It has been many years since I have been able to get on board with Valentine’s Day. I just haven’t been able to connect, mostly due to the capitalistic side of it. Like many other things, I did some research on Valentine’s Day in my younger years. I did this while I worked on my high school newspaper, a place that continuously inspired me to find truth. My junior year, I wrote an article on the history of the holiday, exposing the continuous changes that included both oppression and religious agenda. Newspaper was a place where I could document and expose the myths we were living. For four years, I wrote story after story, sharing the history or hidden truth of whatever was next on my list. Some stories got me in the principal’s office, like my first story on sex and birth control, which was ironically part of this same Valentine’s Day spread. Others, just got some laughs or new insight for myself and my peers.
When I think about it, my time on the newspaper staff was my first real exposure to activism, to voice, and to pushing back on the system. The piece that brought me to the principal’s office was a story on what resources existed for people who were having or were thinking about having sex. I interviewed the school nurse and cited abstinence, it was and is still a good piece. The Vice Principals at that time, were reviewing the newspaper before print, after a fall piece where someone snuck in a headline that caught their attention. “Master Debators Head to State Finals,” I believe it was. We were on thin ice, as this came shortly after “Golf Team Whacks Off Towards Regionals,” or again something like this. All I know is that they reviewed every article and they pulled my piece the day before print. In protest, we chose to run a blank spot instead of replacing it with something else. There wasn’t enough time to argue its removal before print, so I quickly scheduled an appointment with the principal the next day, ready to argue my way back into the paper.
I sat down in his office, brought the piece with me, and stated that I wanted it printed. It was not obscene as the Vice Principals had cited, or even inappropriate. It was informative and comprehensive. He read it while I waited patiently. He looked up, said it seemed like a great and fine article to him and gave permission to run it in the next paper. I was elated, and also felt my first taste of victory.
Yes, it was entirely out of place in the next paper where the theme was no longer relevant. But knowing that the Vice Principals would then review the next month’s paper before print and would again see the article, this time with instructions to not touch it, it was worth it. This was one of many battles we experienced as journalists in this school, such as drawing attention to the nepotism that permeated the music performance the school was known for, or writing about the named structural racism in our homecoming system, or even witnessing abusive power dynamics by certain teachers with more tenure. I experienced overt sexism when I wrote a piece on the wrestling regional tournament and it wasn’t printed because they instead wanted to report on a baseball game. I was told, it was “pretty good” after I had begged to write it because no girl had ever written about wrestling before, let alone had it printed. I remember the seething feeling in my body when he said “pretty good,” and how much I wanted to spew back, Yet, I held it together because he was older and an editor and I knew I wanted to change things for the long run.
I even tried to be the sports editor the following year, just despite him. I lost out on that, because I was told I was needed elsewhere. It did suit my journalism, I was just bummed at the notion that I couldn’t change the system that easily.
But that piece on sex and Valentine’s Day still sits with me. See, what I uncovered about Valentine’s Day is that it used to be a celebration of sex and pleasure. With the overhaul of Europe by the hands of the Roman Catholic Church, the event was quickly put to bed, pun intended. Saint Valentine was chosen to represent the day instead. He was known for sending love letters from jail to his love, a unrequited love at that.
And so today, like many other tales, we follow what has been scripted for us. Celebrating love is not a bad way to do it, but what I struggle with is the money put into it all and the marketing of what Valentine’s Day should be. We buy expensive cards that share words we haven’t written. We buy flowers, cheap but pricey chocolates, bottles of wine, and splurge on a Valentine’s meal and sitter if you can find one. Today is targeted at those that are coupled, primarily heterosexual couples, and is marketed as a celebration of romantic love and partnership. Thus, it can be a hard day if you are unpartnered – a day to avoid everyone who is coupled and all of the red and pink. I remember so vividly what it was like in college and high school to be unpartnered. In college, I even baked a vulva shaped pizza to empower myself in womanhood and to declare my love for myself and my body one February 14th.
With all of this swirling in my head, today I am thinking deeply about my kids. What do I want them to take from Valentine’s Day? What do I want them to see it as, how can I show them how to live it? Today, we have a few gifts for them. And my partner and I often give one another something small. I get my partner hostess cherry pies because he loves them. Her gets me some type of chocolate that I never treat myself to. My oldest just likes the fun of it, giving out valentines and making them. This year she is making them for us, and they are awesome. She made us a big valentine in art class with many gifts in a basket. They are strips of cut paper and she keeps giving them to me. I love them because I know that she puts high value on tiny things like this. So, yes it’s trash, scraps, but to her they’re important. So they are to me too.
I want to teach that Valentine’s Day can be less about the script. That it can be simply an excuse to love out loud. We move so fast sometimes, that we forget to tell people we love them. And to teach that today is not just about people who we romantically love, but about all of the people we love. Can we just simply tell everyone we love them? Can we see today as a practice day, as we step into tomorrow and remember to tell people we love them again and again? To hug a little longer, kiss people in greeting and goodbye, hold hands, and to see people in all of their being in all of the ways that we love them? To decide that intimacy is how we define it, not how the marketers tell us it should be?
Valentine’s Day is this for us. Our kids won’t witness the dinners, babysitters, or big presents. They likely won’t see flowers or chocolate hearts or even red and pink. Instead, they will see that today we love them, and today we are doing it up extra special because today is a reminder to share love out loud. To tell the world, our people, this earth, our ancestors, that our core being is rooted deeply in our ability to love one another. And just as importantly, to love ourselves. Because this folks has been my lesson. My activism is to love despite what society teaches us. To seek intimacy in all sorts of relationships, to explore how to love more fluidly and loudly. And to tell people how you feel all the time. This is the lesson I want my kids to see, that activism is love. That loving out loud is resistance. That loving all people in all ways is a key piece to how we change this world.
I should have written an article on that.