My earliest memory of Valentine’s Day involves me buzzing busily around my second-grade classroom, dropping colorful little cards my mom had bought for me the night before into my classmates’ crudely decorated Valentine’s pouches and feeling mildy befuddled. Why am I doing this? I remember thinking vaguely to myself as I dodged and weaved through the traffic of my similarly engaged colleagues to deliver a haphazardly scrawled valentine to some boy I never talked to. I realized the answer to this question later that afternoon while perusing through my own loot and reading the sweet little Valentine messages handwritten to me like, “To Helen” or “Your nice” : I did it because everyone else did it and I didn’t want to feel left out or make someone else feel left out.
Ah the charming idyls of youth.
Then, at some point between sixth and seventh grade, the dynamics of Valentine’s Day shifted. The simple inclusive nature of Valentine’s Day from the rosy elementary school days of yore transformed into something a little less egalitarian and a little more discriminating: Valentines were no longer liberally distributed to just anybody and everybody in your class; they were now proferred with discernment (and – for the cultural sophisticates – with irony). So while Pretty and Effervescent Samantha might’ve just received upwards of fourty valentines from her many friends and admirers, see sad Mumbling Theodore over there, sitting slumped and disheveled, alone on that bench? He got only two. Valentine’s Day had become yet another opportunity for the blunt angles of social imbalance to jut its awkwardly-shaped head out for everyone to see. And so began the inchoate stirrings of resentment and bitterness toward the fourteenth day of February.
But unfortunately for Saint Valentine and Theodore, the worst was yet to come, because as people’s ages progressed, so did the exclusivity of Valentine’s Day celebrations. Adolescence turned to adulthood, and the meaning of Valentine’s Day changed one last time before comfortably settling into its most commonly accepted, and much maligned, form: it became the day designated for couples to express their love (or if love is too strong a word for those queasy of commitment – affection) for one another. This particular characterization Valentine’s Day spawned a whole new slew of problems, not only in arousing bitterness and envy in the lovelorn, but for the established couple as well. These problems include – but are not limited to – feelings of societal and romantic coersion, feeling forced into facing an uncomfortably self-conscious state of the union that potentially leaves both people in the relationship feeling self-reflexively skittish, and too much damn chocolate.
Indeed, there’s a lot of readily available hate to throw at poor Valentine’s Day (and this is without even bringing up that terrible movie Valentine’s Day). I understand where the animosity comes from, and I can empathize, to an extent. But ultimately, after some to very little deliberation on this issue of Valentine’s Day, I’ve come to a conclusion: everyone should just get off Valentine’s back and take a chill pill. That’s right, a chill pill. My problem with Valentine’s Day is not the fact that it’s over-commercialized and manufactured, it’s not the cheesy cards, it’s not that I’ll be single this Valentine’s Day, and it’s not that when I was in a relationship I ever felt the necessity or pressure to celebrate my relationship when I didn’t want to. My problem with Valentine’s Day are with the people who have a problem with Valentine’s Day. Well, to be more precise, the people who have a problem with Valentine’s Day and complain about it to everyone. If I hear someone call Valentine’s Day “Single’s Awareness Day” once more time…
Because in truth, I think Valentine’s Day is kind of nice. It’s a day to appreciate your significant other, and what is so wrong with that? People need reminders to appreciate one another, and February 14th is as good a day as any. Sure it’s an arbitrary date and Saint Valentine didn’t actually have anything to do with romance and societal expectations suck and blah blah blah but so what? If you feel like showing your significant other on February 14th that you love and appreciate them — great! Wonderful! If you don’t feel like it — fine! Terrific! And if you happen to be single and don’t have a significant other to celebrate Valentine’s Day with this year — okay! Who cares? It’s just another day like all the rest of the days in the year, but with an easy excuse to celebrate your love for someone else, if you choose to.
So on that note, have a happy early Valentine’s Day everyone!
By Helen Zou