It surprises some people when I, a single person, say that I enjoy Valentine’s Day. I’m aware that many people experience this day as one of exclusion, as “Singles Awareness Day,” or as a time to drown one’s sorrows in gatherings with other single women friends. Valentine’s Day also doesn’t seem to get much love among married couples. I’ve heard some couples say they don’t celebrate because of the commercialism—chocolate and flowers are suddenly ten times more expensive.
My personal enjoyment probably derives from not being left out of Valentine’s Day as a child. My parents celebrated the day with little boxes of chocolate for my sister and me as well as each other. Valentine’s Days in grade school and middle school entailed exchanges of little cards closed with heart-shaped stickers. But it was during seventh and eighth grade, at the height of middle school awkwardness, that Valentine’s Day really struck me. Our English teacher made us all write compliments to each other—on heart-shaped paper no less. That act of coming out of myself and seeing the good in my classmates has struck me as the heart of Valentine’s Day. Since that time, for me Valentine’s Day has been a day for celebrating my friendships with others.
Perhaps the problem with modern conceptions of Valentine’s Day in English-speaking countries is the poverty of our language when it comes to words for love. If I’m compelled to use the same word to describe my affection for my sister, my lover, and cookies, there’s certainly a chance that the definition of “love” will be cramped by the plethora of connotations it carries. Languages from Arabic to Spanish to American Sign Language have multiple words or signs to express the variety of relationships and feelings encompassed by “love.”
So, how do we reimagine a Valentine’s Day in terms of a wider definition of love? It turns out other cultures are already doing that. A February 2020 Time article discusses Friend’s Day, a Valentine’s Day correlate that is more focused on friends: “Known as Ystävän Päivä in Finnish and Sõbrapäev in Estonian, Friend’s Day is celebrated by single people and couples alike. Families, friends and couples gather for shared meals and sporting activities like skating or sledding.” Not only might you send a romantic partner a card, but you might also send cards to friends.
So, I’d like to suggest a few ideas for celebrating friendship (a common factor in romantic and platonic love alike) on Valentine’s Day. Below are a few ways that you might make this day special:
01. Plan a meal, coffee, or tea time.
Whether virtually or in-person, consider making the presence of friends a part of your Valentine’s Day activities this year. Pop some popcorn for a movie, boil some water for tea, and spend time together. I’m also a huge fan of married and single people, and men and women friends, spending time together on this day, because this mingling allows what gatherings of single women don’t—a celebration of friendship with people in various states of life. Gathering in this way deemphasizes one’s relationship status and allows for a celebration of friendship to take center stage.
02. Play a game.
Games allow us room not only to enjoy each other’s company, but also to acknowledge the good in each other. On the more gregarious end of the spectrum, I offer “Love Letter,” a writing game, where you begin writing a love (or breakup) letter—the more dramatic the better. After a minute of writing, you fold over your paper, so that only the last line of what you wrote is exposed. You then pass your paper to the person next to you, who continues your love letter with only the context of that single line. You, in turn, are handed someone else’s love letter to add to. Once everyone has added to the letters, they are read aloud. The results are hilarious! (This game can be played online with Google Docs as well.) If you’re looking for an activity that’s a bit sweeter, consider Secret Friend (Amigo Secreto), a game played in El Salvador on Valentine’s Day, which is tellingly called “the Day of Love and Friendship.” As a 2019 Time article explains,
Salvadoran friends, families, classmates and coworkers write everyone’s name on a piece of paper and then each secretly pick one. Each person then gets a gift for another. When the time comes to hand the gifts out, everyone stands in a circle and takes it in turn to say one good quality about their “secret friend.” Everyone else then has to guess who the gift is for.
As I’ve mentioned in a previous article, I’m also a huge fan of Proust’s Questionnaire as a way of more deeply getting to know even your closest friends.
03. “Shower the people you love with love.”
James Taylor’s song “Shower the People” accompanies my memory of sharing those paper heart valentines in seventh and eighth grade. The written word is an amazing way to let friends know how much you care, whether they live in your city or across the country. I’ve also utilized social media to share with friends specific ways in which I’ve appreciated their presence in my life: last year, I invited Facebook friends to allow me to post one lovely thing about them on their walls. I got many takers, and the experience also allowed me to express gratitude to many people I hadn’t been in contact with in a while. For you, “showering” people with love may look different: a phone call, an impromptu movie night, or leaving a homemade craft or baked good at the home of a friend.
Despite the inordinate space given to romantic relationships on February 14, perhaps we can brighten this day for everyone by turning our attention to relationships that are just as worth celebrating as romantic ones: our friendships.