With Valentine’s Day starting off this week, it is easy to focus on a very superficial, all-consuming, Facebook Official, flutter-in-your-stomach, here’s-how-many-roses-and-chocolates-and-cuddly-pandas I received definition of love. While it’s nice to know how loved you are by others in that certain kind of way, I think that if we're going to call Valentine’s Day a real holiday (and not just a capitalistic tug on the heart strings) then it should also be a day that we reflect on love in general, just like Thanksgiving causes us to reflect on gratitude.
As I said, it’s easy to be focused on one kind of love on Valentine’s Day, but that’s so restrictive to the real human capacity for the emotion. I know that when I was growing up, Valentine’s Day was a day of affection for me and my family as well as a day to show my classmates how much I cared for them. When my sisters and I awoke as children and came down the stairs to see heart-shaped goodies from our parents, it was akin to the excitement and love of Christmas day. Similarly, in our elementary classrooms, I remember looking forward to passing out Hello Kitty (or Spongebob) themed valentines to my friends and peers. As adults, why don't we pass out simple "participation" valentines like "Hey, you're a human. Thanks for showing up. I appreciate your existence." Today, as I walked through the Art Institute downtown, I found myself wishing Happy Valentine’s Day! to several people, mainly the bored-looking museum attendants. One of them perked up and said, “You’re the first one to say that to me!” It was nice to have brightened someone’s day in such a simple way. I think Valentine’s should be a space for us to remember how much we are capable of showing love to those around us. Rather than being “anti-Valentine’s” or constraining love to a simple ideal of romance, we should view Valentine’s as a platform where we can better love everyone, even if it's in as simple a way as saying hi or sending them a gif valentine over Facebook.
I also think Valentine’s should be a day where we love ourselves well. A lot of people get curmudgeonly on Valentine’s Day because they focus on how other people don’t love them enough. The beautiful thing about Valentine’s Day is that you can treat yourself, too. Be kind to yourself, first of all. Being with or without someone isn’t a barometer of your self worth. I know it’s past Valentine’s now, but I don’t think it’s too late to do something simple that you enjoy. I spent the day wandering around the Art Institute and filling myself up with the beauty of craft. I walked around and loved seeing the smiling couples, holding hands with each other or their children. It made me happy to see love around me—not only expressed between people, but also to see love within the art works I appreciated. Each work was an expression of passion’s labor, and a good number of works pondered on human relationships and the idea of beauty. Love, in a way, is an art that we can all practice. It takes skill, finesse, and a deft hand, but it also takes clumsy energy, fearless determination, and a big eraser called “forgiveness.” Whether you choose to spend this week loving others or yourself, I encourage you to think about the art of love and how you might become your own sort of expert at it. CJB