An Open Love Letter For Everyone This Valentine’s Day
I have never been a big fan of Valentine’s Day, but I am a fan of relationships. To a point. My problem with our celebration with romantic love is three-fold, and whether you’re in a relationship or not, this may be something you need to hear. I say all of this with love, and because all of these things I needed to hear.
First off, romantic love is far from the only love worth having, but it’s the only one we seem to feel deserves its own holiday. No matter what Facebook does with our photos, or how subgroups like the Nerdfighters choose to celebrate non-romantic love, the reality is that only romantic love seems to get the big hoorah. This is a problem for both aromantic folks and for folks who just happen to not be taking part in a romantic relationship; it’s another way of society telling us that having a romantic partner is a benchmark for success that we are not reaching. That’s an unpleasant thing to think and feel, but it’s also rooted in an idea that we can never be complete without another person.
So this Valentine’s Day, I want to tell you that you are complete, even if you don’t have a partner. You deserve to be able to stand alone, even if you have a partner, or more than one partner. This idea of finding our “other half” lets us buy into the idea that we ourselves can never be enough, and while having someone in your corner is always great, that person does not need to be a romantic or sexual partner, and no matter what, you are the person you need in your corner the most.
The second problem I have with Valentine’s Day also has to do with elevating romantic love as a marker of success. This kind of thinking tells us that we need to engage in a dating market that may or may not be skewed against us; it teaches us to feel like failures for not being able to find someone who matches what we want or need in a partner-~-but worse, it can teach us to accept relationships where we aren’t getting what we want or need from our partners. This mentality can make us feel like we’re failures for walking away from people who ultimately aren’t good for us, just because now we are alone. I’m sure I don’t need to point out the number of ways this can be problematic; it sets us up for unhappiness, or can even make it difficult to leave abusive relationships, because we’re afraid of the social consequences, or afraid to be on our own.
Let me say this: a relationship is only as good as it makes you feel or inspires you to be. Be someone who makes you happy, and be with someone who encourages you to be that person-~-even if that person is just you. If you’re going to have a partner, make sure it’s someone who builds you up instead of puts you down, someone who supports your dreams, someone who has dreams of their own and won’t make you feel bad for wanting things when they don’t know what they want. Make sure you find someone who can actually be your partner, and don’t be afraid or ashamed to walk away if that’s not what you’re getting.
This Valentine’s Day, let me also say that if you are on your own having walked away from a relationship that wasn’t what you wanted or needed, I am proud of you. I am proud of you for recognizing that you deserve more than the idea of someone; you deserve the real thing. I am proud of you for recognizing that you deserve to be happy. You deserve a relationship that lets you feel happy and safe, and it’s okay for the relationship to be with yourself. And if you are in a relationship and you aren’t sure you’re happy, and you’re not sure how to make it work, you should know that you are not alone. There are people you can talk to, and resources you can draw on. You deserve to be happy and safe no matter what you choose to do.
My third problem with Valentine’s Day is this: our cultural fixation with being paired up can blind us to all the things that being on our own has to offer. Being on your own teaches you what you can really handle. It lets you figure out what you want out of life, without accounting for someone else’s goals, so that if you do decide to find a partner, you can find one whose goals genuinely fit with what you actually desire. Being on your own lets you develop your own independent sense of self, teaches you to explore parts of you and interests you might have without any pressure or sense of obligation. Being on your own can be scary, sure, but it can also be liberating.
Our relationships with ourselves ultimately dictate our relationships with everyone else in our lives, and while we spend a ton of time celebrating relationships with significant others, we never really talk about what it means to get to know ourselves, or to really love ourselves. Self-love can’t just be a catchphrase; it has to be an active journey that we continue to take throughout our lives, and until we can embrace that, being with other people can be really difficult. So if you feel like you’re still struggling to figure things out, ask yourself seriously: what do I want, and what do I need? It’s okay not to have all the answers yet, but give yourself a chance to figure it out. You might be surprised how much clarity you’ll find in those answers.
Finally, let me say this: whether you’re single or coupled up or in a polyamorous relationship, please remember that today is just a day on the calendar. Love isn’t about candy or flowers or fancy dinners; don’t let corporate America convince you that it is. Love is about having someone there who can support you, make you laugh, be there when you cry, and help you be the person you want to be, and there are so many places that love can come from, and so many ways a person can show it, that have nothing to do with our idealized version of Valentine’s Day. In the grand scheme of a relationship, and in our lives, Valentine’s Day is just one small data point-~-don’t let it skew your perception of everything else you have going on.