I hate Valentine’s Day. I feel like I’m really OK being single all year long, but February 14 makes me miserable. I’ve tried taking myself out for a date or getting a Whitman’s sampler but it just depresses me more. Any thoughts on how to spend the day?
Wow, you mean you don’t have fun commemorating Catholic martyrs, goat-whipping festivals, and misogynist painters sketching asses and sanctifying it as art?
Let me explain.
There are lots of different theories about how Valentine’s Day turned into this annual scourge. Most of them revolve around a guy named Valentine who died for love. He either was a Roman priest during the third century who performed marriages against the emperor’s orders, or he was trying to free some Christians from Roman prisons and fell in love with his jailor’s daughter.
The story I like even more is that the Christian Church was trying to disguise the pagan holiday, Lupercalia. Lupercalia was a fertility-palooza, where everyone was doing crazy stuff to get women preggers. Blessedly, no gefiltes were harmed. But they did sacrifice goats and dogs. Then they made strips with the goat’s skin, dipped it in sacrificial blood, and slapped the women and the crop fields for fertility. Party! They capped it off with all the single ladies putting their names into an urn and the eligible gents picking a lucky Jane to sully.
Still haven’t found a reason to celebrate?
How about this: Ever notice how the hearts on your Whitman’s don’t match your anatomical heart? Who the heck thought of this nonsense?
Again, origins are murky. It could be from the shape of ivy leaves, which are supposed to represent fidelity. Or the plant silphium, which grew in North Africa and was used as an herbal contraceptive. Some scholars say Aristotle talked about the human heart having three chambers and a small dent in the middle and the artist-in-residence came up with this for an illustration.
My personal fave comes from Gloria Steinem, who once wrote:
“The shape we call a heart—whose symmetry resembles the vulva far more than the asymmetry of the organ that shares its name—is probably a residual female genital symbol. It was reduced from power to romance by centuries of male dominance.”
(There are a bunch of scholars who say the heart icon represented breasts, buttocks, vulvas, or signified “brothel” in Pompeii.)
So Loveless, I gift you with this poorly researched history lesson to say this: The celebration and commercialization of this holiday is totally random and non-obligatory. Just start dating your journal February 15 a day early if you like.
If, however, you feel compelled to do something in the name of love, here are a few fun gefilte games to pass the time:
1. Make a list of all the people you’ve mashed your face with in the past. Out of love, spite, or mismatched desire. Some will make you wince, but others I hope will get you giggling. I once got a hickey from a minnow that stung for weeks.
2. Make a list of all your false perceptions of love. I was convinced I would feel instantaneous soulmate attraction that shook my kishkas. I also really wanted my first kiss to be in a moonlit gazebo a la “The Sound of Music.” Not so much.
3. Now, make a list of all the people you love at this very moment. They could be alive or dead. Too famous to breathe without a bodyguard or bagging groceries.
Here are some of the people on that list for me:
–Yul Brynner, King of Siam
–Norbert Leo Butz, phenomenal actor and singer
-The crossing guard by my son’s preschool who manages to whistle in the iciest cold
-Whoever invented airbags
-My Italian cardiologist
Pick one of these phenomenal people and write them a letter of love. It doesn’t have to be frilly. It doesn’t even have to go in the mail. It’s just a way of checking in with your heart—the one in the center of your chest, that is—and acknowledging that it needs love.
If there is one thing I truly believe it is this: We must give away whatever we desire.
Send that love out into the world—in a letter, a wish, a chocolate covered turnip—and it will grow.
That’s the only truth I know about this made-up holiday. And every day, for that matter.
With love and schmaltz,