I learned very late in life the paradoxical nature of Valentine’s Day. Most people realize the strange fallacy of the holiday as children – Why am I sending a card to that kid? He doesn’t deserve my love! – but I was a little happy sheep willing to go along with the rampant collectivisation and monetization of a supposedly romantic day. In college, when dating people was almost a fully adult endeavor, I encountered what everyone encounters. The stages of dealing with Valentine’s Day are not unlike grieving for dead folks.
First, there’s denial. Like everyone else, my loved one and I believed we were above such trivialities like Valentine’s Day. Our romantic feelings could not be squished into a heart-shaped box and controlled by massive corporations. We didn’t need some corporate event to tell us what we already knew in our dumb, stupid hearts.
Then, anger. Such rage I’ve never seen at the defense of love but also the isolating feeling of not being part of a powerful, monetarily incentivized, special day everyone simply must celebrate. I recall an aloof, bubbling rage emanating from my college sweetheart during Valentine’s season, and she was generally calm. Couples generally enjoy rage toward one another, but Valentine’s Day brings a certain species of intense spitefulness and anger.
After that you have bargaining. Maybe just a nice dinner, or a single box of chocolates, or a rose or two. Nothing too fancy, but everyone’s doing it, and it could mean that it’s nice or whatever. No, our love is stronger than this silly frivolity. Oh, but that nice Thai restaurant Steve and Charlotte tried is good so possibly they have a table. Honey? There was never a Steve or Charlotte in my true-life story, but definitely a rift caused by noodles.
Can you guess the next stage? Depression! And what depression. Valentine’s Day has already sunk its claws into the meat of your romantic entanglement and is pulling you deep into the hellish world of thinking that every other couple is more romantic and in love than you are. Again, an overstatement for drama’s sake, but I can’t help but remember every twinge of that comparative emotion during most Valentine’s Days.
By the end of it all, you’re ready, as I was at the time, for acceptance. There’s always next year, you say. I think the words, “we survived Valentine’s Day,” echoed from my extremely un-witty mouth my first year with that college lady friend. I sure hope I’ve never said those words since (please, Cupid, you horrid little imp, let it be so). Acceptance can also be allowing yourself to see relationship problems vis a vis the holiday’s rampaging through your love life with Hallmark detritus.
The five stages of Valentine’s Day are actually pretty similar for folks with every kind of relationship status (you don’t own that phrase, Facebook). Denial is saying, “you can’t get to me Valentine’s Day, I’m a strong, independent [you]!” Anger is, “I hate you, everything, for making me feel these feelings!” Then, bargaining: “maybe I’ll try Tinder? Or force my person I’m kinda seeing into watching The Princess Bride un-ironically?” Depression, simply put, is, “no matter how many people love me (usually 0-3), I’ll never be truly loved!” And acceptance, finally, means, “whatever happens, Valentine’s Day is over and everything is ok.”
At the heart of it, there is no escape. Try as you might, as I have done countless years, you will go through these stages; the Tunnel of Suffering (not Love) is real, and no amount of intellectualizing can save you. So fire up Tinder or restaurant finding websites, buy shiny balloons with pictures of small bears kissing, and be ready to have your dumb, stupid hearts smashed and battered. But hey, there’s always the Internet to keep you warm at night.