A Google search on "hate Valentine's Day" turns up 856,000 entries. This is a fair amount of hating on a holiday, as far as my wholly unscientific method goes. Way less than "hate Christmas" (1,400,000 hits) but definitely more than "hate Thanksgiving," (612,000). "Hate Yom Kippur" gets about 346,000 hits, which is impressively low for a holiday you're more or less supposed to hate. The wearing of the green doesn't have folks seeing red--"hate St. Patrick's Day" gets 152,000 hits--and Arbor Day is also fairly inoffensive, with a measly 124,000 hits, most of which seem to have to do with hate and Arbor Day, not hate of Arbor Day.
There's an upside to the mass hatred of V-Day, I suppose, in that if you are unhappily single, you can easily get together with a bunch of your unhappily single friends and have a wonderful time excoriating "smug marrieds," Hallmark Cards, your exes, and the diamond industry. Angry and annoyed singles at least have a voice and a profile in our culture. V-Day is probably worse if you're in an unhappy relationship, or if you are gay or polyamorous or asexual or anything else that people would like you to stay in the closet about.
I've done my unhappily single time, and I don't remember V-Day being especially painful, probably because I'm not much into traditional kinds of romance to begin with, nor are the men I tend to be attracted to. If I'd been with someone, I figured (and rightly so, as it turned out) we probably wouldn't be doing anything special, so I didn't feel any worse about being unpartnered on February 14 than I did on the 13th or 15th.
Some folks do, though, and that's tough. It's nasty to have a holiday that's so exclusionary, that celebrates something that not everyone has, and that celebrates something that if you have it, is already making you really, really happy. If you're madly in luuuurve, after all, every day is Valentine's Day! It's like "Celebrate Being Rich" or "I Have an Awesome Job" Day.
Think how much nicer it would be if, instead of romantic love, V-Day were about--just--love. Not eros, but agape love, if you're Christian, chesed (lovingkindness) if you're Jewish. Imagine you don't get told who to love, and how to show it, and made to feel like a failure if you don't have exactly the right kind of relationship.
Imagine a holiday in which you decide who, or what, you love. And you figure out how to express that love. And there's a genial competition not to see who's got the hottest girlfriend or swankest dinner reservations or most lavish gifts, but to see who can figure out how to share their love in the most unique and creative way. Maybe you do roses and candlelight with your spouse or lover, if that's where your heart and mind is that year. But maybe you take your mother out to dinner and apologize, sincerely, for all those sleepless nights you caused her when you were a teenager. Or you decide to share your love of poetry with the world and stand on a streetcorner and read Emily Dickinson to passersby. Maybe you buy a bunch of makeup and go to a battered women's shelter and give the women makeovers and help them laugh and recognize the beauty inside themselves. Maybe you take a friend's child out for a movie and ice cream, and give your friend some "me time" and the child a sense that yes, adults who aren't related to you or paid to care for you do, in fact, find you worthwhile. Maybe you go help an elderly neighbor clean out her attic and listen to the stories that all those old clothes and photographs and papers remind her of. Maybe you go to an animal shelter and play with the dogs. Maybe you plant a garden. Maybe you live your life just as you always do, but with compassion and gratitude always in your mind. Maybe you do something totally loving but unromantic for your spouse or partner--make an appointment for that colon-cancer screening they've been nagging you to do and you've been putting off, get the car detailed, make a really nice dinner for the in-laws. Maybe you pray.
What do you think, gang? Shall we make that the Miss Conduct Valentine's Day challenge in 2009? To unshackle "love" from a narrow definition of (hetero)sexual romance, and to delight in all the possibilities of love--love of family, friends, God, nature, art, science, literature, food, animals, the hurt, the happy, the needy, the providers--ourselves?
I say we do.
UPDATE: I've changed a little bit about this post because I've decided I'm really serious about it. Next year, I am going to try to turn Valentine's Day into a celebration of love, not just romance. I want a social movement! (And another book contract wouldn't hurt, either ...) Mr. Improbable pointed out that I want to focus on the positive: the "Unfettered Valentine's" movement, or whatever we end up calling it, isn't against eros and traditional romance. It's about making room for more than just that one particular kind of love.
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