If attending Columbia University has taught me one thing, it's to always overthink everything. Holidays are no exception.
Holidays have recently become a minefield of thought. Once innocuous, Columbus Day now preaches genocide. Starbucks has gone to war with Christmas. My unapologetically racist extended family now makes me not want to return home for Thanksgiving. Halloween costumes can get Yale professors fired. Even Labor Day's just a construct meant to keep American workers from wearing red in May.
Where does all that leave Valentine's Day? Who's this holiday for, anyway?
It's a fair question. Should we be celebrating committed couples or encouraging desperate singles to seek out that perfect relationship? Perhaps it's not a celebration at all—could it just be a hostile attempt by the Hallmark-Hershey Complex to rob you of your cash and dignity? Maybe they're watching you shop, despondent in the Rite Aid seasonal aisles, searching for that perfect last-minute card and candy combo.
Or maybe it's a day for writers. The reams of angst-ridden poetry inspired by lonely Valentine's Days aren't exactly Pulitzer Prize material. Honestly, it's the kind of stuff that would make Bukowski quit and Salinger realize his life of self-imposed exile was for the best. (Well, that just was a fleeting, pretentious thought.)
I relayed these musings—the rhetorical questions, the idea about writers—to a friend who hit on the answer right away. "You nailed it in that last paragraph: Pretense is the word," he said. "Columbia has trained you to treat relationships like an academic exercise; now you're just overthinking it."
And that, of course, got me thinking: Maybe Valentine's Day is precisely the holiday we need to reclaim the most. Because, yeah, relationships and love are messy things, but the core ideas are pretty simple. Feeling and expressing empathy? Those concepts are easy to get behind.
Maybe the key is to trade thought for action—to stop being so self-aware, so intelligent, so meta-post-whatever that we can't just ham it up and get into the spirit of things. Embrace the cliché and revel in the trite! We live in New York, the rom-com poster city; it doesn't get much easier than that. Ask the girl you normally drunkenly message at 3 a.m. to go ice skating in Central Park. Or do what my three past ex-girlfriends have said I'm incapable of doing: Use the day to learn to love yourself.
Nothing is drearier than Columbia in February. Maybe the lasting spirit of Valentine's Day—campy love, unapologetic self-expression—can make the next couple weeks brighter.
This all sounds super Hallmark-y, which is perfect: Hopefully it'll help us all get into the spirit of things. Two months of cold weather are ahead. Why not ride off from Valentine's Day feeling a bit warmer? You can make this happen in a number of ways: As a romantic couple or as platonic friends, with suitemates or someone you haven't seen in awhile. Alternatively, you can do it my way, and spend these next few weeks unleashing your inner 14-year-old, listening to Paramore and getting back to the poetry that you've been meaning to bang out (you're welcome to join me).
Whatever you end up doing, though, just make sure it's something that feels good. You'll have all the time in the world to overthink it later. For now, try and find what works for you.
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