Contrary to the soft-focus romantic promises of all the media hype, Valentine's Day is often a big steaming bowlful of suck soup.
That's why I'm proposing that this year -- every year from now on, frankly -- you shouldn't buy into any of it, and here's why:
Valentine's Day History -- the Big Lie
The original Valentine was thought to be a Roman priest who defied the order of Emperor Claudius that young people not marry (because soldiers didn't want to go fight for the empire when they had a nubile young bride at home, GO FIGURE).
Valentinus took the initiative to secretly marry hundreds of those couples, blah blah blah. For those actions he was decapitated.
He was also made the patron saint of love -- but let's not forget that he is also the patron saint of beekeeping, fainting, and the plague. I AM NOT KIDDING. ("Surprising Facts about Saint Valentine") And while he's still in the roster of saints, he's been dropped from the liturgy. Sounds like something a little shady might have gone on there behind the scenes, no?
The fact is, this was a time when polygamy was quite common, so secretly marrying couples in the Catholic Church might simply have been ol' Valentinus just trying to put the kibosh on free love and cramp young Romans' sexual style. That's not all that romantic, now, is it?
There's no record of the actual instatement of a holiday celebrating this poor headless hidebound priest, but there's some suggestion that the first written evidence of it was found in a poem by Chaucer around 1375--it's not clear whether he invented the concept or was transcribing an existing tradition.
Now, from all accounts, Chaucer appears to have been a pretty decent guy--a poet and public servant who was not only the renowned author of The Canterbury Tales, but wrote a lovely couple of essays on how to use an astrolabe, so he's also smart and helpful.
But the evidence remains that the holiday might never have actually existed, and may be based on a fictional creation.
We might as well celebrate Edward-and-Bella Day (when we celebrate with love triangles and bloodsucking), or Harry Potter Day (when we... okay, when we're basically just really good people who have awesome abilities, which would actually be kind of a nice holiday, but still).
Valentine's Day Traditions -- the Big Hype
Lest you get the idea that all this vitriol is coming from some poor, bitter, man-bashing troll, let me assure you: I'm not a hater. I adore romance. I love love.
I can't watch Crazy, Stupid, Love without crying every single time Julianne Moore tells Steve Carell that she's so glad he bought her that ice cream. I can quote every line in that most über-romantic of movies, The Princess Bride. And I will watch Love, Actually anytime it comes on TV, and despite the many, many ridiculous parts of that movie, my heart swells like a teenager every. Damn. Time.
But none of that is what Valentine's Day is about.
No, on Valentine's Day you are put under a whole bunch of artificial, media- and advertising-induced pressure to make a big display of your love -- the more public the better.
You're exhorted to Buy Big on dinner, presents, chocolate. You'd better make a big heartfelt public Facebook post on your partner's time line. And woe to you if you don't arrange for a big, gaudy bouquet to be delivered to her workplace. If you don't, you must not really love your SO.
And the worst part is, even knowing how completely stupid all of that is, it's so easy for many of us to fall right into that line of thinking, and judge our partner or their level of affection for us based on what kind of display he or she puts on for us on that one overhyped day.
That's not romantic. In fact, it's the total opposite of romance to bow to outside expectations on a randomly dictated day of the year and make a big clichéd material show of your feelings.
The Heart of the Matter -- the Truth
You know what's romantic? Buying the person you love something special that you know they will love for no damn reason, out of nowhere -- because that day you happened to see something that made you think of them, or that you knew would make them smile, and you wanted to give it to them.
Romance is meeting you at the car when you get home with the groceries so you don't have to lug them inside by yourself. It's warming up your side of the bed on a frigid winter night so your feet don't get cold.
It's comforting you when your car gets dented or you get fired or your mom gets a terrible diagnosis. It's listening to you at the end of the day when you come home and want to vent about your jerk of a boss, even though you've made the same complaints a hundred times.
It's your sig-O picking you a flower from the side of the path when you're hiking in the woods and putting it in your hair... not grabbing a dozen cellophane-wrapped wilting red roses sitting in a bucket of gray water at your local grocery store amid a clump of identical charmless bouquets.
It's giving you a ring -- as in a phone call during the day just to say she's thinking of you. Not going into debt to buy you something sparkly to prove how much he loves you.
Don't buy into the hype. If you believe in love, boys and girls -- like your Aunt Phoebe does -- boycott the ridiculous Hallmark holiday that celebrates commerce, not love, and find true, genuine, simple ways to celebrate the people in your life whom you cherish.