Valentine’s Day inspires cynical reflection

Valentine’s day is a bipolar holiday. It brings either love or loneliness. Bitterness or bliss. It’s a holiday I’ve never known what to do with.

When I’ve had a girlfriend, I’ve taken her out to an elegant dinner, given her the requisite jewelry and had a nice evening while not trying to feel coerced by a holiday that forces romance. When I’ve been girlfriend-less, I’ve felt relief for not having to go out on errands ñ buying a heart-shaped box of chocolate, flowers, and something shiny, making dinner reservations ñ covering all the bases to ensure I wasn’t deemed a bad boyfriend by not dazzling her on Valentine’s Day.

I mean, let’s face it – Valentine’s Day isn’t gender-neutral. It’s always centered around the fairer sex. It’s never about the guy. Dinner, flowers, jewelry? Do you really think guys want to do all that? It’s maintenance. Of course, I’m just referring to most guys. Personally, I’m an enlightened 21st millennial kind of guy – I like watching chick movies, and I’m willing to act sensitive.

I can’t really imagine how to make Valentine’s Day more gender equal though. I guess the girlfriend could take her boyfriend to that strip club he’s always wanted to go to. Take him to a monster truck rally. Buy him a six-pack, order him a pizza and give him a massage as he watches basketball. Though these suggestions might sound sexist, it’d be just as one-sided as Valentine’s Day is now.

I’ll admit harboring some bitterness toward Valentine’s Day. Some of my bitterness is superficial. There’s something irritating about lovey-dovey couples. There’s something sickening about having to overhear the pet names (sweetie, honey, snookums), or the saccharine way of talking that makes me want to toss my cookies. Or when a couple is cutesy; for instance, when they wear the same running outfits – the same spandex pants and REI jackets, but in different colors.

But I have more substantial grievances. The fact that oftentimes, when friends have significant others, their other relationships suffer. Friends sometimes become dissolved in their relationships. They are no longer available on weekends, and when they are, it’s to host quaint dinner parties where couples come over to play Scrabble. There’s no more hanging out and grabbing a beer on the fly. And when coupled friends do manage to schedule some quality time, it becomes a special event, often requiring a permission slip, an early curfew and a few cell phone calls to check in.

I don’t think it’s just me; I think a lot of people don’t like Valentine’s Day. One of the reasons is single people are made to feel defensive about their solitariness. When you’ve been single for a while, people ask you, “So why don’t you have a girlfriend/boyfriend?” The question insinuates that a person is somehow incomplete when he/she is single (e.g., “You complete me”). When I get this question, I want to respond, “Well I didn’t know I was supposed to have a girlfriend.” I want to tell these people a girlfriend is a person, not a position – it’s not a job opening I need filled, where I’m willing to hire the first qualified applicant. We’re talking about love here, a very rare thing.

Sometimes we settle for companionship, not love. One of my longtime friends, a lifetime serial monogamist – always having some girlfriend or other – pondered my suggestion he temporarily try being single for a while. He dismissed the idea as ludicrous, “Why would I want to be single? I’d be so much happier with a girlfriend.”

There are a lot of people who feel to be single is to be missing something – at least that’s the feeling I get when watching Ally McBeal. Even Plato, the old fart philosopher, thought along these lines. He relates the myth that soulmates were once a whole being with four arms and four legs, which would cartwheel as their form of locomotion. But these beings soon became so powerful the gods felt threatened and cleaved each of them in half – into two separate, incomplete beings. I’m not sure what my point is, but I’m sure Plato was high when he wrote that.

Personally, I don’t think there’s any such thing as soulmates. And even if there were, I’d say the chances of meeting them in this wide world would be bleak. I do believe in love. I think there a few people you’re lucky enough to meet in your life whom you could be far happier with than you could without. That’s all I can realistically hope for.

Despite my misgivings about the holiday, I want to wish everyone a happy Valentine’s Day. If you’re coupled, I hope you have a romantic evening. And if you’re single, don’t worry – it’ll be over soon.


Matt Brophy’s column appears alternate weeks. He
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