Happy Valentine’s Day, one of the most problematic and emblematic holidays celebrated in the West. From the inception of the festival in ancient Rome to the Hallmark holiday today, the obligation, expectation, and exclusion it engenders in couples and singles, keeps me in business. This year, I propose we continue the spirit of commitment to ourselves and our partners by communicating our expectations and showing support and understanding for those who will be triggered by this problematic day. Treating partners and strangers with love this Valentine’s Day and every day, should be the rule, not exception.
The Ancient Origins
The origins of Valentine’s Day are not exactly romantic, or sentimental, in ancient Rome, around mid-February, they celebrated fertility and the spring with a festival called Lupercalia. One of the rites of spring, paired off fertile women with men by lottery. Commencing the legacy of exclusionary emotions in the middle of February and conferring commodity on sexuality and reproduction, for both men AND women.
Around the 14th century St. Valentine’s day replaced Lupercalia and the Saint, for which the holiday is formally named, married couples to spare the husband from being conscripted to war. This gesture is slightly more romantic, while steeped in obligation. Get married, or go to war and get killed. Very dramatic.
It follows easily that the holiday would be commercialized with chocolate, cards, and flowers. Showing appreciation and affection to those you care about is wonderful, but to what extent is this behavior a norm and when is it turned into expectation and obligation, and what about those who are not in relationships?
The Modern Obligations
Fast forward a couple hundred years and here we are today without conscription or fertility lottery, but with some similar obligations for couples and implications for those that are not in relationships. From a small age, Valentine’s are handed out and if you are lucky you get one, and if you are not, you feel left out, and less. As you get older, it is the same, and it does not matter the sexual orientation or gender. The emotions run pretty high when you expect something and are disappointed, or are excluded altogether and made to feel inferior.
This holiday has the incredible ability to make high functioning and performing individuals doubt themselves and feel unworthy and can be the impetus of blow out fights for perfectly happy couples. Why? Is this holiday about making someone feel worthy? Or is this about making other people feel bad? IS this for the man, or for the woman? What does it mean If i buy her chocolates wine and dinner, is this a guarantee for sex? Or affection? Communicating with a partner cancels the feeling of obligation and anxiety around this holiday, but what about your inner expectations and peace?
The ROI, or Expectation
Let’s talk about the problem of assigning a return on investment, ROI, on your behaviors and those behaviors of your partner or friends on Valentine’s Day or any “big day”. Inner dialogue: If I behave well, I will get sex, gifts, and love, If I behave badly, I will not get sex, gifts, and love. If you are single, you may have an internal monologue that runs something like No one loves me, if I were to behave differently, look differently, or if I had more to offer, I would not be alone and I would be valued. Do you really want to base your relationship on commodities and are you going to punish yourself for not being in a partnership? Decommodify the holiday and stop with the blame. Everyone’s needs are different and if you are struggling with a betrayal or self esteem, your needs and expectations for behavior need to be respected and nurtured more on a trigger day.
Communication of your expectations surrounding any exchange, whether gifts or affection, should take center stage, before holidays. I encourage couples to define expectations ahead of time, what is the spending limit, what is the agreement of behavior, and what are we both wanting to do to celebrate each other. For singles, explore your feelings and expectations prior and schedule something special that makes you feel good. Is this spontaneous, NO, but when the fantasy you envision to make you feel special goes unfulfilled it is not your partners fault, it is yours.
Therapists Tip: Everybody Feel the Love
Why not tune into your sensuality and dial up the romance, authentically, instead of getting mired in expectation and obligation. To align yourself with this mission, try taking the love languages quiz, find this online. The premise is that each person experiences love in different ways and to feel love and express love, you need to be speaking in the language of your partner or if you need the love yourself, give yourself this love in your language. For Valentine’s Day take the quiz and choose two activities, gifts, or ways to make yourself or your partner feel loved using their love language.
Bottom line you should treat those you love like they are appreciated, respected, and worth it, on all days. Instead of being disappointed and always feeling like you got a last minute box of Whitman’s Samplers with only the fruit centers left, love yourself first, then your partner. If you have trouble with either, my doors are open.