The history of Valentine’s Day is gruesome, yet this day is a celebration of romantic love for the modern adult or of platonic love for preschoolers. How did it come to be that the complicated melding of the Roman feast of Lupercalia and the celebration of the martyrdom of St. Valentine (named for two men executed by Claudius II, both on February 14) is responsible for an $18 billion industry?
The ancient Roman men were looped during Lupercalia – they got drunk, sacrificed goats and dogs, and whipped the nearby women with the hides of the animals. And the women lined up to get whipped! All of this was done in the name of fertility, as might be expected, because being beaten always improved the ladies’ chances of getting pregnant in the third century AD.
Examining the roots of Valentine’s Day rituals only leads me to shake my head with derision. I can remember both feelings of elation and depression on Valentine’s Day in my childhood. Until you get to about fourth or fifth grade, Valentine’s Day is just a fun time filled with tiny cards, word heart candies, and pink hearts. Then the pressure mounts – how many cards will you send and to whom?
Should you send one to your five closest friends and one to your crush? Or should you give them to all the popular kids in hopes you might be included in their next joke about one of your five closest friends or your crush? And it doesn’t end there – all through high school and college you put all your expectations into this one day for a romantic relationship to bloom; if it doesn’t, you feel foolish and depressed at being duped by your own irrational emotions that insist this one day of the year someone besides your mother or your best friend should love you.
Once you are in a steady, loving relationship that has led to procreation, you are party to the same Valentine’s Day nonsense all over again when your child brings home that very first class list – invariably with 26 names on it but the packs of cards only come in boxes of 12. Not only do you have the stress of choosing between the Power Puff Girls or the Paratrooper cards for your kid, but you have to think of your significant other also.
Does he care about Valentine’s Day rituals; what did she give me last year; is Valentine’s Day memorable for us? Two of my brothers have it easy: one’s wife’s birthday is on Valentine’s Day; and the other got married on Valentine’s Day. How simple is that – they know they have to do presents and entertainment on a grand scale, but for the rest of us, uncertainties abound.
There are people who do not stress about Valentine’s Day and are almost always happy to celebrate the occasion. Take my parents, for instance, who will be celebrating their sixtieth wedding anniversary this year. They have always given each other something on Valentine’s Day. And even though I can’t objectively comment on the health of their marriage, the longevity of it begs investigation.
There is one other habit that my parents have that I believe has kept Valentine’s Day meaningful in their lives: they always kiss one another hello and goodbye.
For as long as I can remember, before either left in the morning, they would have a quick smooch. When my dad got home from work, the very first thing he did was seek out my mother to give her a kiss. Having a ritual kiss does not prevent or eliminate marital problems, but I think there is something to it. I’ve heard of at least two other real-life relationships that improved with an increase in smooching.
As I grow in my young (only 27 years compared to my parents’) marriage, my husband and I have picked up the smooching habit and I must say, it is something to look forward to. It’s also hard to do if you’re mad at someone, so that could help with communication issues. A lot can be interpreted from the length, pressure, electricity or absence, for that matter, of a kiss.
Smooching is nice, but there are a number of other ways to show your love for your partner. According to the best-selling classic, Fighting for Your Marriage, by Markman, Stanley, and Blumberg (2010), research into social support in relationships has advanced tremendously. Recent findings conclude that emotional or social support from a partner is valuable for preserving all of what’s best in your relationship.
Key actions to take when trying to be supportive are being there for your partner, lightening your partner’s load, encouraging your partner, giving your time, praise, and advice (when asked for), talking and listening, and touching. Touching especially can make a difference – so give a big hug, hold hands, snuggle up on the couch to binge-watch some Netflix, play footsies, or give little hand and foot massages.
If Valentine’s Day has always been special to you and your significant other, by all means continue to treat it as such. The $18 billion industry isn’t going anywhere. But, if you’re a little jaded and find the psychological stresses of the day too much, ignore it. If you’re single, remember it was once a celebration of women being beaten and some guys executed – not something worth celebrating.
Instead, turn it into a celebration of love for your family and friends – the day only means what you want it to mean. If you’re in a relationship, do a little something emotionally supportive for your partner every day to strengthen and enhance your bond, because really, if you’re waiting until Valentine’s Day to show your love, you may be a little too late.