Columns

Krishnamurthy ’19: Valentine’s Day reinvigorates American romanticism

By
Staff Columnist
Tuesday, February 16, 2016

There is perhaps no other holiday that sharply elevates the collective saltiness of society as much as Valentine’s Day. Indeed, hating on Valentine’s Day might be the only course of action that every romantically unattached American, irrespective of class or complexion, can actually agree on. The resentment is understandable: If you’re riding solo, by deliberate design or not, February 14 is the absolute worst.

For one, Valentine’s Day, like every other celebration on the American calendar, is irredeemably corporatized. The profiteering sadists at Big Flower and Big Chocolate cleverly enshrine the products they sell ­ — ornate bouquets, sugary chocolates, fancy restaurant reservations — as essential to romantic happiness. And, if the tortured shrieks of your wallet weren’t enough, Valentine’s Day is an assault on principle: The guy we’re meant to celebrate, Saint Valentine, is a relatively marginal, if not completely useless, figure in Catholic history. Most pernicious, though, is the alienation propagated by the holiday’s plutocratic enforcers. The message is simple: Only couples who subscribe to a highly specific romantic recipe can achieve real joy; if you’re trapped in the labyrinth of perpetual singlehood, you’re doing something wrong.

These lines of criticism are, if hyperbolic and borderline Marxist, the foremost battle cries of the anti-Valentine counterrevolution. But, no matter how nauseating the pink balloons and fluffy teddy bears become, Valentine’s Day isn’t all bad. Now, don’t get me wrong: As a bespectacled brown dude of unimposing height, I am as single as they get. (So single, in fact, that I might just have to resort to the whole arranged-marriage process down the line. Thank god I’m Indian.) Even so, I can’t help but derive actual meaning, real value, from February 14; in a time of colossal change and historic challenges, Valentine’s Day is a lighthearted reminder that we all hold some things sacred.

It doesn’t take long to see, firsthand, how badly society needs this semblance of togetherness. American life has experienced a remarkable descent from the prosperity and stability we’re promised in our media and history books. Constant economic insecurity, irreconcilable ideological entrenchment and political dysfunction seem to have become permanent elements of the American condition. As a society deeply unsure of itself, we have come to identify so closely with our political parties and special interest groups that our nation’s sociocultural fabric has been radically redefined — to be American, today, means simply to hate other Americans. Sadly, it seems there is nothing common about our values, nothing united about our beliefs, any longer.

In the midst of this swirling confusion — a world of cold indifference and a populace mired in hopeless differences — we, as Americans, at least have Valentine’s Day. Sure, it’s been subverted by the pecuniary forces of American capitalism, but, in spite of all the dollar signs and bottom lines, February 14 still means something — especially for the single folk. (I, for example, spent Valentine’s Day wondering how I, at once, don’t have a girlfriend and belong to the culture that produced the Kama Sutra.) It’s deeply reassuring that Valentine’s Day even exists: Miraculously, our culture, divided and dichotomized, can still agree that romance is an important component of our humanity.

In this way, I think, Valentine’s Day, somewhat counterintuitively, is not meant for couples; at its core, it isn’t a celebration of relationships already forged and love already established. Instead, Valentine’s Day is really for us, the proud knights of the order of single-dom. It’s a day dedicated to the notion that true love is an ideal worth aspiring to, even if you’re bae-less now; that unrealized love, however dissatisfying, is a worthwhile sign of emotional vibrancy that you’re human and still care; and that sustained love, like any living thing, needs the regular gesture, simple or elaborate, to keep it aflame. Indeed, by glamorizing the universal longing for love, Valentine’s Day does what human societies everywhere desperately need it to do: It effectively immortalizes hope — the hope of finding a better half, of discovering a purpose greater than oneself — as central to the pursuit of living a meaningful life, one that, hopefully, we all get to share with someone special (even if our moms have to find them for us.)

Anuj Krishnamurthy ’19 can be reached at anuj_krishnamurthy@brown.edu.

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