Valentine’s Day: The annual struggle


“Love, sex, and Valentine’s day,” I read aloud to my girlfriend with mounting dismay. “It’s the same damn topic every year, no matter how much of a train wreck these columns turn out to be.”

Laughing with a knowing glance, she began choking on her Wheaties as I became more animated and agitated with the thought of yet another Hallmark inspired column. While normally supportive of whatever I write on any given week, she knows me well enough to know that I begin dreading this time of year somewhere in October, and I only become more cynical as the years pass.

Frankly, it’s unnerving that anyone would trust me to write about a topic so far out of my depth. If I were tasked to cover Mental Health Awareness Month, I’d gladly offer some pertinent insights on self-love. Likewise, if I were to write a column on backcountry safety and medicine, I could wryly depict my deep love of not dying in the wilderness. But given the opportunity to write about gaudy public displays of affection designed to illicit attention, I recoil in deeply ingrained disgust.

Let me start at the root of the problem: I don’t place V-Day in the same class of real holidays worth celebrating. Important holidays are worth celebrating because they’re inclusive displays of some culturally significant event. Whether it’s a day of religious significance such as Easter, a day of friendship like Festivus, or a poorly disguised excuse to drink like St. Patrick’s Day, the common themes of mutual celebration and inclusive community atmosphere run deep.

Valentine’s Day is the polar opposite. For the single, it’s a day of jealousy and desperation that makes it feel as if you’ve been excluded from some grand party that everyone else is attending. If you’re in a relationship, you’re often expected to concoct some monumental display of affection for your partner, as if we’re all just desperate peacocks hoping that our plumage will outrank our peers.

I’m convinced that V-Day is a holiday meant for single people and new relationships that haven’t yet left the awkward stage, because the most successful couples I know don’t seem to place any stock in the debacle. Those couples instead express love in a quiet manner by going on a weekend ski trip, or doing a week-long hike without wanting to leave one another for dead on the trail.

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As a society, we don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day the way we should, focusing not on the act of love, but rather the status symbols of attractive partners, expensive bouquets and dinners, all of which are dutifully posted to social media in a perpetually losing game of one-upmanship. Hell, even typing that was exhausting.

Thankfully, I’m in a relationship that places less value on Valentine’s Day than we do on Earth Day. Taylor and I don’t tend to schedule dinner at a romantic restaurant weeks in advance, generally because we’re forgetful and find sitting amidst disgustingly affectionate couples as counterproductive to enjoying a meal. Instead, we’ll spend a long weekend in Homer every January to spark some romance that consists of eating our body weight in Thai food, hanging around a crusty old fisherman’s bar and impressing the Homer Brewing Company with our intestinal fortitude. As for the holiday itself? Frankly, we’d forgotten all about it until the agonizing writing process for this column began.

If you came here for love advice, then you’re so hopelessly lost that you might as well just bow out now and prepare for next February. But anecdotally, there are some common themes to look for in very successful relationships. The best couples I know are equals, filled with mutual respect for each other as best friends and lovers, and their sex lives tend to be frequent, vigorous and highly experimental. Everything else consists of filling in the blanks as you get to know your significant other, whether they want to celebrate with flowers, a fancy dinner or simply a new pair of handcuffs that don’t chafe so damn much.

There are so many ways to make the holiday work for you that don’t include mingling with other desperate singles in bars on a holiday meant for love. Celebrate a longstanding platonic friendship with a nice night out, or just take a day off to celebrate your love for yourself with a ski trip or winter hike. As for Taylor and I, we’ll be staying in on Valentine’s Day, making a giant pot of soup in our new apartment and watching the recently added Frozen Planet series on Netflix in a state conducive to marveling at nature.

There are many melancholy “lasts” in my final semester of curating this column, which I’m sure is apparent as I spit run-on sentences into the void, desperate to get the last word in before I lose my soapbox. Thankfully, the final annual V-Day column is a joyous parting. So whether your Sunday consists of heartfelt romance, sexual adventure or just a nice bottle of beer with an old friend, know that however blissful your celebration, it pales in comparison to the catharsis of completing this final dreaded column.