that familiar pink and red. I'm literally cringing just thinking about it.
I thought answering questions about Valentine's Day when I was single was a pain in the ass; turns out that being in a relationship makes those questions more annoying. People start asking me what my plans are. Sometimes, when I tell them that my partner and I don't really go out of our way to celebrate, that we don't do dinner or flowers or chocolate or even cards, they cock their heads to the side and convey that oh-so-recognizable look of pity or dismay. Their body language says, "Something is wrong with your relationship."
It's a lot of pressure, and part of that pressure comes from within. It's the part of me that has internalized these narratives, the part of me that hasn't been able to truly squish out the tiny voice that asks, "What if we are supposed to be doing these things to prove something to ourselves and to others?"
But that's what the holiday is all about right? Judging and assessing and valuing our relationships against a commodity-fueled narrative. We're supposed to celebrate Valentine's Day because we love each other. We're supposed to buy things for each other to show we care. If we don't have partners, we're supposed to attend single girl happy hours because we love our friends, but we're all secretly bitter that we didn't get flowers. If we think the holiday is stupid, we're supposed to participate in the anti-Valentine's Day narrative - celebrating our love in nontraditional ways on that traditional day.
I don’t think Valentine’s Day has anything to do with love. I don’t think one day of gift giving and romance can be a litmus test for the strength, health, and value of our capacity to love. Love isn’t a noun that can be exchanged like a commodity. Love is an active verb, an action. It comes from a place of affection and care, of compassion and respect. That’s the kind of love my partner and I have tried to embody every day, but it wasn’t always like that.
In 2009, my best friend died in a preventable chemistry lab accident. When I heard the news, I was freezing in a car in South Dakota, driving with my partner from Chicago to the Bay Area. Sometimes I feel that at that moment, I lost the capacity to love. I was too angry, too bereft to give love to anyone. I was too hurt to feel I could receive it or trust it. I felt sure that my partner would abandon our relationship – it was still new at the time, and we weren’t sure it could withstand that kind of tragedy. But it has. Partly because he has helped me through the most difficult part of my life, has literally picked me up off the ground when the grief was paralyzing. Partly because I have – slowly – relearned how to love the people around me, relearned how to open my heart and accept love, even at the risk of loss. We continue, day by day, finding compassion and empathy for one another, even when it seems impossible. It’s a challenge, but it’s also wonderful.
That’s what love is, a wonderful challenge and a lot of work. Work that extends itself well beyond the fourteenth day of February.
We will spend time with our friends and family. We’ll come home and drink tea, cook some food, talk about our days at the office, and watch reruns of West Wing. We will love each other through our actions, like we try to do every day. It won’t be a grand, sparkly gesture, but it will be real and genuine. And - like all love – it will help heal and transform us, just a bit, every day.