It’s here. Valentine’s Day is upon us and as many as are giddy with anticipation are those giddy with apprehension. It’s a fact that some people enjoy Valentine’s a bit more than others, and others a bit less. Who doesn’t have that one friend who must wear red to mark Valentine’s? Or that other friend who does the most to act like the day doesn’t even exist, and scoffs at anybody who even breathes in a manner to suggest they recognize that it is Valentine’s? And of course, as it is every year, jokes abound on how some men will disappear from the lives of their women on the 12th and not reappear till the 16th. And as it is every year, florists and hotels are getting ready to make a killing. Same old, same old.
I am one of those people who loves love. I love watching chick flicks, if only for the promise of a happy ending. I love walking in town on Sunday afternoon and seeing couples walking hand in hand. And even though I can’t say I am super-excited about this day, I love the idea that there is a day when people have an excuse to go all out, and to expect others to go all out for them. Yes, I am talking to you who is expecting some magical surprise from your husband. It’s okay, there is no judgment coming from me, haha. I hope he comes through. I mean, you deserve it, don’t you?
So because I love love, I have been thinking about Valentine’s Day and what it means to different people. And I realized that there are people for whom there is no way to enjoy this day or even make anything of it. Think of the man who just lost his wife. Valentine’s Day must be difficult for some, especially the recently bereaved, and yet in the hubbub that comes with this day, we tend to lose sight of and forget them. On a day when the rest of the world is depleting the global supply of flowers, some people retreat into themselves, and often into the past, as they remember how much more lovely, lovable or loving the world seemed before they lost that special person. We don’t notice them. For many people, days like Valentines are filled with nothing more than loneliness and pain.
Thinking about people for whom Valentine’s Day is difficult made me wonder about how we think about love. How much we have boxed it, reduced it, made it what we wanted it to be. The reason we lock some people out of Valentine’s Day is that we glorify one kind of love above all others—romantic love. Sure, we value the love we have for our parents, our siblings, our friends, our pets…but more often than not, these diminish when romantic love is absent.
When we think about Valentine’s Day we think about the things we traditionally associate with romance. We think about flowers, the colour red, and chocolates that come in pretty boxes tied up in ribbon. We think about dinner dates and poems and candles. Soft music and soft voices. We think about people in love holding hands while taking a walk. And on this day, all other kinds of love are relegated to the backs of our minds because on this day, they become lesser kinds of love.
This is where the story of the bitter single person emerged. It came from attitudes that reaffirm this notion; that romantic love takes precedence over the other kinds of love. The things we watch on television tell us that on Valentines Day, those without partners must be miserable. They must stay at home and drink cheap wine and sing sad love songs as they bemoan their unfortunate luck. They must not remember that they have family and friends that love them. They must be cognizant only of their alone-ness. Because the only kind of love that is worth celebrating is romantic love.
Try as I might, I can’t shake the feeling that it is somehow unfair that on a day when we are celebrating love there are some people who must feel left out. Because we all have love in our lives, whatever kind it is, and I think those are just as worthy of being celebrated as romantic love. I understand that Valentine’s Day was set apart mainly to celebrate romantic love. However, I think that perhaps a reframing of this day and its purpose is long overdue. Actually, I think a reframing of how we think about love is long overdue. Love is love, no matter the form it takes. Why shouldn’t we celebrate it all?
If I had it my way, we would slowly begin eroding that traditional picture we have of Valentine’s Day. Instead of being about romantic love exclusively, Valentine’s Day would be about all kind of love. It wouldn’t just be flowers and dinner dates; it would be family time, and laughter, and friendship and appreciation for all the people we love. It would be about sharing and spreading love to all those around us. And nobody need feel locked out of love. Wouldn’t that be something?
Why not do something different this Valentine’s? Instead of focusing only on your relationship, think about all the love that is in your life, whether for your partner, for your best friend or for your cat. Take it all in and feel thankful. Call your mother and talk to her. Give your children a Valentine’s Day treat. Give hugs. Lots and lots of hugs, because we all know how much love one hug can hold. Reach out to someone in need. Donate to a cause. Buy yourself those shoes you have wanted for so long because Valentine’s Day is a great day to treat yourself. I mean, you deserve love too, don’t you? And if you do have a partner, go ahead and have that dinner date. Why not? Food is a love language, no?
The point is to experience love in all its multifaceted glory. Love that is expansive and whole and soul-filling. I think that Valentine’s Day should be a day when everybody thinks about the people in their lives—no matter who it is—and how they can love them better. Because there is loving and there is loving well. I think Valentine’s needs to be opened up to all kinds of love because all kinds of love build us up to become better versions of ourselves.
However you choose to celebrate tomorrow, if at all, take some time to appreciate all the people who take up space in your heart; don’t put love in a box. Happy Valentine’s!
Author: Michelle Korir
Michelle Chepchumba is contributor at Wanjiru Kihusa. She loves cats and enjoys reading and writing in an attempt to discover the mysteries of the human mind. She also works in mental health and writes about life at www.thescroll.co.ke.