In the name of love: Valentine's extremism

By The Beacon | February 13, 2014 1:23am

Olivia Alsept-Ellis |

The romantics are busy drawing hearts over Feb. 14 while the cynics are busy setting the calendar on fire. Everyone, it seems, takes an extreme stance on Valentine’s Day. Few are nonchalant about the holiday. Either they have plans to make cupcakes or to use those baking materials more productively, say, to egg their ex’s house.

But what makes this Friday any different than next Friday? After all, there are no pheromones released into the air nor aphrodisiacs put in the water on the 14th, giving romantics no physiological explanation to become all doe-eyed. Likewise, there are no unusual astrological events upcoming, therefore, cynics have no justifiable reasons to feel that the world might fall apart. The day could easily come and go without being particularly noticeable, yet we all act different on February the 14th. So what happens when we all believe in St. Valentine’s Day?

To answer that question, we must inspect what the day represents.

Like most important holidays, society has completely forgotten the legend that the day is based upon. “Something to do with St. Valentine,” we collectively mutter as we glue doilies onto construction paper. Disregarding the origin story, Valentine’s Day today represents a disruption to the platonic status quo. Behavior that is otherwise outrageously flirtatious is now acceptable or even expectable. Perhaps the day even allows for some mystical access to an intimacy with others that is otherwise sealed off.

The day is also a kind of idealistic warfare.

Those romantics among us are prepared to dress well, carry an abundance of sweets and hand out semi-sincere love notes all day. I think if they could have it truly their way, rose petals would shower throughout the day as once-strangers--now lovers!--walk hand-in-hand down a meadowy boulevard into a heart-shaped sunset. The image is distinctly disconnected from reality, and that’s what they’re going for: a day of obliviated social norms and obligatory optimism.

Then there’s the cynics, who are unwilling to abide by the sanctity of the ritual. These are the people who roll their eyes at the words “red roses” and “Love Actually.” They would have this day inverted; spent in anti-romantic, anti-social behavior like daytime binge drinking. In their resistance against the holiday, the cynics have crafted their own special anti-Valentine’s Day. However, even in rebellion, they are reaffirming the significance of the event.

In order to celebrate (or defile) Valentine’s Day, we all must submit the social definitions of love and romance to this collective PG-13 display. But no matter which poison you pick, Valentine’s Day is like some poorly taxidermied version of middle age courting rituals. Though it is a day of romance, the otherwise probable sexual undertones are rendered so clean, so innocent, and so non-existent. Then, the cherry picked ideas about what love is supposed to look like are hauntingly played on repeat, ad nauseam.

Staring down the chocolate aisle of Fred Meyer, I can’t help but think the commoditization isn’t even the worst part. The worst part is that if we believe that love is a box of chocolates on Feb. 14, what is ‘love’ every other day of the year? Does it exist? Or is it also in caramelized form?

We use the name of St. Valentine, the man who performed illicit marriages for Christians under Roman rule, and yet we do little investigation into our own country’s legacy of outlawing marriages between interracial or homosexual couples. His hagiography tells the story of a man who was imprisoned, tortured and executed--and yet capital punishment or prisoner’s rights is simply not discussed on this holiday.

Instead, on Valentine’s Day, we pray at the altar of the goddess Hallmark and sacrifice our messy, diverse notions about romance to be sterilized and made homogenous.

But I don’t want to trade away my awkward, usually unpoetic feelings for some preconceived expression. And I don’t want to chug a PBR on a roof while screaming “Love is dead!” either. By Valentine’s Day, I find myself floating in a third group of distant observers. While I’ve made a few cards in my time, I ultimately feel distanced by the practices of wining and dining. This vision of courtly romance doesn’t thrill or engage me, it actually saddens me with its one-dimensional perspective of human behavior. As if we could ever distill the intricacies of human compassion into one glass of wine.

I want to celebrate my inconsistent ideas about love on my own terms, which usually have fewer rose petals and/or cupcakes. I don’t need to be told when it is and is not socially acceptable to find a partner. Most importantly, I don’t want to let the fulcrum of my human experiences be a social obligation.

Olivia Alsept-Ellis is a senior English major. She can be reached at alseptel14@up.edu.
B