About Valentine’s Day: not a fan. I’m no grump about romance. I believe in love and watch romantic comedies all the time, often tearing up when everything comes together magically and perfectly at the end, no matter how improbable. And while I’ve been single for a good while now, I’m a natural contemplative — an introvert in the good sense, as Susan Cain describes in Quiet, which I’ll be writing more about soon — so I’m perfectly happy on my own (which some of my friends have argued is why I’m not in a relationship: because I don’t need to be). But sometimes, when I see people enjoying what’s great about having a partner — sharing favorite things, intimacy, someone to cook for — it hurts.
If I’m watching a romantic comedy or reading a Trollope novel, I’m in the story, enjoying it with the characters. But on Valentine’s Day, you’re either inside a real-life romance story celebrating with your loved one, or you’re outside, alone in the cold, watching through the window while other people enjoy something you don’t have. (Or you may be outside knocking on the door, trying to start one, which can be very scary and usually ends badly.)
Also, in case you missed the memo, in 1969 St. Valentine’s Day was dropped from the Roman Catholic calendar, the church saying there was simply no proof of any of the many claims associated with third century Roman man named Valentine. (Anglicans, Lutherans and Orthodox Catholics still celebrate it.)
The holiday’s religious roots are worth talking about for a minute, because they are interesting, even if untrue. It’s possible some elements are valid, and likely that more than one myth is mixed together. Valentine was a not uncommon Roman name at the time (from valentia meaning strength.) The main story has it that Valentine was an early Christian who was executed for performing wedding ceremonies for Roman soldiers, who were forbidden to marry. (Another simply has him performing Christian weddings.) An implausible part of the story is that he gave parchment hearts to the soldiers to commemorate the event, which led to the practice of giving things with hearts on them. And to double down on the implausibility, some say that just before his execution he wrote a note to the daughter of his jailer — whose blindness he is said to have healed leading to the conversion of her family — signed “your Valentine” thus creating the tradition of giving cards and using the phrase “from your valentine.” I don’t think I really need to address how likely this is.
In the High Middle Ages, from this thin thread of historical truth and fiction was woven a symbol of courtly love. And the first mention of Valentine’s Day as a holiday celebrating lovers is found in Chaucer’s Parlement of Foules, a weird 14th century dream poem which describes the birds (foules) courting each other and pairing off with mates at the beginning of spring, St. Valentine’s Day.
For this was on seynt Valentynes day,
Whan every foul cometh ther to chese his make,
Of every kinde, that men thenke may;
And that so huge a noyse gan they make
In particular, it follows the story of a female eagle, her male courters lined up in front of her:
As they were wont alwey fro yeer to here,
Seynt Valentynes day, to stonden there.
She rejects them all, by the way.
National Friendship Day?
Some have tried to “fix” the problem that Valentine’s Day leaves out so many folks by saying it’s about all relationships including friends, family, and casual connections with coworkers and neighbors. One Dove chocolate ad shows a beautiful woman leaving a chocolate heart for her mailman. (Well, OK, maybe something else is being suggested there.) But that’s just not what Valentine’s Day is. In that case, we should call it National Friendship Day, and give hearty handshakes to everyone we meet.
No, on Valentine’s Day, if you’re in a relationship, then you are celebrating. (Maybe.) If you’re not, then it’s like your face is being rubbed in it. It’s like having no one to kiss at midnight on New Year’s Eve. Times a hundred.
I confess that Valentine’s Day has never been good to me. The two times in my life I’ve really put myself out there on the day, it didn’t play out. And I’m not big on forced moments like holidays with hyped-up emotionality such as Halloween, the Fourth of July, and the aforementioned New Year’s Eve with its kiss.
I could easily make the point too that if you in a happy relationship, you are probably doing date nights and unplanned token gifts of affection and the like already. So who is this holiday really for? If it helps remind some folks that they don’t do things like that often enough, that’s great. But more often, I think, it sours people to the idea by making it an obligation.
So if you’re in a happy relationship, enjoy celebrating what truly is a gift if you’re so moved. For the rest of us, let’s not feel like we have to participate, or make it something fun for us. It’s just not.
Oh and one more thing. I’ll let you in on something from the single male perspective, at least mine. If you give someone a Valentine’s Day gift, no matter how small — a candy heart or card or piece of chocolate — it’s not just a “token of friendship;” possibly it’s flirting. If that’s what you mean to do, great! But just know that some of us are easily confused.
So no happy Valentine’s Day from me. It’s not for me. At least this year.