Feature image by Jenny Dettrick via Getty Images
Let me start off by saying I’m currently single, I’ve spent most of my life single, and almost every Valentine’s Day I’m completely single. It’s important to establish this fact because most people see Valentine’s Day as a “couples holiday” or a time for gal pal spa days. It’s one of those looming holidays some people put way too much romantic pressure on, and others (myself included) see it for what it always was: an American capitalist scheme preying on consumers of rom-coms and a white-picket-fence kinds of love. Despite the dramatic title of this piece, the heteronormative reality of Valentine’s Day is not beyond me. The way we’ve built up this pressure of grand loving acts to prove worthiness and loyalty is incredible exclusionary and reductive. So why do I love it so much?
I’d like to think that with the rise of pop psychology and better mental health social media, we’ve collectively decided that the whole “I’m single on Valentine’s Day and my like sucks” trope is old news. If your feed looks anything like mine, you probably get a lot of self-care messaging. “Take a bath! Drink wine! Go on a walk! Meditate!” While these can be great practices, I find it incomplete that our take on the day of love is just a day to flood ourselves with material-based acts of self-care. I definitely don’t shame or judge these activities, as I do them, too (and very often), but when I think about why Valentine’s Day is so important to me, I find it important to distinguish between self-care and radical self love.
Loving yourself is recognizing your downfalls and places of improvement and ultimately embracing all of it. Loving yourself is equally knowing your strengths, loves, passions, and naming those as well. Radical self love involves holding all of this in one place and moving forward into the world with gratitude for it. My Valentine’s Day is taking time to celebrate all these messy parts of myself. I suppose some people might take time to do this on birthdays or New Year’s, but I’ve found that doing this in the context of a day of abundant love offers me a moment of release from all the hard work I’ve put in to love myself as I am (and it is, in fact, hard work). Cultivating radical self-love will ultimately set the stage for seeing the world with appropriately tinted rose-colored glasses.
To explain this more practically, my usual acts of radical self love include pushing against my natural instinct to see the negativity and irony in the world. Instead, I notice small, beautiful things. Therapist after therapist has told me I would benefit from showing gratitude for those tiny moments since I tend to revert to grand gestures of change as a way to spice up my life (ahem, bipolar). I couldn’t tell you when exactly I created this little ritual of atypical positivity on Valentine’s Day, but as I reflect on why exactly I love this holiday so much, it really comes down to how I wake up determined to make a little magic for the people around me. As a queer person of color, the reality is that I mentally and emotionally cannot do this every single day of the year. I spend most days of the year fighting hard to create healthy emotional habits and keep myself emotionally and physically stable. This one particular day in February is like a graduation party for the work I’ve put into being the healthy, happy, stable human I long to be.
The little moments of joy and magic I wake up and dedicate my day to have all been a little different. On one Valentine’s Day in college, I decided I was going to smile and make conversation with every person that crossed my path. This turned my whole day into an adventure that included receiving a small gift from an unhoused friend I often saw on my walks and a free pastry at my favorite little French cafe down the street. A different Valentine’s Day a few years later, I randomly got a free makeover and photoshoot from a professional company while ordering a coffee at a local shop in Arizona. On Valentine’s Day in 2020, I went on a first date and, after the date, went to a party where I met the person I would continue to date for all the rest of the year (and, at the time, thought was the love of my life). While there’s always some luck and chance in moments like these, I want to believe I received these little surprises from the universe because I decided to focus my energy into giving out small, loving surprises.
Valentine’s Day is the day I get to see the universe’s magic in tangible moments between humans, and most of the time, humans who aren’t in any kind of romantic of sexual relationship with one another! I think there’s something really special to a ritual of radical self love in that it somehow always ripples out to the people around us. I invite you to join me tomorrow, taking a day to love yourself and generate more love in the world then you typically would. Maybe, just maybe, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.