Valentine’s Day is both a great and terrible holiday.
I say “great” in that it serves as an opportunity to think about the concept of love, which is in no way a bad thing. I know there are people out there who argue, “you should celebrate love every day, not just one day of the year,” but that’s a bit too jaded for my tastes. As a student of semiotics (the study of representation and meaning, to those who haven’t taken a David Vampola class), I can appreciate the idea behind devoting a single day out of the year to contemplate and celebrate the various kinds of love in one’s life, whether they’re romantic or not. If you can celebrate the anniversary of the day you were born, why can’t you spend a day celebrating love?
So Feb. 14 is a great day to think about love, whether you’re in a relationship or not. Sure, there’s the stereotype of the lonely single who perpetually spends the day staying inside and drinking themselves stupid, or the person who goes to the bars in order to pick off the few members of said perpetually lonely stereotype who decide to drink their problems away in public. And there’s also the person who refuses to admit to themselves that they are indeed lonely and decides to plaster their friends’ social media news feeds with defiant posts about how “it’s just an ordinary day.”
It’s the perpetuation of these stereotypes that makes Valentine’s Day a bad holiday. There’s an unwritten and unspoken pressure to enforce the above cliches, which leads to an air of unearned superiority in those who are in relationships over those who are not.
But here’s the thing: just because you’re in a romantic relationship doesn’t mean it’s a good or healthy one. The idea that one’s social value is defined by his or her number of sexual partners over the years or whether they’re in a relationship is one of the stupidest things I’ve ever heard. The people who buy into the societal pressure set themselves up for a world of undue hurt and despair (and, in some cases, psychological trauma).
Take it from someone who’s been there: I’ve almost driven myself insane over many pretty faces in the past, only to later realize that they weren’t worth the effort and the headache and the potential madness. It wasn’t until last semester, when I was studying at an international university in Japan, that I began to see love in a much different (and far more healthy) light.
To draw from Erich Fromm’s “The Art of Loving,” one of the most important elements of “true love” is the ability for both individuals to completely see themselves in their partner (as if they were looking in a proverbial mirror) and yet still be able to recognize the other person as a separate individual. This can’t happen in the wake of a one-night stand, and it can’t be cultivated without a deep sense of self-love. Furthermore, it can’t happen without abandoning the idea of “falling” in love in favor of “loving” as a conscious and habitual action.
In the end, the lesson to be learned here is this: Valentine’s Day is intended to be a celebration not of sex or being in a relationship, but of the beauty and power that is at the core of love as a virtue.