I recently found myself wanting to post something about gratitude to Facebook. Some kind of status update that would advertise to the world my extreme contentedness. I’ve been so happy lately (now, bear with me) that I feel brimming over with it, and very ready to spill a little out onto your news feed. But when I went to tell you all on Facebook how very thankful I am for my wonderful boyfriend, my brilliant and generous friends, my loving family, my exciting new job, I found I couldn’t go there. Couldn’t make a statement of my own happiness that either wasn’t trite, self-congratulatory, or worst of all, boring. I’m cringing a little right now even writing this.
I don’t think I’m alone in feeling this way about expressing gratitude. Add a fifth letter to the Meyers-Briggs Personality Test, because there are two kinds of people in the world: those who broadcast their blessings and those who would never. I know a lot of the would-never types—though I myself am, as you can see from my flirtation with the idea, a little bit closer to the center on the issue. The divide wasn’t nearly as visible before the advent of social media. You could see it sometimes: in those heated teen-magazine debates about the pros and cons of Public Displays of Affection I remember from my youth (I would read such hard-hitting journalism and imagine what it would feel like to be a girl whose biggest problem is her boyfriend’s over-lavishing of PDA) or in the minister’s call for evangelism and the attendant uncomfortable shifting of parishioners in their pews.
And of course, the divide was always extremely visible on Valentine’s Day.
What other holiday inspires such vitriol? About what other holiday is it okay to be so publicly hateful and resentful? Many of us hate Christmas, sure, but we get labeled Scrooge for that. Some of us hate Thanksgiving for the proximity to family it forces upon us, but we never get too public about it—you talk about how your dad is an asshole with your friends, sure, but you would never joke about it with the CVS cashier, nor tweet about it—and maybe that’s because familial hatred ultimately implies a kind of self-hatred. Of the second-tier holidays, Easter’s kind of a non-starter—its story’s magical oddity, while at the very crux of America’s major religion, makes it easy to ignore, drains it of threat, makes it as unreal as Voldemort or the zombies on The Walking Dead, and after that, who can get pissed about bunny rabbits and baskets of candy? Memorial Day, Labor Day: only a true sociopath will rail against a national day off from work. Halloween, St. Patricks’ Day: these holidays, I kind of hate, if only because some people are just so obnoxious when they’re drunk, but I am always mocked for this point of view, and anyway, I used to be one of those obnoxious drunk people, back before I got old and grouchy.
On the other hand: Valentine’s Day. It seems like everyone hates the pseudo-holiday, and we don’t trust the few people who dare to proclaim they enjoy it. People that love Valentine’s Day are the worst kind of evangelists: they’re the bearded, rope-belted Bible-thumper on the street corner that even the scrubbed-shiny Mormon missionaries scuttle past while hiking up their black backpacks for cover. Is it odd, really, that the holiday designated by Hallmark and other corporations as a celebration of love is the holiday most hated by the general public? I think no, because as the old adage goes, the opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s indifference (see: Easter’s marketing problem). I’d even go so far as to argue that love and hate are actually the same exact emotion—they just got out of different sides of the bed. Almost everyone I know has at some point or another been sickeningly in love with someone they genuinely hated, including myself. We get confused on Valentine’s Day: we are reminded of losses, or reminded that we are alone, or disappointed by those of whom we expected something, or disgusted by the saccharine materialism of love’s commemoration in the aisle of the CVS (the giant heart-holding teddy bears! the metallic chirp of musical cards! the plasticine nougat entombed inside those unchanging Russel Stover boxes!), and, since we’ve just attempted to numb our emotions with a post-work bottle and a half of chardonnay, we tell the cashier as much while we fumble to pay for our Marlboro Lights. In short, we respond to Valentine’s Day the way we should respond to Veteran’s Day.
Even my boyfriend—my aforementioned wonderful boyfriend, who cooks AND does the dishes every evening, who drives an hour to pick me up from the airport at 11 pm on a Sunday and waits there until 1:30 am when my plane finally lands and is nothing but happy to see me when I finally, finally emerge, who gives me kisses in the night—even he, when the topic of Valentine’s Day comes up, gives a kind of groan and an eye-roll. Every other day of the year, he has no problem whatsoever with being expressive of his love, but when it comes to celebrating that expression, or being required to bestow it, he gets a little squirrelly.
Valentine’s Day is a day in which we are asked to show our gratitude for others, and we have a problem with that. Whether that’s because we get love and hate mixed up, or because we’re genetically descended from emotionally repressed Puritans, or because we hate when people show off their good fortune, or because we don’t have anyone for whom to show gratitude, or because we feel the world should be showing us a whole lot more gratitude, or because we simply don’t like to be told what to do—whatever your reasons, it still seems like an awful waste of energy to hate Valentine’s Day.
Yes—yes, I am that worst kind of evangelist: I am a Valentine’s Day apologist. Valentine’s Day can be amazing for everyone, if only we would let it. Easy for me to say with this panacea of a delightful boyfriend I keep talking about, right? No, it was not so easy for me to say for the years that I was profoundly alone on Valentine’s Day. Alone like: I found out the guy I thought was about to be my boyfriend was spending the day with his girlfriend. That kind of Taylor Swift-y, self-pitying alone. I think I actually cried myself to sleep one Valentine’s Day. Oh God! How suckered we’ve all been by corporations and traditions and assholes. I’m not going to bore you with the story of how I went from Teardrops on My Guitar to We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together—suffice it to say it involved a lot of running and wedding hookups and martinis—but here’s what I know is true: even if you’re incredibly angry or incredibly lonely, Valentine’s Day is such a wonderful excuse to party your sorrows away. Or to do whatever it is you want to do to make yourself happy. February 14th could conceivably be our national day of self-indulgence.
Things get a little more hairy when we get into issues of mismanaged expectations. If you’re in a romantic relationship of some kind and neither of you have any desire to celebrate Valentine’s Day, or both of you love to celebrate Valentine’s Day, then I need give you no advice. But if you each practice different levels of Valentine’s Day observance, one party or the other tends to run aground on disappointment. I wonder at the men out there who refuse to participate in Valentine’s Day, as if their one-man boycott is going to prove anything to anyone other than their partners that these men are really kind of just selfish, lazy pricks. The women—well, I don’t know any women who refuse to celebrate Valentine’s Day when their partners desperately want so to do. (Am I so severe upon my own sex? Yes.)
If your boyfriend staunchly refuses to play along, it’s such a wonderful excuse to trade him in for a better model. Or, whatever, don’t dump him. But definitely do ignore him on the 14th. And instead, celebrate your friends, your family, your dog, your dildo—again, whatever it is or who it is that makes you happy. Celebrate that. Gratitude will always outweigh your disappointments. Even if you can’t bring yourself to admit it on Facebook.
Liz lives and writes in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.