Valentines’ Day doesn’t matter

Okay, so this is the part where I play the cynical, unromantic single dude who hates Valentine’s Day because it excludes me. Whatever. Most people who really like Valentine’s Day are either distastefully eager to use it as some kind of perverse test of faith, or are desperate for the corporate-sponsored, straight-to-video mockery of human connection that makes them briefly forget how unhappy they really are in their so-called relationships. Being excluded from that particular crowd is more of an honor than an insult.

Beyond that, there are much better and much more cynical reasons to hate this stupid holiday. Like every holiday in this country, it has been utterly warped by the commercialization process. You can attack Valentine’s Day on historical grounds, reminding people that they’re really just celebrating the day a Roman priest was buried on an old road. Contrarily, you could argue that Valentine’s Day has been about romance since its appropriation by the poet Geoffrey Chaucer in the Middle Ages, and that its actual origins are insignificant compared to the ideas it has represented for centuries. In both cases, you would be wrong. Whatever Valentine’s Day used to mean, literally or symbolically, doesn’t exist anymore. In 21st century America, it means a license to print Hallmark cards, sell candy and flowers, and most importantly, reinforce traditional concepts of monogamy and hetero-normative relationships. No more, no less.

The problem with Valentine’s Day isn’t that it excludes single people. The problem is that it excludes everyone except one man and one woman in a committed heterosexual relationship that will presumably culminate in marriage before the eyes of God. It’s not a relic of Saint Valentine’s ancient Rome, nor of Chaucer’s England; it’s a relic of an aging, ignorant and obsolete way of thinking. To celebrate Valentine’s Day is to be complicit in an unjust and dangerous form of cultural exceptionalism. You might think it’s just about you and the person you love (giving you the full benefit of the doubt) but like it or not, you are part of a society, and within that context, you are enjoying the benefits of a privileged position, loudly proclaiming that your lifestyle, and no one else’s, deserves to be celebrated.

Yes, there are people other than straight couples who enjoy Valentine’s Day, and that’s fine, but it’s also incidental. It doesn’t change what Valentine’s Day means or who Valentine’s Day is for. The very idea of Valentine’s Day promotes “traditional values” at the expense of other lifestyles, regardless of individual decisions. Ask any elementary school student who has been bombarded by strangely sexualized expressions of desire every year between preschool and puberty.

We shouldn’t need an annual excuse to express our affection for other people. If you want to celebrate love, try celebrating it every day of the year, not just one.

Originally published in The Lumberjack as one half of a point-and-counterpoint series (http://www.jackcentral.org/opinion/opinion-valentine-s-day-doesn-t-matter/article_8ab979d0-99fc-11e3-88b9-001a4bcf6878.html)

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