
What I enjoyed about each incident mentioned above is that someone–whether it was my aunt, my grandmother, my mom or my galpals–took time to observe the day and spread a little affection. I even support observing Valentine’s Day by hating it, as the Ice Box cafe in my neighborhood is doing so brilliantly with their “Love Sucks” party, where you get a free drink if you bring, and tear up, a photo of your ex. Good times! Catharsis has its place on Feb. 14th just as much as lovefests do.
People give Valentine’s Day a lot of flak for being a made-up “Hallmark holiday”, an occasion when people are peer-pressured into expressing love, when, the argument goes, one should express it every day. That’s a great idea in theory, but how many of us go around spreading joy and affection and dark chocolate year-round? Most of us need a reminder to tell our loved ones how much they matter, whether it’s a friend’s birthday, mother’s day, or even Valentime’s day. And if you are that rare Cupid who goes around declaring his or her adoration of everyone year round, then Valentine’s Day is just another reason to do so. Personally, I think any occasion to send a card or a sweet email is a great idea, and few things make me happier than receiving one.
An ideal Valentine’s Day, whether you’re partnered off or not, should be full of reminders that, as Mary Tyler Moore’s theme song says, “Love is all around, no need to waste it!” But because of the emphasis on romantic love in our society (which is so limiting–I learned in a modern Greek class that Greek has 22 words for love, which is more like it!), too often single people feel left out on Valentine’s Day. But that’s not the holiday’s fault. I’ve felt more alone on other love-centric occasions that didn’t have room for Wags N Whiskers cards from pals or mechanized teddy bears from family members. As I said before (but can’t seem to let go of), I’ve been (dateless) to too many weddings where I felt singled out and made to feel less-than by the readings or toast or first dance (“You’re Nobody ’til Somebody Loves You”–really? So it’s only because he married Mary Todd that we value Abraham Lincoln who otherwise would be just another gangly lawyer? Or Gandhi’s nonviolent protests are nice but you should really see his love letters? I think not.). I hate a “two are better than one” attitude. So I was delighted when, at our wedding, my husband ended his toast by saying that we felt blessed to have found each other, but also to be loved by all the guests who had traveled to Greece to support us, and asked everyone to raise their glass to toast “to love in all its forms”. I think that’s what is meant to be celebrated on Valentine’s Day as well, love in all its forms, even when that form is the ironic but delicious bitterness of a Love Sucks party.
And if you still resent having to send a card on Valentine’s Day, or feel lonely or underappreciated, I have two final thoughts for you. One, I hope you have an amazing Valentine’s Day next year. And two, after refusing to repudiate his Christian beliefs, Saint Valentine was apparently beaten, stoned, and beheaded on February 14th. So it could be worse, and there’s someone out there whose Valentine’s Day was even more horrible than yours.