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It hardly takes a cynic to hate Valentine’s Day. And yet, as it’s coming up, newspapers across the country will surely be printing headlines like, “Still need a gift for the big day? Here are 17 last-minute items she’s sure to love!” or “A comprehensive guide to being single on Valentine’s Day.” Insipid. Uninspired. Truly, a nightmare to read and to print. For people who are single and in all sorts of relationships alike, Valentine’s Day brings a flurry of unwelcome pressure and expectations. If you’re single, the day seems to ask, “Why?”, with a prying cock of the head. If you’re in a relationship, it seems to remark, “What are you getting them? Just that?” as it opens its cavernous cash register. And worst of all, if you and your person are somewhere in between those options, it slithers between you, whispering “What are you?” And forget it if you’re non-monogamous or anything like it; The Market will eventually figure out how to monetize non-traditional relationships, but it’s still a bit behind the curve in that regard.
The role of Valentine’s Day as a capitalist scheme is well documented, and I don’t need to tell you how telling everyone that true love and commitment can be bought at your local Hallmark or Kay Jewelers is problematic, especially amongst college kids. What’s perhaps worse than that is scrolling through social media on such a day, when everything tends to just look so perfect. Even in the healthiest relationships, it’s hard not to feel the weight of expectation on one’s shoulders, and even amongst the most heartfelt messages, it’s hard for one’s Instagram caption to not feel somewhat contrived among a sea of others only a few words different from it. For those dealing with grief or other difficult circumstances, seeing seemingly everyone else happy just makes matters worse too. I had a buddy in high school whose girlfriend broke up with him on February 13th. I think of him every year.
And as much as I’d enjoy continuing to systematically dunk on every aspect of the day, I probably wouldn’t be telling you much you didn’t already know. You read the headline; “Get to the silver lining!” I hear you shouting. And so I will: I’ll be the first to admit that I do read all those articles listing things to buy and telling me what to do if I end up alone on the 14th, and I also enjoy a position of privilege that allows me to save up to buy my girlfriend a few things I think she’ll really like. It feels like an article like this should provide a lengthy history of the holiday, detailing how it came to be and how it became what it is now, but I don’t know any of that information, and if you want me to find the time to research it, I’ll forward your complaints to my professors. What I do know is that increasingly, people have been co-opting the holiday for their own purposes, independent of those dreamt up and marketed by think tanks and executive boards.
I also know that Valentine’s Day is an empty, capitalist scam designed to sell you boxes of chocolate and expensive jewelry at the threat of conflict, or worse, loneliness, but we don’t get enough opportunities in this world to tell each other that we care about one another. And chocolate is great too. I wish I had some wiser sentiment, or some insight I could offer beyond this, but for now, all I can tell you is to tell someone — a friend, a partner, a family member, whoever really — that you love them, to mean it, and to be good to yourself in the most honest, authentic way you can. Consider this article a Valentine from your good pals at The Lawrentian. And more importantly, if you know anybody who works at Fratello’s who can get me a reservation next weekend, let me know. I’ll owe you one.