Two years ago–not long before I met Steve, in fact–I spent my Valentine’s Day as the lone naked woman silent in a roomful of strangers. The day before, my on-again/off-again fellow and I had gone off again, this time for good. Instead of sitting at home moping, I sat for a local painters’ workshop as a figure model.
If you can’t make love, make art.
Ah, Valentine’s Day. The anxiety that accompanies its approach rises right alongside the price of a dozen roses. Those without sweethearts are often left feeling lonely, wishing they had a special someone, wondering if they should confess their crushes. Those with sweethearts (especially new ones) worry how to declare their affection: Is a card okay? Are red roses classic or boring? Is it too soon to say “love”? Why must every piece of jewelry be shaped like a heart?
And when did this supposed celebration of affection become such a pressure cooker of commitment-angst and commercialism?
Opting out and posing nude might well be easier.
It is a little crazy, the pressure we put on ourselves, our loved ones, the day itself. According to a 2013 article in the New York Daily News, “Valentine’s Day, along with New Year’s Eve, is an ‘expectation holiday’ that often precedes breakups.” (Or, in my case, triggers the breakup immediately before the holiday). Divorces spike in the days and weeks surrounding Valentine’s Day. That’s an awful lot of power to assign to a little square on the calendar.
I’m not immune to its stresses. But I always liked Valentine’s Day, even when I didn’t have a honey. I think that’s because my family never treated it as the special purview of the romantic partner. In our house, Valentine’s Day was a celebration of love in all its forms. We all traded valentine cards, parents to children, children to parents, brother to sister, vice-versa. Sometimes, with a little help from their humans, even the cats got in on the act. My mom still sends me beautiful handmade valentines, and I’ve made and mailed valentines to family and friends well into adulthood. Just a few years ago, a group of my girlfriends got together and had a card-making party, then gave the cards to each other at another gathering a few weeks later. It’s hard to say which of the two evenings was more fun.
The truth is most of us are well schooled in the democratic exchange of valentines, having traded cards with all our classmates throughout grade school. We grow up to feel the absence of that decorated box stuffed full of sweet wishes, maybe because we’ve forgotten a key element: the valentines of our youth overflowed not because we had 22 serious romantic admirers, but because all our friends (plus a few frenemies, and the teacher) gave us cards, too.
So I’d like to make a proposal. If the approach of Valentine’s Day makes you anxious, or you find it annoyingly cloying in its focus on romance, let’s take a page from the Greeks, who recognized six forms of love: the sexual passion of eros, plus deep friendship, philia, which is also called storge, when it refers to the love between parents and children; playful love, ludus; love for everyone, agape; pragma, longstanding love, and philautia, love of the self.
Let’s reclaim Valentine’s Day as a celebration of love in all its many forms.
While we’re at it, let’s think of Valentine’s Day less like New Year’s Eve and more like New Year’s Day. Instead of putting all the emphasis on the events of one single day, maybe we can use it to focus our intentions forward and make some love resolutions. How do we want to love each other, show the world we care, every day for the rest of the year and beyond?