If you told me last February that the next time we’d be celebrating Valentine’s Day would be close to a year into a devastating pandemic, it’s not just that I wouldn’t have believed you, I would have been worried about you for saying something so far-fetched. But, alas, here we are — and after almost 365 days of heightened stress and anxiety, immeasurable loss, and a reckoning with the world as we know it, the holiday of love seems like it should be an irrelevant afterthought in the midst of a year focused on rebuilding our old traditions into something new and sustainable. And in a way, it is. As we welcome the progressive reckoning taking place at every level of society, commercialized holidays — especially one centered around love — feel outdated and too entrenched in capitalism for us to really enjoy, you know?
And yet: I still want to celebrate Valentine's Day, which has always held a soft spot in my heart, no matter how basic the internet has deemed feeling a spark of joy on what always ends of being the coldest of winter’s days. And even though the day honors St. Valentine, the patron saint of love, some of my best memories are of platonic affection. When I was younger, I spent far too much time in party stores picking out the best Valentines to hand out to my class (always with a Dove chocolate heart taped on) and figuring out exactly which cartoon puppy cards I'd give to my best friends and my of-the-moment crush. As I grew older, I came home from school to see chocolate, a card, and a single rose accented by baby's breath from my dad on our kitchen island. And when I went off to college, I always received the same — this time just through the mail — and I enjoyed it alongside a box of rosé wine shared with my roommates as we prioritized our love for one another and ourselves over the college romances we thought were the end-all-be-all.
The romantic side of Valentine's Day has been a spot of weakness for me, too. My first boyfriend bought me one of those heart-shaped necklaces for the occasion, while another high school fling took me out to a local Italian restaurant on the 14th for our very first date. And although my love languages are quality time and physical touch, there’s something about gift-giving on Valentine’s Day — a once-a-year opportunity to show your love through thoughtfully planned itineraries, romantic dinners, cute gifts, or totally cliché red lingerie — that makes even the most trite things feel special.
About all those gifts — even if the holiday has been overwhelmed by consumerism, and essentially exists so companies can profit off our yearning to demonstrate our love (and has the unfortunate side effect of making us sick of the colors pink and red every year), well, sometimes a little indulgence and splurging is what it takes to feel like you have control over your own life. We're living in what feels like a constant state of emergency now, our need to show and receive love has only grown more desperate.
This past July, a KFF Tracking Poll found that 53% of adults in the U.S. have experienced increased stress and worry due to COVID-19 — a number that’s understandably much higher than the 32% that was reported in March, at the outset of the pandemic. We learned about "skin hunger," a yearning for physical touch that happens when we're deprived of it; we also experienced it. We spent the past year six feet apart from those we love, unable to bask in the closeness that helps us feel connected, and celebrated weddings, graduations, and other milestones through a screen. Time has made us feel like we're trapped in an infinite present — really, it's a thing — with nothing to look forward to until the pandemic has ended. But there’s no end in sight.
Humans have an evolutionary need for connectedness, which is why embracing the joy of Valentine's Day in all its basic, kitschy glory is just what we need this year — an excuse to celebrate love in all forms. So: Grab takeout from your favorite restaurant with your partner. Or order a heart-shaped pizza for yourself and sing along to your favorite love songs. Drink a bottle of wine with your best friend and take advantage of the fact that Rogers & Hammerstein's Cinderella hits Disney+ just two days before the holiday. Post a compilation of sentimental photos to your Instagram story, celebrating yourself, your friends, your family, and your loved ones. Buy yourself flowers just because.
We need more joyful moments after this past year, no matter how cringe-worthy they may seem. Let this Valentine's Day be a reminder that you deserve to love and be loved. At its core, basic just means something foundational, something comfortable and familiar, and this is the kind of celebration we want to embrace right now, in all its cheesiness — except, maybe, leave the heart-shaped jewelry where it belongs, in 2015.