If I were to tell you that I think Valentine’s Day is kind of a macho holiday, I’d expect you to raise an eyebrow.
Traditionally, the world is plastered with red and pink, lace, candy, promises of romance, a record number of love declarations. No, none of these things fit our societal definition of macho.
But Valentine’s Day is a holiday where we take something as intangible as love, and spend a ridiculous amount of time proving it’s there, quantifying it with tangible things, and expecting or wanting others to provide this proof. It’s kind of terrible when you think about it, because any effort to prove the intangible through the tangible will likely end up a disappointment. It’s why money doesn’t buy happiness. It’s why you don’t see a pile of stuff at the altar of a church and hear the priest shout, “LOOK HOW MUCH GOD THERE IS!” There are never enough words or things to express the seemingly infinite feelings of happiness, hope and faith…so why do we spend this holiday burdened by the task of proving love?
No, I’m not some high-minded exceptionalist. I’m completely susceptible to that burden, and it’s terrible! I feel the need to cater to someone’s (usually imagined) expectations to prove myself, to surprise and wow, to really blow them away with the grandness of love. And at the same time, that need is driven by my own misguided expectations for surprises, wowing, proof, and a moment I just can’t forget. How can we expect ourselves or anyone else to generate this kind of excitement over and over again? It’s exhausting! To me, it seems like such a macho thing to throw around the weight of your love with your chest out.
Since my first real date on Valentine’s Day my junior year of high school, I have spent almost every year in a serious relationship. It wasn’t until this year that something felt different. I bought the expensive gifts, spent a long time making a handmade card, made everything at home perfect and had begun the process of trashing my newly cleaned bedroom with a whirlwind of outfits that just weren’t good enough to demonstrate how my significant other made me feel. With each attempt, I became more frustrated with myself, with my body, with the mess I made, with how imperfect things felt like they were going to be. Sound familiar?
At the zenith of my macho struggle something just clicked. If Valentine’s Day is about love, I need to practice a little more self-love in the form of gratitude. I need to let go of that feeling that I or what I have to offer is not enough, that my love is not worthy if I can’t prove it well enough, that this day is about macho love. In stead of puffing out my chest, I reflected and practiced gratitude for the ways I have shown myself love this year — what I have accomplished, the steps I have taken towards accomplishing things, and the dreams I still have the courage to hold onto. I loved myself for nurturing the right relationships. I loved myself for continuing the journey of personal growth even when that journey felt terrible and useless and uncomfortable.
With that same grateful and grounded sense of love, I turned my thoughts to the important people in my life. Free of that strange feeling that anyone could prove how much they love me, I instead chose to practice gratitude for their love and support. These people have taken strides to make our relationships deeper and greater. They have not only endured, but supported me when I was less than my best. There is no bouquet, no box of chocolates, and no gesture of love large enough to fill the deep canyon of love that we have carved over the years.
It all reminds me of a quote by author David Thoreau:
“I make myself rich by making my wants few.”
It was suddenly so clear that the expectations and wants were robbing me of my ability to appreciate the love that was already in my life. So my advice to you, no matter how your Valentine’s Day went, and regardless of your relationship status, is to put your macho love and your macho expectations in check. There is love in your life, and you can make yourself so much richer in it by practicing gratitude instead of needing proof.