The last time I was in a romantic relationship on Valentine’s Day, George W. Bush was president. But I’ve never gone a year without a valentine.
In fact, every year I have at least three.
Single or coupled, I’ve always treated Feb. 14 as a celebration of all kinds of love, not purely romantic. Love for myself, my parents and my friends. This isn’t a revolutionary idea. (Hello, Leslie Knope and Galentine’s Day.) But it’s a concept that bears repeating as V-Day draws near.
For me, it started in elementary school, when my teacher told us to give a valentine to every person in the class. I took those instructions very seriously: The batch of valentines I was signing, sealing and delivering must include one for myself, too. Wouldn’t want to leave anyone out!
After all the notes had been passed out, of course I’d overthink the card from my crush of the moment. But I always smiled as I’d read the valentine I dropped in my own box, which usually included some version of:
Yes, this was in the era of everyone-gets-a-trophy parenting and schooling — the kind of upbringing that gets blamed for today’s millennial entitlement. But I believe that treating Valentine’s Day as a chance to celebrate all kinds of love taught me from an early age that romance isn’t the only, or always the highest, form of love.
I don’t write valentines to myself anymore, but I do make sure to buy myself flowers every year. You know what happens when you buy yourself flowers? You get exactly what you want. (Budget-permitting, of course.)
My parents also played a role in my more holistic view of V-Day. My mother expects — nay, demands! — a Valentine’s Day card every year, and has ever since that young age when I was sending myself valentines. Even as a grown-up, I’ll get scolded for failing to mail mine in time. But this tradition has hammered home the fact that familial love is just as important — if not more — than romantic love. It’s certainly longer-lasting and less conditional.
It’s rare that I ever find the perfect greeting card. One year, though, I found one that read: “If I know what love is, it’s because of you.” I gave it to my mother, and its meaning was twofold: If I know what a parent’s love for her child is like, it is because of her. And the same goes for romance and my parents’ happy partnership. Sure, I’ve learned lots about love since I left home at age 18, but that tutorial began, and perhaps was at its most intense, while growing up with loving parents.
And let’s not forget love among friends. Every year, I make sure I send a valentine to a friend or two — and hang out with a few close ones on Feb. 14, too.
As philosophy professor Simon May noted in a 2013 essay in The Washington Post, it’s only since the mid-19th century that romance has been elevated above other types of love. “For most ancient Greeks, for example, friendship was every bit as passionate and valuable as romantic-sexual love,” May wrote. “Aristotle regarded friendship as a lifetime commitment to mutual welfare, in which two people become ‘second selves’ to each other.”
“Today, friendship has been demoted beneath the ideal of romance, but they should be on an equal footing,” May continued.
I tend to agree. When friendships last decades, those ties often bind much stronger than romance. When I attend a close friend’s wedding, I often think about how I’ve known said friend longer than their soon-to-be-spouse has. I can’t claim as much immediate intimacy, but there’s an intimacy of time that is in some ways deeper than the connection newlyweds enjoy.
No matter how you spend Valentine’s Day, Samantha Daniels — a matchmaker and creator of the Dating Lounge — stresses the importance of staying positive. “Think about how you can have a nice day with yourself — go out to dinner with friends,” she suggests. “If it’s a group of women, don’t sit around bashing men.”
There’s enough single-shaming every day of the year. On Feb. 14, don’t add to it by feeling sorry for yourself. Focus on the love you do have, rather than what might feel lacking.
And buy yourself those flowers.