‘Tis the season of heart shaped sweets, pink fluffy bears and television advertisements featuring couples strolling hand in hand with saccharine smiles on their faces.
‘Tis the season that florists, jewellers and Hallmark card vendors adore.
‘Tis Valentine’s Day.
One of the things that I adore about America is the way that people approach holidays. Since I have been here, I’ve seen Halloween, I’ve seen Thanksgiving, I’ve seen Christmas. I thoroughly approve of the way that Americans go all out for each of these holidays. Particularly the Halloween variant. Dressing up is always for the best & New Yorkers take it to whole new level. I was particularly appreciative of these pumpkins:
It never occurred to me, however, that this enthusiasm would extend to Valentine’s Day. Countless American romcoms should have prepared me. But nothing could have prepared me for the onslaught of pink paraphernalia that cropped up the very second we’d all finished celebrating the New Year. Every street vendor added Valentine’s Day specials. Bus and subway advertisements offered gift suggestions and restaurant reservations. Everywhere I turned I came face to face with the actors from ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’. (I’m not sure I can fairly attribute this to American enthusiasm for Valentine’s day but since I find the whole ‘Grey’ phenomenon entirely repulsive, I’m lumping it in for good measure.)
Australia has Valentine’s Day too. It’s a rather more muted affair – perhaps a cultural remnant of the British stiff upper lip. Things turn a shade of hot pink come the beginning of February and carry on that way until the fourteenth of the month has passed. I am vaguely aware of the holiday’s approach each year, mainly as two of my friends had the (mis)fortune of being born on Valentine’s Day. So I tend to think about it more in terms of birthday parties & cake rather than sweet nothings and romance. In New York this state of oblivion is a tad harder to achieve.
I don’t object to Valentine’s Day per se. I have had some lovely Valentine’s day moments. There is something sweet about a whole day devoted to reminding us to actually tell the people in our lives how we feel about them. The thing is, though, that I can’t quite get my head around the disconnect between the romance of someone telling you they love you & the idea that they have been hounded to do so for weeks by ongoing ad campaigns. There’s something inauthentic about that.
After all, love is not what you buy someone. It’s not how many pieces of heart shaped candy you manage to sprinkle on someone’s desk. It’s not even the tried and tested bouquet of roses. It’s definitely not the ‘personalised’ Pandora charms that cost the earth. (Not to say that it isn’t a sweet gesture if you buy one for your significant other.. but you know what I mean.)
Love is in the little things. In the every day. It’s in remembering to ask about someone’s day. It’s in the moment where you both find the same thing funny even though no one else does. It’s in preparing her favourite meal or in putting on the song he loves to hear. It’s also about not taking fantastic people for granted, whether they be romantic partners or not.
Yesterday the internet was awash with wonderful ‘meet-cute’ articles about how people found their soulmates. I like stories like that as much as the next person. Nevertheless, the article that stuck with me the most wasn’t one with a happy ending. It was one that made it very clear that Valentine’s Day isn’t so hotly anticipated by Suicide Prevention Centres and mental health professionals. It’s the day that vulnerable people feel most isolated, particularly in the age of constant information bombardment.
Not everyone is lucky enough to be in love. Not everyone wants to be in love.
But everyone wants to be loved.
So even if you have a significant other, I can’t help but feel that the loveliest gesture we could make on Valentine’s Day is to let the people we care about know. I’m not advocating a gift giving extravaganza. We have quite enough of those to be going on with. Too many, some might say. To the contrary, I’m just talking about a phone call or a text. Maybe a note. Those are the little things that make people who feel alone feel just a little bit more connected. And that’s surely what Valentine’s Day should be about.