Willpower doesn’t grow on trees.
Are you feeling daunted or depressed by the prospect of Valentine’s Day?
If so, you’re not alone. A 2015 survey found that Valentine’s Day is America’s least favorite holiday, and a 2013 survey reported that a third of Americans consider it “overrated”. Not to mention, one out of every five singles said that Valentine’s Day made them feel sad and lonely.
Valentine’s Day can be stressful because of its excruciating focus on romance. If you’re single, you’re reminded that seemingly everyone in the world has found love except you, and you are going to die alone surrounded by a stack of unread books. If you’re in a new relationship, your Valentine’s Day plans—or lack thereof—become the most important indicator of how serious this relationship is. And if you’re in a long-standing relationship, the exchange of gifts (or sex) is the ultimate measure of whether you’ve kept the flame alive after all these years.
Well, I’m here to put an end to this ridiculous association between Valentine’s Day and romance. After all, the holiday started out as a pagan ritual of fertility and violence, took on the baggage of a Christian martyr, and was only converted into romance and candy through the efforts of Hallmark. I’m not suggesting we take the holiday back to its roots: I’m just saying we need to let go of the pressure of creating the illusion of romantic bliss just because it’s February 14th.
Instead, I’d like to recommend the approach that has made Valentine’s Day my favorite holiday for the past three decades. What I adore about the holiday is the opportunity to celebrate love and relationship in all its forms—not just romantic love, but friendship, family ties, and even collegiality. Once a year we’re invited to throw away restraint and show others how much they matter to us, using all the best symbols: chocolate, flowers, candy and adorably campy (or deeply heartfelt) cards. (I’ll admit that my adoration isn’t hurt by its association with my favorite color: red.)
Enjoy a home-cooked Valentine’s meal. If there’s one thing I don’t like doing on Valentine’s Day, it’s going out for a romantic dinner. There is something unsettling about eating dinner at a restaurant on the one night of the year where each and every table is occupied by a couple dining alone, doing their best to be romantic. I much prefer a home-cooked Valentine meal for the whole family or a group of friends. It’s a tradition that goes back to my childhood, when my rockstar mother used to host Valentine parties for my friends, serving us homemade heart-shaped ravioli, followed by heart-shaped cookies and homemade strawberry ice cream molded into hearts. I’ve never reached her culinary heights, but I’ve served plenty of heart-shaped pancakes or heart-shaped biscuits at Valentine brunches.
Throw a party. February 14th is a lousy day to sit at home alone, no matter how happy you are to be single. Whenever I can, I like to take away the pressure to be romantic—and save my single friends from an awkward evening—by throwing a Valentine’s Day party. I get to indulge my love of Valentine kitsch by going wild with decorations and foods. (One year I even made red, heart-shaped Jell-O shots.)
Get crafty. The best gifts are homemade, so the run-up to Valentine’s Day is a great time to get your craft on. That’s why my husband and I like to make it social by hosting a card-making potluck: we supply the blank cards, and all our friends bring assorted heart-shaped stickers, glitter, rubber stamps and other decorations. What works for kids is also fun for grown-ups: get together with a few friends to make Valentine cards, treats or decorations that you can share when February 14th arrives.
Be secretive. There’s one romantic Valentine tradition I love: the message from a secret admirer. But a secret admirer doesn’t have to be romantic (or creepy). Take the excuse of Valentine’s Day to shower affection on anyone you love by sending them an anonymous but personal greeting. One year in college, my roommate and I stumped our entire dorm by hand-making personal Valentines for everyone, mailing them via Valentine, N.E. (to get a Cupid postmark), and then framing someone else as the source of all the secret Valentines. Learn from our experience: avoid freaking people out (or getting their hopes up) by keeping all your praise strictly platonic, and by coming clean if the object of your affection expresses any concern about the message they’ve received.
Love your clients and co-workers. Every business on the planet sends out Christmas cards and email blasts; your company’s message will get lost in the crowd. When my husband and I ran our own agency, we instead made Valentine’s Day the focal point of our client appreciation efforts. Our first employee spent a month stuffing internet-themed candy hearts into hundreds of boxes; over the years, our corporate Valentine’s blasts were among our most popular social media creations. When I went to work in other companies, I always brought in cupcakes for the whole team on February 14th, and as a freelancer, send cupcakes to my clients and contractors. When so many people feel alienated by Valentine’s Day, these efforts always bring the appreciation full circle.
Send a digital valentine. Valentine’s Day is a fun time to send out an email newsletter to your friends, co-workers or clients. Your bulk-Valentine will be more meaningful if it’s something you’ve made yourself and if it shares your own reflections on love and connection. Our agency created a unique digital Valentine every year, and our annual family Valentine blast is our way of keeping in touch with friends around the world. (Our daughter has now taken over the production work.)
You don’t have to go crazy for Valentine’s the way I do. And of course, not everybody owns enough red clothing to indulge in my tradition of dressing head-to-toe in the color. But embracing the playful, affectionate spirit of Valentine’s Day—rather than its saccharine, Hallmark-card romance—can reclaim this holiday for all of us.