Thursday, 14 February 2013

Why should we care about Valentine's Day?

I may or may not be making a tradition out of misleadingly-titled posts about Valentine's Day...

I get really irritated every year with the Valentine's Day nay-sayers. The blog post linked above gives one reason why, but in debating the issue with a friend yesterday, I came across another thing that irritates me, or at least where I think received wisdom needs to be challenged.

Two clarifications before I start; first, I'm not defending the abrasive-to-outright-abusive tone of the marketing culture around Valentine's, any more than I'm in favour of the same culture when it pops up around Halloween, Easter or Christmas - but it's the culture that's the problem there, not the day. Secondly, I'm speaking as a near-terminally single person. I'm 25, and I've been non-single on exactly two Valentine's Days. It's been almost four years since I was last in a relationship, and I'm not single in the taking-home-a-different-girl-every-night way, I'm single in the hopelessly-introverted-and-shut-in way.

Why is that relevant? Well, the question I want to ask today is whether people like me should feel like St. Valentine is rubbing it into us. You hear people every year complain about 'singles awareness day', and arguing that Valentine's discriminates against, psychologically abuses or at least bullies the lonely. My question is; should it? Is this a problem with the day, or with lonely people (and again, I stress - no talking down to the 'lonely'; I very much consider myself among your number)?

There's no question, of course, that people do feel lonely on Valentine's. I can remember it, once or twice, being a very painful day, particularly in my adolescence. I've had the experience of facing Valentine's a week after a break-up, and I know someone who actually got dumped on Valentine's, so there definitely are painful circumstances where V-day makes things worse.

The thing is, though, that looking back, most of the time when I've spent Valentine's alone and feeling lonely, feeling that somehow this day more than any other makes the loneliness worse, that feeling has been born of my tendency to obsess over relationships. I wouldn't have felt that way had I not given a disproportionate weight to matters of romance when thinking about my own well-being.

In the last few years, as I've begun to grow out of that obsession, and to get my personal priorities much more in order, Valentine's has gotten a lot less painful. I actually quite enjoy it these days, in an abstract sort of way - it's nice to just think about love, to be able to joke with non-single friends about how gooey they're being without bitterness. Even in the abstract, love is one of the most positive and uplifting things we bring into the world - I'm more than happy to dwell on it for a day, however alone I might be (I'll admit it helps that I'm a shameless romantic).

And I think this is the right general principle to work with. Think about it like this; if, independently of Valentine's Day, a single and lonely friend of yours complained about a couple who walked past while you were hanging out somewhere, you'd think they were being bitter and self-absorbed. Okay, V-day is stuffed down our throats a lot more, but the point stands.

You can only be made to feel bad by Valentine's Day if you believe that there's something wrong with being single, and if you genuinely think that, then you are tying far too much of your self-esteem to other people. Your self-esteem should flow from within, and if it does, you'll never feel bad about not being in a relationship, because you'll always have at least one awesome person around to brighten up your life (i.e. yourself ;D).

Even if you'd prefer to be in a relationship (and however much I've stopped obsessing over it, I'd still prefer to have somebody), there's nothing intrinsically wrong with being single. There's no absolute moral duty to be in a relationship (though arguably there is an absolute moral duty to love in a more general sense). You're not sinning by being alone. Any wrongness you feel is something you have to bring to the party before the commercial shitstorm around an arbitrary mark on a calendar can rub it in.

I guess what I'm saying (and yes, this is an unkind way to put it) is that if you're single and Valentine's day is getting you down, you need to grow up a bit. Go out and celebrate love in whatever way you can - that's pretty good advice for any day, really.

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