Of all the controversial holidays, I honestly think Valentine’s Day is the most widely decried, and in the US especially that’s not an unimpressive feat. Between the people who hate Valentine’s Day because it promotes love in it’s shallowest, sappiest, most insubstantial form, the people who hate it because they feel forced to participate in a nationwide competition of generic displays of affection, and people who hate it because it’s a yearly reminder that they are single, I hear more people complain about it each year than say they are looking forward to it. I would love to see a reputable poll measuring it’s popularity, or lack thereof.
I also dislike it, although the vehemence of my dislike has toned down over the years. When I think about it honestly and fairly, my only problem with Valentine’s Day has nothing to do with the holiday itself. I’m personally bored by the roses and chocolates approach, but that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with them, especially when they are given to someone who really does love roses and chocolates. Love is awesome and needs to be celebrated, and everybody should get to celebrate their love in a way that suits them. My real issue is that Valentine’s Day is symptomatic of a larger cultural problem of glorifying expression of one type of love, while ignoring all the other myriad forms it can take. This year I’m not thinking about poly or kinky or queer couples, although I have plenty I could say on that topic. I’m thinking about a much more basic kind of love that tends to be underappreciated; friendship.
This year has been a huge object lesson for me on friendship. It was the year my good friend of a year became my official best friend; the person who knows all my secrets and who talks to me every day and who occasionally forgets they didn’t always know me, and vice versa. It was also the year one of our other good friends started dating someone, and I started exploring a new dating pool, and one fact of my friend’s life jumped to the foreground of many of our conversations. They are asexual. While a romantic relationship isn’t off the table for them, the most important relationships in my friend’s life are platonic friendships. (Here I could easily go into a long tangent about how romantic relationships work for asexuals, but that would be beside the point I want to make. For the curious, here’s a link to AVEN’s website, which is full of handy FAQs.)
Consider this; how would most people view someone with a string of failed romantic relationships, but a group of steady friends, as opposed to someone with a solid romantic relationship, but a string of former friends? I think most people would see the former as a failure, possibly due to a deep underlying character flaw, an inability to commit. The latter, however, isn’t likely to even be noticed. Friends are seen as disposable, and if someone’s life changes and they move their friendships to the backseat, that is far more acceptable than neglecting a spouse or significant other. Why? If it is valid to form shallow friendships but extremely strong romantic relationships, why is it not equally valid to put effort into friendships but have more casual romantic flings? Why do we make people feel bad for spending Valentine’s Day hanging out with friends, but we don’t have a day that makes couples feel bad for not having a platonic best friend to hang out with?
The need for strong, ongoing relationships is basic to human nature. All strong relationships require the same work and deserve to be celebrated for their awesomeness. Whether the strongest relationships in your life are romantic or platonic or wicked complicated, props to you for having one. If you have someone like my best friend, someone who has your back in the hard times and is happy for you in the good, someone who you can have incredibly honest conversations without fear of being judged, someone who will fight and make sacrifices to keep you in their life, you have won at relationships, whatever label that relationship has. That’s what a day about love should really be celebrating, and that’s what I’m going to celebrate today.
So to the awesome person who inspired this post, you’re one in a million. You’re the kind of person who can see someone’s flaws with open eyes and love them all the more fully for it. You’re always eager to help in a crisis, and unlike some eager helpers you also understand the importance of backing off when it’s time. You’re never to proud to admit when you’re at fault and never too shy to tell me when I am. When it’s time for hard conversations, you push through, even when it’s painful, because you know that communication doesn’t stop being important when it hurts. You give great story feedback and know all the good Irish folk songs. You make the world’s best ziti. I love you.