As expected, today’s news reflects the many ways people all over the world feel about love. Reeling off of the revolutionary energy of the occupations, many folks are occupying V-Day, expressing staunch opposition to the exploitive and capitalistic chocolate-coated holiday often cloaked under the pretext of adoration and affection. A day that unapologetically boasts the privilege of heteronormativity and the tradition of monogamy – openly excluding so many.
Still others will embrace the opportunity shower their partners, friends and relatives with sweet gifts robed in crimson and given with love – commercial as it may be.
All personal views aside, what do people really want from a day of love? Love, in all of its nuanced complexity, is many things to many people. It is adorning and ostentatious, a glittery show of lights for the entire world to see, it is mindful and quaint, compliant and subtly exposed to an intimate audience of two; it is mellow but rich and full of niceties and sometimes love is grippingly unemotional, but consistently so. Compound emotional details aside, love is also a warm meal. It is enough money in your pocket to buy a dignifying cup of coffee, it is a warm, embracing coat on a cold winter’s day, the long, slow breath you take when you flip the switch and the lights come on, the ability make a decent wage, feed your family and live life away from the margins and closer to the center.
For some, love is a phone call, a distant, lingering “I love and miss you” between thousands of miles to someone who has been deported or incarcerated. Some celebrate love at the cemetery, mourning the loss of someone close to us who because of structural isms is no longer in our present. Love is in a hospital room where we cling to hope and pray for mercy – where we wonder what we have left to sell to foot the bill. Love is being the last person given a bed at the local shelter, the worry of where you’ll sleep for the night slowly vanishing. Love is not always sweet and chocolaty and wrapped in fancy paper.
Historically, Valentine’s Day is about martyrdom, linked to the plight of Saint Valentine, a third-century Roman priest who is said to have been executed on Feb. 14 for standing up for Christian marriage. This etymology in and of itself gives context to the inner struggle that plagues love. It is not a duplicative, regurgitated replica for sale at your local jeweler – it is an unpredictable and sometimes distorted and precarious journey that becomes inextricably linked to our personal growth.
Peeling back the commercial layers of Valentine’s Day, we realize that for some love can be the things we take for granted every day – something like choice and the humanizing ability to make choices that reflect your needs and the needs of the people you care about. What gets lost in the propaganda is that love is given in the form of opportunity and self-determination - not sold at your local drug store or flower shop. Love is the capacity to have a quality of life that isn’t sub-standard and that doesn’t force you to choose between healthcare and dinner. Love is also the ability to express your full self, devoid of criticism and judgment.
However celebrated, Valentine’s Day should be a reflection of the many ways we observe and express love. In our privilege, it can be mindful to acknowledge that commercializing love, however fun, can be minimizing and exclusive. Moving past the flowers and candy we see that love is a gripping experience that is intersected with policy and access and the right to choose. We should all be so lucky to be able to have that loving right.
Shanelle Matthews is a creative, blogger and all around communications enthusiast. She is the Communications Manager at Forward Together and is a participant in the Strong Families project, Echoing Ida.
Follow her @freedom_writer