I used to count down the days until Feb. 14. I lived for the promise of cutting out paper hearts instead of sitting through phonics lessons. Being the perfectionist I am, I would spend days on end meticulously crafting valentines for all of my classmates, embellishing each with glitter, glue, hearts, and pink lace.
I once saw syrupy cherry lollipops and cards adorned with lopsided hearts as an expression of love, whatever that meant to a 10-year-old. But I was soon hit with the reality of love—or lack thereof.
School hallways plastered with glittery hearts weren’t always enough to deflect the true meaning of the holiday. I spent middle school weaving past couples who held hands in the halls and watching as sappy love notes were inconspicuously slipped into lockers.
In high school, the overeager displays of affection only got worse. It felt like everyone was either stressing about where to make a dinner reservation or pretending that Valentine’s Day didn’t exist to avoid the inevitable tears. I don’t think it’ll be too hard to guess which category I fell into.
Flash forward to Feb. 14, 2022. I sat in the back of my friend’s car and held up the heart-shaped lollipop I’d just unwrapped, unsure whether I should laugh or cry at its blatant mockery of my love life. Half of the candy remained perfectly intact, glistening red under the dim parking lot light. The rest of it had shattered, the jagged shards of candy spilling onto my lap. As “Enchanted,” Taylor Swift’s unofficial anthem for overly analytical hopeless romantics, played in the background, I felt my tendency to overthink creeping in.
I’m the type of person to read into things. And I mean really read into them. As ridiculous as it might sound, I saw myself reflected in the fragmented piece of candy before me.
Part of me wanted to retain hope, clinging tight to the idea of love I’d dreamed up when I was little. But, that hope was slowly crumbling as I spent my 18th Valentine’s Day without the flowers or chocolates (or boyfriend) I watched girls at school gush over. Valentine’s Day had become nothing more than a self-enforced social media cleanse to avoid scrolling through the countless pictures of the same couples proclaiming their love for one another (as if the monthly anniversary posts weren’t enough).
Now here’s the thing—I was subconsciously aware that I was by no means unique in my situation. Even as I was sitting there with the broken lollipop that I’d given unnecessary metaphorical value to, I was surrounded by friends. None of us had the bouquets of roses that society had made us believe we should covet, but we had each other. So maybe this wasn’t the way my nine-year-old self imagined I’d be spending Valentine’s Day as a senior in high school, but I was surrounded by so much love.
Although we spent the night at a restaurant full of couples, dinner dates were the last thing on my mind. I don’t remember what we talked about or why we spent half the night laughing, but I do know that it brought me the same joy that childhood card exchanges once had.
I won’t lie and say that Valentine’s Day is something I’m looking forward to this year. I know it won’t be filled with the type of romance you read about in Jane Austen novels, but I’ve at least learned how to make it bearable.
So whether you’re anticipating or dreading Feb. 14, try to surround yourself with the people, places, and things that you love and that make you feel loved. Instead of lamenting the romantic love that has yet to enter your life, take the time to appreciate the other types of love that are already in front of you.
Valentine’s Day might praise romance, but I’d argue that platonic love is so much stronger. The word “valentine” has origins in the idea of strength, so who’s to say that the unbreakable bonds between friends don’t qualify for celebration too?
Although, if you are single, maybe skip the heart-shaped candy. No matter how much strength you try to embrace, you never know when a broken lollipop will be enough to make you cry—or perhaps even become the inspiration for your writing an entire year later.