By Maren Tergesen
When I was younger, Valentine’s Day signalled two things: corny but endearing cards from friends, and heart-shaped sweets. For those two reasons, my elementary-aged self thought February 14th was the best. While I cringe to think that I’m endorsing a hallmark holiday, Valentine’s Day actually extended a valuable message among kids, which is to show appreciation for all the meaningful relationships in your life. In fact, kids that attend school are often told to bring a card or a treat for everyone in their class, which makes celebrating V-Day fairly inclusive. Plus, who doesn’t appreciate a Star Wars themed card affirming that “Yoda Best.”
To say that the spirit of this holiday changes as we grow older is a bit of an understatement. In place of being generous and acknowledging everyone important in our lives, Valentine’s Day as adults centers on appreciating partners of romantic relationships exclusively. Although it is important to do something special for those people in our lives, recognizing meaningful, platonic relationships gets displaced in the process. Non-romantic and non-sexual relationships are not only forgotten on this so-called “day of love,” but also completely devalued as they fall outside the limits of Western conceptions of love.
To some it may seem trivial to take issue with how a money-driven, capitalistic holiday is exclusionary to some folks. But Valentine’s Day doesn’t exist in a vacuum. The reality is that we live in a social world that isn’t accommodating to the range of ways in which people express love. February 14th is just a token representing that norm. Not only is our society unreceptive to deviations from this norm, but it only values one type of love. If you’re not a cis female “Juliette” in a romantic relationship with a cis male “Romeo”, then you’re not going to fit the part in our society’s archetypal love story. So, for those of us who prefer platonic partnerships, who don’t experience sexual and/or romantic attraction for others, or who simply don’t conform to the norms regulating love, Valentine’s Day represents all the elements of love with which we don’t identify and acts as a reminder of our difference. In this way, February 14th can be an alienating day.
In the case of folks who identify as asexual and/or aromantic, Valentine’s Day can function to discredit their expressions of love. For some, it may feel as if love is only acceptable if it’s articulated through sex and romance and that can be very invalidating. I think Lauren Jernigan, who identifies as asexual and aromantic, captures this sentiment perfectly as she writes, “Growing up, I had lost the warmth of what it meant to love others because I let the world tell me what that love was supposed to look like” (2018). That said, everyone within the asexual/ aromantic community is unique and experiences Valentine’s Day accordingly. Asexuality and aromanticism are spectrums, which means that there is variability within these orientations and that no two “aces” (folks who identify as asexual) or “aros” (folks who identify as aromantic) experience attraction in the same way. Since asexuality and aromanticism are about attraction, these orientations don’t explain action. People can identify as asexual and/or aromantic, but they may engage in behaviours that don’t align with that identity. So, some folks may not feel sexual and/or romantic attraction, yet they may still go on dates, have sex, celebrate Valentine’s Day, and more.
Though Valentine’s Day can be alienating, it also holds the potential to be really enjoyable if we recast our view of it. I’m not suggesting that we hark back to the days of elementary school and make all our dear ones cards (though I think that would be awesome), but I think we have something to learn from our childhood selves. Instead of Valentine’s Day being reserved for romantic love, we should express our gratitude for all the people in our world that we love and care about. Let’s attempt to challenge the view of romantic love as supreme by celebrating our community as a whole and not simply one “significant other.” Because when we celebrate each individual that we love, we convey that all our different relationships are deserving of recognition and, more importantly, are equally valued. When we bring all our meaningful connections into the celebration of Valentine’s Day, we validate romantic and non-romantic love and empower folks to express affection in a way that feels comfortable for them. So, make plans to watch a movie with a friend or craft some heartwarming text messages for the folks that you love. Or maybe eat a mountain of chocolate by yourself. Whatever it is that you choose to do, ensure that it affirms and validates how you express love.