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A Cynic's Guide to Valentine's Day

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Ray Laskowitz via Getty Images

So you thought you were safe? You survived the holiday season and you were beginning to settle back into normalcy. And then... Wham! Back with the sappy commercials. Out come the gaudy decorations. The messages of material happiness are yet again bombarding our senses from every direction.

Happy Valentine's Day.

I don't think there's any holiday that is viewed with as much dread as Valentine's Day. For the single, it is an acute reminder of their uncoupled state. For the partnered, it is a day fraught with expectations that are unattainable. And for those in undefined relationships, it is a holiday filled with questions and a delicate dance of protocol.

So, who is this holiday even for, anyway? According to the media, men end up spending money on diamonds or chocolates (or PajamaGrams) that represent their love. They then surprise their mate with their gift. Upon receiving the gift, the women swoon over their partner, their adoring eyes gazing up at their man. The subtext is obvious. Men -- if you don't give your partner something, she will be upset. Women -- if you receive nothing, you are unloved.

Or at least that's the way the commercials explain it. The expectations for perfection and romance have been elevated to laughable levels.

Unless you're a millionaire Calvin Klein model who has the ability and inclination to whisk your girlfriend off to Paris where you can propose at the base of the Eiffel tower, you'll fall short. Women have been primed by society to believe that their man does not love them if they do not receive some tangible proof on a predetermined day on the calendar.

This notion is absurd.

When your coworker receives some elaborate bouquet, do not assume it is because her husband is a contender for a starring role in a romantic comedy. Perhaps the roses are a mea culpa for a major screw up. Or maybe he is some narcissistic jerk who wants others to fawn over his generosity. The truth is that a single gift, no matter how elaborate or romantic, is not a sign of love.

Love should be ongoing and omnipresent. It is the tiny crinkle in the corner of his eye when he sees you. It's the comforting presence of a hand of your back when you're feeling unsure. It's the encouraging word, the passionate kiss and the understanding nod. It's the embrace that eases all tension. Love cannot be bought and sold. It does not exist in a single day. It doesn't need sparkle or a candy coated shell to dress it up.

I remember in elementary school, we would all exchange cards until we had a handmade envelope bulging with terms of endearment. We would eat candy and take a break from school work to laugh and talk and play. It didn't matter if you were male or female. Single or had recently wed with a foil ring under the swings. Those were some of my favorite Valentine's Days. No high expectations, just a day to celebrate togetherness and laughter. A time to share notes about what we loved and appreciated in others. And that's a Valentine's Day that can make even a cynic smile.

Here are my non-cynical Valentine wishes for you:

Let go of expectations. Enjoy the moments in the day. Celebrate your beauty and worth. Kiss a dog. Or a cat. Or a baby. Treat yourself to a breath of fresh air. Pamper yourself. Perform an act of kindness for another. Laugh. Make a gratitude list. And, if all else fails, remember that the next day is the 15th.

This post originally appeared on the blog Lessons From the End of a Marriage.