This is the first year, ever, I’ve been in a relationship on Valentine’s Day. And I will spend it alone, probably catching up on work. Or I will use my best salesmanship to cajole my two exhausted roommates into dressing up and going out, or not dressing up but still going out, or staying in and doing something totally anti-productive like critiquing a rom-com while eating ice cream from the carton. In this way today will very closely resemble every other Valentine’s Day of my adult life.
My fiancé will be two states away, and at church. When I asked him what the greatest thing he’d ever done for Valentine’s was, expecting to glean something from his relatively more expansive relationship repertoire, he said, rather dully, “I usually just send flowers and chocolate.”
“That’s awfully cliché,” I said (or maybe I was wise and just thought it).
Besides one box of chocolate-covered strawberries from a girlfriend, he said the best valentine he’d ever received was from a classmate in junior high. I felt slightly betrayed by this. Not the strawberries or the valentine sent to my future husband, but the — the boredom. He belonged to a category of people I had always been taught to envy — the kind who are paired-off at this time of year.
As for me, the best valentine of ever received was when I was 17. A guy-friend of mine wrote and performed a rap in my honor. I have it written down in his unique cartoon-strip style handwriting somewhere and I laugh every time I come across it. The next year, all the girls in my dorm got together and wrote meaningful valentines for all the guys in our class. I was the typist, so I had that document for years, too. I remember being amazed, reading it later, at how lengthy and insightful the notes were about each guy. What a privilege to take part in something so simple and heartfelt.
Another year, the girls I lived with dressed up in black (just to be contrarian) and went out for dinner, and once a married couple in our community threw a big party for all their peers. Everyone had a hat, bowl, or jar assigned to them and people dropped notes into it throughout the evening. It was a little like the Valentine’s boxes in middle school, only the sweet things your friends (and a few acquaintances) gave you were words instead of candy.
The first year in India a friend from the U.S. sent me, my roommate, and our two closest friends a Valentine’s care package, with confetti hearts and red paper garlands, and a sugar cookie mix with cookie cutters and frosting to decorate. We each got a pair of pink panties and a Disney-themed princess card. The party we threw with it was one for the books.
I’m realizing now this post could have been titled 21 Unforgettable Things to Do On Valentine’s Day (If You’re Not in a Relationship) because I could go on, and on, and on. For me and my friends, Valentine’s has been about creativity, charisma, and joy. As we got older, and stayed single, there was maybe something about feeling just a tad bit sorry for ourselves that also allowed us to laugh at ourselves. Maybe being outside the clear target audience for an over-commercialized holiday also gave us the freedom to do what we wanted with it. But ours, unfortunately, is a very minority perspective.
For most people who don’t represent one-half of a couple, today is a day of mourning.
The one Valentine’s day that’s blackened in my memory was the year I spent at Gordon College. There, I could get no one to go out with me, though ALL of my friends were single and doing absolutely nothing but feeling sorry for themselves. There was a dark cloud that fell over the days preceding and following. It was the first time I understood that the bitterness felt over not being a relationship could actually be stronger than the joy felt in a relationship.
It is ironic that a day commemorating the martyrdom of a saint known for his charity would become so focused on eros love that it squeezes out all other kinds, most particularly the two St. Valentine exemplified — charity (sacrificial love for fellow man) and martyrdom (sacrificial love for God). How different would Valentine’s Day be if we had chosen, instead, to celebrate compassion, brotherly affection, friendship? Are those even considered love anymore, or is the only kind of love worth celebrating nowadays synonymous with sexual orientation?
We live in a culture where romantic love is not so much celebrated as it is idolized. Other kinds of loves — at best — are made lesser, substitutionary. At worst, they are made repellent, twisted, or suspect. It is rare to see truly genuine male friendship in modern cinema, and when we do reviewers refer to “homosexual undertones,” or it is called “bromance,” and taken to sick extremes in fanfiction and internet memes. How long will it be till female friendship is viewed the same way?
Within Christianity, the love relationship of Jesus with his Bride, the Church, has also been marginalized. I think I may be one of the last few holdouts who still believe that Song of Songs is an allegory, not a Solomonic Fifty Shades of Grey. I believe we will be reading the books of the Old and New Testament for all eternity — millennia after the sacrament of marriage has been abolished. If that’s true, why would one of them be written only to glorify something that will no longer exist? Made curious by my recent post on Dating Jesus, I Googled that phrase. What turned up was a score of articles from the likes of Christianity Today and Relevant Magazine with scathing critiques of viewing our relationship with God as a romance. If only the Bible didn’t portray it as one . . .
When I’m not busy making plans with friends, Valentine’s Day does make me a little sad. Not because I’ve been lonely, not even because I’m 900 miles from the person I most want to spend today (and, let’s face it, every day) with. Valentine’s Day reminds me that we’re increasingly becoming a culture of only one kind of love. And in that sense, we’re all missing out.