VALENTINE'S DAY IS BULLSHIT. Right? A made-up holiday for the sentimental and the deluded, the real purpose of which is to separate a fool from her pants or his money. (Or maybe vice versa.) A commercial nightmare designed to make you feel bad about being single. Or, for that matter, about being married. Because no one is living up to the Valentine's Day dream. Oh, sure, somewhere at this very moment some sickeningly happy couple is riding in a hot-air balloon declaring their everlasting love to each other, symbolized by something modest from Zales. And, yes, there are no doubt millions of teenagers like the ones in Mrs. Wetler's ninth-grade homeroom who are, right this minute, counting how many Heart-o-Grams they just received, knowing it is the most reliable index of their overall popularity -- at least until the varsity team or the homecoming court comes calling. But beyond those poor suckers, who among us gives even a teensy bit of a pink, heart-shaped fuck about Valentine's Day?
Well, of course, YOU DO.
You don't want to think you do. But somewhere, way deep down, there is something in you (yes, even you) that cares about the idea at the heart of Valentine's Day -- and cares a lot. It's the part of you that wishes you had the kind of romantic fulfillment depicted in a movie like "The Notebook," or even the less-fulfilling-than-The-Notebook-but-still-more-fulfilling-than-whatever-you've-got-going-on-right-now love depicted in, for example, a really well-done yogurt commercial.
That part is in you because that part is in all of us. Because somewhere, deep down, we all want and need to feel fulfilled by love.
So why can't we admit it? Here are my top three guesses:
1. We're a bunch of cynics.
Sometime between when the Summer of Love ended and the Summer of Sam began, America became a nation of cynics about love. We just stopped believing -- despite Journey's exhortations not to. Maybe we became disillusioned by how quickly the big ideas of the '60s devolved into disco music. Or maybe we discovered that being free to be you and me was actually really painful after our parents' divorce. Either way, we all became blissfully, painfully, pathologically ironic. Here we are now, entertain us, bitches.
2. We're in denial.
Love matters. It matters a lot. Because at the end of the day, your job can be great, your friends can be awesome, you can go to fun art shows and have a bunch of cool clothes, but whose hand do you want to be holding on your deathbed? Not one of the Real Housewives of Orange County, or whoever's getting the most hits on PornHub -- yet, that's whom you choose to spend your time and energy on! Somehow, married or single, we'd rather anesthetize ourselves with love substitutes than go for the real thing, because let's face it: The real thing is pretty scary. And god only knows how anyone makes a relationship work. Which brings me to ...
3. We're chickens.
Being in a relationship is a hard, painful slog at least once a week, maybe more often -- especially if you have a lot of defenses to let down, or if your parents didn't know how to love you very well. Who wants to open up enough to get hurt by another person for the sixth (or sixteenth) time? It seems easier just to build something that looks just like a real relationship but without any of the risks involved. Married people know this better than single people, who can still fantasize that if they just meet the "right" person, somehow whatever issues that led to the demise of their last four relationships would magically disappear this time around. Hint: If you're still single and you've outlived Jesus, you very well might have an issue with intimacy, commitment, or both.
OBVIOUSLY, VALENTINE'S DAY IS EASY TO HATE. But Valentine's Day doesn't suck all by itself. When it sucks, it does so because you have failed to breathe life into it -- the same life you may not be breathing into your relationships. It would be understandable why this happens. All of us, consciously or unconsciously, set out to have the best possible love life. Valentine's Day simply shines a light on the degree to which that didn't -- or hasn't yet -- materialized. It's like Tax Day for love -- the day we come face-to-face with whatever romantic longings are still unmet. And who really wants to buy a balloon bouquet to celebrate that?
But life has this cool way of tucking the solution to a problem right inside the problem itself -- and Valentine's Day is no exception. If you decide to, you can make this the day you expand your awareness of what love can be for you. February 14th can represent one single day -- out of 365 -- where you practice walking around with an open, undefended heart. Where you dare to believe that the kind of love you always wanted is possible -- even if you're already married to a man who didn't turn out to be Prince Charming or a woman who doesn't remind you of Gisele.
But how, you ask, can that be? Because love is a paradox. It's not like, say, food. You can never really feel "stuffed" by the love you receive -- or famous people would be the happiest people on earth. And we know that's not the case.
Nope, the strange, perfect, beautiful truth is that you can only really feel the love you give. So give it. Just for one day. And in doing so, you will discover that Valentine's Day might not be bullshit after all.
Follow Tracy McMillan on Twitter: www.twitter.com/whyurnotmarried