When we were kids, Valentine's Day was a savored special treat. We welcomed Cupid with red confetti and hearts carved from construction paper. We giddily gobbled candy and pink sprinkle-smattered cupcakes. We freely exchanged cards emblazoned with our favorite cartoon characters, and we relished the ones that came with Hershey's Kisses attached. The only cause for tension was when someone hogged the glitter glue or the Tickle-Me-Pink Crayola.
But the harmless and happy holiday turned pointedly polarizing as soon as dating became a plausible possibility. Now, as adults, a select few of us seem to relish the day spent basking in love's glow with our significant others by our sides, while most people seem to dread it or just find it distasteful. For couples, the hunt for the perfect present and the pressure to perform with adequate extravagance can be daunting. Meanwhile, the cheesy commercialization particularly grates at those of us who will spend the day alone, as the aisles of Hallmark seem to suggest that single people are excluded from a members-only club to which the rest of the country belongs. At best, the roses and teddy bears stuffed into every store window can feel like absurdly oversimplified ways to express a deep, complex emotion; at worst, they can feel like cruel slaps in the face.
But perhaps we're missing something, beneath the sensitivities, the awkwardness, the materialism and the cliches. Perhaps the heart of the holiday is still sweet and good. Maybe the hokey antics and the lovey-dovey hubbub are actually worth indulging.
Though the festivities may indeed be stale and sales-driven, this is the one day of the year when we're encouraged to savor soppy sentimentality, to devour decadent displays of chocolate and flowers, and to luxuriate in love, no holds barred. It seems like a shame to deny ourselves that pleasure, whether or not it's a little excessive — even if we don't have partners to share it with. What if we choose to be our own Valentines? What if we use the holiday to celebrate the most enduring and sacred relationship of our lives — the one that each of us holds with our own inner self — or to spread warmth and goodwill in our local communities, Cupid-style?
If that concept sounds so cheesy that it's almost barf-inducing, so be it. Life is tough and serious enough, especially lately. A small dose of cheesiness is good for the soul. In fact, cheesiness might be one of the bravest visions that a human can promote.
Cheesiness dares to assert that tenderness, fondness and intimacy are our natural-born rights, just as important as strength, smarts and power. Cheesiness always gets back up, beaming, offering hugs, as it is repeatedly knocked down by hard facts and political power struggles and intellectual debates. Cheesiness looks all of life's harshness in the face and says, "I believe sweetness can outdo sourness. I believe love's bright side is worth every ounce of its accompanying torment. I believe humans are made to cherish, dote and adore." And cheesiness is gloriously inclusive, promising that even when we're unattached, there is more than enough warm, gooey grace to go around.
This year, we're emboldened to take back Valentine's Day, embracing it again as we did when we were little; to reclaim the day's significance, however sparkly and shiny, in ways unrestricted to romance alone. Whether with our partners and spouses, our children or on our own, we're agreeing to lighten up, loosen up and enjoy the heart-shaped whimsy without worrying that it's silly, saccharine or exclusionary — to be our own Valentines, or to play Cupid for the friends, family and strangers who permeate our daily lives.
Besides, Cupid has always been portrayed as a playful, carefree kid who flies solo, spreading smooches wherever he (or she) goes.
How to take back Valentine's Day:
1. Make your own chocolates with a delicious but nutritious spin. Instead of settling for one of those giant, plastic-wrapped boxes of candy at the store, which never taste quite as good as they look, try whipping up a dessert that's sweet but satisfying and actually offers some heart-healthy benefits. We recommend these chocolate peppermint honey cups, concocted (in a snap) from plant-based ingredients.
2. Volunteer or send a secret valentine to your charity of choice. What better day to give back to a cause that warms your heart? You might donate to an organization like the ACLU, thanking the team for the love they offer to humans all across the U.S., or sign up to make meals for those in need at a local shelter or hospital. Either way, you'll be providing a generous present — so much more meaningful than an average teddy bear — to some well-deserving people.
3. Buy yourself flowers. There's a reason the first line of Mrs. Dalloway is so timelessly popular: treating yourself to the ephemeral luxury of a floral bouquet is an empowering act of sweet subversion. (And, like we've said before, plants bring some much-needed brightness inside during an otherwise dark and dreary month.) Pick up a bunch of your favorite variety, and disperse the blooms in small bottles or vases around the house — a few in front of the bathroom mirror, a handful on the bedside table and an assemblage by the kitchen sink will spread sweet scents and bold bursts of color throughout the day and week.
4. Take a spontaneous day trip. No map, no timeline, no rules — when you take a miniature vacation, solo, you get to choose the car tunes and make pitstops for snacks as you please. Setting out without a solid plan allows ample opportunities for surprise and delight, self-reflection and random connections with strangers along the way. You might select a starting point, like a nearby museum or botanical garden you've always intended to visit, and see where it takes you, or you might truly drive off in a spontaneous direction — regardless, the road trip can provide respite from responsibilities back at home and increased open space to relax and roam.
5. Find a spot to watch the sunset. When was the last time you paused and plopped down to admire the sky's daily shifts from blue to pink to amber? Seek out a local spot with a good view, tuck your phone in your pocket, and break out the cozy blankets and a bottle of wine. Consider it a romantic date between you and Mother Nature — one that's certain to soothe any lingering inklings of the Valentine's Day blues and remind you that even the cheesiest cliches become cliches for a reason.
p.s. If you go with option #4, here are a few travel tips and tools, tailored specifically to non-planners.