December 7, 2016

Seeking the illusive point of Valentine’s Day

Regardless of my relationship status, I’ve never really enjoyed Valentine’s Day. Like many people, being single on the occasion is not something I handle well. But the times I have had a “valentine” have brought with them entirely different stressors. How are my partner and I going to celebrate? What underwear am I going to put on? What do you buy for a guy on Valentine’s Day, anyway?

Maybe I’m just doing it wrong. Let’s rethink this.

Concept and Illustration by Victoria Courtney

Concept and Illustration by Victoria Courtney

As far as I can see, Valentine’s Day seems pretty useless, even a bit counterproductive. We already live in a culture that puts romantic love on a ridiculously high pedestal. We praise it so strongly, in so many contexts, that millions of people find it difficult to even be happy with their lives when they do not have a romantic partner. This system of love-praise seems to be responsible for an unnecessary amount of self-doubt and insecurity.

So why do we have a holiday to celebrate it?

We celebrate romantic love several times throughout the year (see: Christmas, Thanksgiving, birthdays, anniversaries, etc.). Taking advantage of special occasions to appreciate our partners makes perfect sense to me. But do we really need a day specifically devoted to romance? The point of a holiday is usually to draw attention to things that are often forgotten. I don’t see how anyone could completely forget about the concept of romantic love, even for a day.

This is because even when we haven’t designated a time to reflect on romance, it tends to slap us in the face. Romantic love is so often viewed as the be-all end-all of life. Popular songs and stories in particular are remarkably obsessed with this idea that monogamous love conquers all. Come on, guys. It doesn’t.

Don’t get me wrong – I understand how much value a good relationship can have. My boyfriend is my best friend and a great source of support. But when I consider the overall balance between joy and frustration that come along with a romantic partnership, I see no reason why it should be held with such infallible esteem – especially over the other types of love we get to enjoy as human beings.

The online community of Nerdfighteria has tried to challenge this. The term “nerdfighters” refers to fans of John and Hank Green, two brothers who address Youtube video blogs to one another and involve their audience.

In 2010, a 16-year-old nerdfighter named Esther Earl died of cancer. The Green brothers asked Esther, in anticipation of her passing, what she wanted the community to do in her memory. Esther said she wanted people to think deeply about a specific kind of love – the kind shared among friends and family. Esther Day is now celebrated by nerdfighters every year on Aug. 3, Esther’s birthday.

I think Esther Day is conducive to so much more introspection than Valentine’s Day could ever hope to emulate. While Valentine’s Day celebrates a caricature of love – represented by hyperbolic Hallmark cards, frivolous spending, and high-fructose corn syrup – Esther Day asks us to consider love as we have actually experienced it. Who means the most to us? Do we openly express our love for people we don’t plan to marry? If not, why not?

This Friday, if you honor a romantic relationship you have with someone, I encourage you to celebrate the unique connection you share, not one the market and the media impose on you. And if you don’t have a valentine who will take your clothes off, look around and recognize how much meaning you get from the loved ones who keep their clothes on for you.

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