This seems to be Auspicious and/or Celebratory Event Week, starting with Friday the 13th and running through Valentine’s Day, President’s Day, Mardi Gras, Ash Wednesday, and Chinese New Year. The week begins with the ritual slaying of promiscuous teens by a hockey-mask-clad madman and runs all the way up through the welcoming of the year of the cloven-hooved animal of some sort. February is the shortest month but there’s a certain winter-slap-happiness about it that suggests we all desperately need a reason to celebrate.
I thought about writing a post for Valentine’s Day, but I found myself lacking anything meaningful to say. This is actually very pleasing. I admit there were years when I felt required to act cranky and embittered on February 14th because I wasn’t in a relationship and as such was expected to rail against falseness of forced romance, or something. Truth is, though, Valentine’s Day doesn’t separate the people in love from the people in loneliness; it divides us among those who enjoy these kinds of days in general and those who don’t. If you do everything heart-shaped on Valentine’s Day, you probably also do the egg-and-bunny thing at Easter, the flag-and-firework thing around Independence Day, and the last three months of the year are a madcap parade of pumpkins, pilgrims, and presents. If you’re like me, on the other hand, you might toy with making French toast on Bastille Day just for le hell of it, but you'll get the date wrong and run out of eggs and just have a peanut butter sandwich instead.
This year it seemed like more people were actually celebrating Friday the 13th than Valentine’s Day—how else can you explain the surprising number of bouquet photos posted on facebook the day before the real thing? Well, actually you can explain it: what’s the fun in getting flowers from your beloved if nobody knows they did it? Ah, there she is again: cynical, anti-romance me, who hasn’t lost her cranky, embittered edge despite not being the least bit lonely on the 14th. Yes, I spent the day with the BF and enjoyed it very much. No, I’m not going to tell you about it. You’re welcome.
There is so little in life, it seems, that is truly personal, that we don’t feel necessary to validate through external sources. Ironically, in the entire history of humanity, intimate relationships have never been solely personal; they have always fallen under the public domain. It has always been crucially important for communities, cultures, and societies to monitor, guide, and regulate the way people mate. The wedding industry has been built around the idea that what’s more important for a woman than finding a suitable partner is making sure the world knows that you are truly deserving of a suitable partner because you look good in a strapless dress.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not knocking public celebration. There is an exhilaration and satisfaction you get from sharing an event with a lot of people, most of whom have nothing else in common with you. This is true even if the event is a made-up, misguided one—because it usually is such. A lot of my runner friends have had the experience of telling a nonrunner how much they paid to run their last marathon and then suffering incredulous looks and predictable exclamations of “Give me that money instead and you can run around the block 50 times while I give you Gatorade and cheer you on!” Yeah, because that’s so the same thing. Look, folks, you pick your silly celebrations and I’ll pick mine. You want to fill baskets with jellybeans, be my guest; I’m going to fill my spibelt with sports beans and slap a 26.2 sticker on my car because that’s my particular flowers-delivered-to-the-office way of showing off for social approval. Whatever makes life interesting, different, and fun for you is worth pursuing, even if it’s a minor irritant to others.
Communal activities can be hugely positive and can encourage a person to do things they would never have contemplated by themselves. Would I ever have run 26.2 miles if that particular distance had not been a thing? Hell, no—who would think to run anything point two? On the other hand, communal sensibilities can also push us too hard to value things that are maybe just a little bit beside the point. Every romantic movie, book, song, or facebook meme seems to emphasize the idea that relationships are the means through which we move up through some kind of massive human ranking system. We can’t just be loved; we have to be seen being loved, and we have to be judged favorably for it.
C’est l’amour. If you’ve lived on this planet for any length of time, you know most things end up taking residence in the vast regions of middle ground. Our public lives make us part of the human race, for better and worse, so if you hate a particular social celebration like Valentine’s Day, rest assured you can still be part of the fun through scathing derision and mockery. Or you can shrug and plan a day entirely unrelated to the whole business. You don’t even have to tell anyone or post pictures about it—and, despite what social media would have you believe, it did still happen.