Have you noticed how uncool Valentine’s Day is? Most of my friends are boycotting it. I get it — the heart-shaped balloons, all the chocolate (you’re not receiving), and the general over-commercialization sometimes makes me want to punch a wall too. But come on, America. Have we fallen so low that we now hate our national day of love?
I like to start a story at the beginning, so let’s go back over a thousand years to the poorly documented, richly embellished tale of Saint Valentine: In 3rd century Rome, an emperor named Claudius II believed that men with wives made easily distracted, weak fighters. So, he banned all soldiers from marriage. Devastated, couples found themselves in love but unable to marry. Taking pity on them, a bishop named Valentine began to marry lovers in secret. Claudius discovered what was happening and ordered the execution of Valentine, who prior to his death wrote a note to the woman he loved and signed it affectionately, “From Your Valentine.” I think heart-shaped boxes of chocolate were somehow involved too. The end.
Centuries of exaggeration and marketing later, the obvious issue people have with what we now call Valentine’s Day is that it’s a holiday designed for couples. And if you happen to be single (and are unhappy about it), every confetti-spouting balloon aggressively reminds you that the only date you have is the one with your Netflix and stretchy pants. But I think it’s time to stop (in the name of love), put down our arms, and reclaim this controversial holiday. Instead of resisting something that exists whether you like it or not, why not choose to transform your experience of Valentine’s Day and make it something that’s powerfully your own?
Regardless of your relationship status, love starts with you. A friend of mine shared a practical exercise with me that I liked – I think it can help give you a love boost. In the spirit of V-Day, you’re going to send a valentine. But you’re going to send it to yourself: Write a letter (or an email) to you from five years ago. Imagine that you’re looking through a portal and addressing your 2010 self. Take it seriously — knowing what you know now, if you could really send a letter to yourself back in time, what would you write?
When I did this exercise, for example, I found myself immediately writing out different successes that I’ve experienced over the past five years, assuring my younger self that everything I remember I was worried about back then would turn out fine. It sounds weird, but I’m telling you — the result is profound. When I finished my letter, I noticed that something shifted in me, and I began to feel an overwhelming sense of love and grace, and not just in relation to the memory of my young self, but also to the things that are weighing me down today. Try it.
Once you’ve done that and are feeling a little more open to loving yourself, I invite you to consider who else in your life could use some love — and consider offering it to them. This could be your mother, your friend, your boss. We tend to experience everything through the filter of “What can this do for ME?” and so we’re frustrated by Valentine’s Day when we assess that we can’t benefit from it. But think about how much meaning you could infuse into V-Day if you chose to use it as an opportunity to bring some extra love into someone else’s day.
Which brings me to one specific relationship I want to emphasize in this conversation: the one between fathers and daughters. The YWCA is holding our annual Father Daughter Dance this Friday, Feb. 6, calling all fathers (and father figures — many of the girls who come to the dance didn’t actually grow up with a dad, so they come with the mom who acts as both mother and father) to spend the evening with their girls in honor of Valentine’s Day. Why? We understand from studies and years of working with young women that the quality of a girl’s relationship with her father has a lasting impact on the way she relates to herself and others when she’s older. It’s an opportunity for father figures to make an intentional decision to invest in the lives of the daughters in our community. This is what I mean when I invite you to make V-Day your own powerful experience. We love this holiday because we’ve transformed it into an excuse to create something beautiful, so that these girls begin to build good self-esteem and healthy relationships with men — and don’t grow up to hate Valentine’s Day.
If you didn’t get that kind of chance when you were young, male or female, it isn’t too late to give yourself the gift of intention this February 14th. What do you want to create with Valentine’s Day — and the rest of your days? We believe in your potential to make it happen. Consider this our love note to you. From Your Valentine.
Call the YWCA at (310) 452-3881 to purchase your Father Daughter Dance tickets or donate to the YWCA’s Girl Central program for middle and high school-aged girls.
Join the movement at www.smywca.org.