There’s a disturbing trend I’ve noticed becoming more fashionable over the years. I call it the scourge of the Valentine’s Day Grinch. You’ve probably met them — people who abhor the holiday dedicated to love. They blame Hallmark, florist shops, chocolate makers, women’s magazines and even capitalism itself.
“I don’t need a holiday to tell me how to love someone,” you’ve overheard them say.
Some of their points are valid. There has been increasing pressure on couples to find larger-than-life declarations of love for their partners each year on February 14th. Flowers, chocolates and those old-fashioned greeting cards are often dismissed as cliche or unsentimental.
And truly, a cluster of flowers picked up last minute from the grocery story, no matter how well intentioned, was probably haphazardly chosen. How could it not feel halfhearted and insincere? Because it’s difficult to express love on demand.
Others feel left out of the festivities. Maybe romance isn’t going their way right now. There is no romantic partner, or even the prospect of one. Even worse is the feeling that your current situation isn’t exactly cruising along on the Love Boat of your dreams.
For many individuals, the over-saturation of heart-shaped everything feels like a slap in the face during this shortest, often coldest, month of the year. But let me interject something controversial here: I think Valentine’s Day is (dare I say it) good.
The abundant strings of pink hearts of happiness can be quite cheery when, let’s face it, we don’t have much in the way of celebrations to look forward to until around Easter, which — if you celebrate it — is basically just a big breakfast.
As a once self-proclaimed Valentine’s Day Grinch myself, I have come to realize that Valentine’s Day is the observance of something truly worthy of celebration — love. For as we learned back in kindergarten when we passed out those little cards with lollipops Scotch-taped to the back for each kid in the classroom — everyone is deserving of love.
Perhaps you’ve forgotten the lyrics to the pop hit: “Greatest Love of All,” first made popular by George Benson and then topping the charts again under the soaring vocals of Whitney Houston. Perhaps it was overplayed to the point where you wanted to forget it. But I’m hoping enough time has passed that you are ready to revisit the lyrics of one of the versus:
Everybody searching for a hero
People need someone to look up to
I never found anyone who fulfilled my needs
A lonely place to be
And so I learned to depend on me
The song goes on to say that “The greatest love of all is easy to achieve. Learning to love yourself, it is the greatest love of all.” Wow! That is powerful stuff for a pop song. No wonder it was such a sensation.
Attempting to achieve the wise-beyond-wisdom lesson of this song, I have tried to recondition myself to think about Valentine’s Day as a way for me to reimagine that elusive word — love — of all kinds, in all its forms.
Romantic love is wonderful, and so is the love shared among family and friends. An all-encompassing love of the universe and toward our fellow humans is possibly the highest form of love. But none of this is possible if we don’t start first with love for ourselves.
Self-acceptance, self-actualization, self-care — this is where love begins.
So, perhaps this Valentine’s Day, after a time when each of us has faced so many of our own personal trials and tribulations, we should look beyond external validation and instead start with loving ourselves.
You can begin slowly: Tell yourself how proud you are to have made it through these difficult times, remember that it’s okay to have occasionally fallen short or to have felt unappreciated.
Remind yourself that it’s normal to be abnormal — to not fit into some strange elusive idea of perfection — and that even as you are a work in progress, you are perfectly you, and that’s enough.
For the next step: Do something nice for yourself. Make a date with yourself to heal old wounds, to take in the world and its beauty, to enjoy the things that give you pleasure. Recognize how good joy feels and how you don’t need anyone else to experience it.
After you have fully accepted this self-love, you will be ready to take that feeling and spread it everywhere you go. To everyone you encounter. And before you know it, you may be inspired to decorate the world with strings of tiny pink hearts.
That’s when you may be shocked to realize how much of that love comes right back at you.
Happy Valentine’s Day! Everyone.
- From RAK contributor Maggie Zehring: 3 ways to celebrate date night during a pandemic
- From University of Arizona professor Kory Floyd, an expert on the communication of affection in close relationships: Ways to celebrate love and alleviate loneliness during this year’s COVID-tinged Valentine’s Day.