For a day full of love and hearts and chocolate, Valentine’s Day provokes a surprising amount of bitterness. People tend to view Valentine’s Day as an exclusive holiday, one reserved for lovebirds who sit in a quaint café holding hands. In the days leading up to Valentine’s Day, I saw a plethora of articles in my newsfeed about “Romantic Valentine’s Day Dinners” and “How to Plan a Romantic Night for Two,” along with a good few about “Comfort Meals for One,” seemingly implying that single people need something to cheer them up on this day dedicated to couples. I understand why people would feel resentful towards the holiday, especially if they are unwillingly single, cynical towards romance, or simply averse to seeing images of weird naked babies with bows and arrows everywhere. I think the problem, however, is not with Valentine’s Day itself, but with the way society generally perceives the holiday as a day earmarked for celebrating romantic love only. If we instead viewed Valentine’s Day as a means of celebrating all relationships — those with friends, family, partners, and anyone else we appreciate having in our lives — Valentine’s Day could be the best holiday of all.
When I was little, Valentine’s Day was all about candy. Sure, my elementary school teachers made us write cards to every student in the class, but no one read the messages; we all just ate the chocolate that came with the cards. Even in high school, I would bring a bag of Hershey’s kisses to school, distributing them to my friends and to other students in my classes. My parents would give a bag of chocolate to my sister and me every year, and we looked forward to savoring the cream-filled candies with eager anticipation. At the risk of sounding incredibly cheesy, however, I realized that the most special part of this ritual was not the delicious chocolate, but rather, the spontaneous manner with which my family would say “I love you” to each other on the morning of Valentine’s Day. Granted, my family and I say “I love you” quite regularly and casually — as in “Good night, love you!” — but on Valentine’s Day, we would say it without the everyday flippancy that usually marked such habitual exchanges. We would take time to hug each other, say “Happy Valentine’s Day! I love you!”, and truly emphasize what we were saying. Valentine’s Day was also one of the few times, besides birthdays and the holiday season, when my friends and I would tell one another how much we meant to each other. It is as if Valentine’s Day gives us license to show affection, to set aside restraint and to demonstrate our love openly and without embarrassment. Thus, I think that the Valentine’s Day portrayed in the media — i.e. the quintessential “date night” — is very different from what most people can and should experience. Of course, it is wonderful to have an excuse to share a romantic meal with your beloved partner, but it is also wonderful to simply say “I love you” to a friend or a family member. Valentine’s Day is unique in that it is celebrating not an overtly religious holiday — although it is named after the Christian St. Valentine — or a historical occasion or a famous person, but rather, the individual people who make our lives special.
Indeed, after experiencing Valentine’s Day at Swarthmore this year, I am amazed at how close Swarthmore comes to my ideal of what Valentine’s Day should be. I was initially surprised at how many parties and events were planned for Valentine’s Day, but I soon understood that Valentine’s Day is a big deal at Swarthmore because we celebrate it well. I love how we send love to our friends, professors, and partners via stealthy ninjas disguising themselves as potted plants. I loved seeing hapless individuals ambushed by Sixteen Feet’s serenades. I loved the delightful, wacky, utterly unique chaos in Sharples on Saturday evening as what seemed like half the college tried to locate their Screw dates while dressed in everything from togas to cat costumes. I also loved how I spent my Valentine’s Day — not at a romantic dinner with my significant other (the very image is laughable, as I have never been on a date in my life), but in Sci watching Ocean’s 11 with a group of friends. In my opinion, Valentine’s Day brought out the best of Swarthmore, allowing a warm atmosphere of camaraderie and affection and friendship to bloom and reminding me of why I love this place despite its flaws. We celebrated one another and met new people and had fun, all while fully living up to our “quirky” reputation. I personally stopped worrying about my next assignment for once and instead let myself enjoy the company of my friends. This seems close enough to the meaning of Valentine’s Day to me.
Thus, the popular perception of Valentine’s Day is both right and wrong. True, the holiday is about love and kisses and chocolate truffles and romantic candlelit dinners. But, it is also about friends and family and about making time to say “I love you” to the people in your life who mean the most to you — or even to send a Ninjagram to them to say it, because nothing gets the point across better than a shadowy figure with a foam sword. Ideally, we would tell our loved ones that we love them and appreciate them every one of the 365 days in the year, but until we are able to achieve this goal, the fourteenth of February reminds us every year to say “I love you.”