Valentine’s have always struck me as precious. Birthday cards, Christmas greetings, and Halloween costumes get thrown in the trash, but a well-written Valentine? I have a box at home full of pink cards and cut doilies and calcified candy hearts glued into patterns. In elementary school, I had a teacher’s aide who drew each student a small cat — all of them were unique and carefully detailed with colored pencils. It was probably the most beautiful piece of art I’d ever held, and it’s there, still in my box. What struck me then was the specificity of these cards, the individual thought behind each. I would labor as a child over who to give what Valentine — whether store bought or homemade. Would Carly prefer a Qui-Gon or an Obi-wan? Storey was definitely a Queen Amidala, and Yousef might like R2-D2. And then came the question of what do you say?
Valentine’s may have been my first real chance to share my love of language — to show my classmates I cared by giving them very specific words. And of course these valentines go far beyond school. The cards, gifts, and moments given to me as a young person by those I was romantically involved with include some of the most meaningful gifts and moments of my life. In high-school, I was given my first copy of Sylvia Plath; I was taken on a trip to my favorite book store. I had sex for the first time one precious Valentine’s snow day — drinking orange juice and stopping after every position to ask, which one should we try next? I’ve received some of the worst letters you can imagine — letters that have made me lose all respect for their writers that are also filled with cliché but tender sentiment. On Valentine’s Day, I’ve planted dill seeds mailed to me in a yellow envelope from London.
I’ve also felt comfortable sharing my love with others. The day is made for it after all. It is an excuse to tell the obvious people you love them, of course: your partner, your parents, your BFF. However, if you’re shy and socially-incompetent like me, it’s also a great opportunity to tell others you love them — and you don’t even have to use your words, there are pre-made slips of paper that do the job. Tell your doorman you love them. Tell your ex. Tell your puppy and your goldfish and maybe show a little extra love to the person who asks you for money on the train. It’s like the Christmas spirit only it’s not inspired by your fear of retribution from a man who killed his own son via crucifixion.
“What about Halloween?!” I hear you crying. “What about New Years and what about Independence Day?” (Is anyone actually saying that?)
As someone trying to navigate the world with PTSD, all three holidays are bombastically horrible. There are literal nooses hung from trees. There are things that jump out in the night forcing you to face your worst memories, and there are explosions in the sky you can’t quite escape. There are excuses for cruel humor and overt nationalism and body shaming. No thank you. Those days are not for me.
“And what about Christmas!” I hear you crying. “What about Turkey Day!” (There are other holidays I’m missing here you can also cry out about that I will not respond to in this article.)
While some people enjoy family holidays, some of us prefer those special occasions that allow us to celebrate the families we’ve made as adults. As a queer woman coming from a religious and conservative family, large gatherings for Christmas and Thanksgiving were just opportunities to feel other — until I decided to stop celebrating them. The mandatory holiday spirit always left me feeling empty and depressed — the babies and families and gender roles always made me feel ashamed, and then angry, and not constructively angry.
Both of these holidays also demand money; and not just money, but the demand of the display of money — the overt ogling of bought goods. I have never been able to afford that kind of wanton display of wealth, nor would I want to. As a child I remember being hyperconscious of the burden money can be and the way it demands us to constantly compare. Consumerism is one of America’s less attractive traits, and these holidays put it under the spotlight.
In snowy February, when you’re so close to the end of a long winter and you can appreciate the chilled splendor of the moment also lends itself to gratitude. I’m grateful for the snow. I’m grateful for my friends and my home and my body. To show my body how grateful I am, I’m going to spoil it with chocolates and bubble baths and sex (or masturbation — just as good in my book). I’m going to feel whatever I am feeling and relish in that sensuality, be it grief or euphoria, or a good solid steadiness that often goes undervalued.
I know this isn’t everyone’s experiences. I’ve listened to many a roommate cry over a bottle of wine throughout the years. I’ve done it too. I’ve gone on bad dates and I’ve been dumped and I’ve even run into my ex-girlfriend and my ex-boyfriend on a Valentine’s night out together (oh boy, have I ever).
But that’s what I’m saying: There is something important about being conscious of these bodily feelings, something hedonistic and oddly pleasurable. Especially when you’re able to remember they’re all ephemera. Like I said before, I find Valentine’s to be precious.
As I say in a Facebook post in 2017, a month after the inauguration — a time I truly needed to be inside my body, giving myself a break from my shortcomings, my nation’s shortcomings, my racing brain — Valentine’s Day needs someone to stand up for it:
“In defense of Valentine’s Day, a non-religious, non-political holiday dedicated to drinking wine and eating chocolate: Celebrate those you know, grieve for those who are gone. Subvert the corporations intentions and expectations by loving yourself. Best day of the year. Can’t be dissuaded.”
So whether you’re celebrating with a monogamous partner, having an orgy, organizing a Galentine’s Day, arranging a non-gendered potluck for friends and colleagues, or choosing instead to Netflix and chill — whether you prefer flowers or chocolates or wine or handwritten cards or store-bought ones — I hope you each have a conscious holiday. I hope you learn to love Valentine’s the way I do.