Valentine’s Day is a heteronormative, capitalist holiday that turns romantic love between men and women into a commodity expressed through material goods. It’s deeply gendered, telling women that they should feel unloved without a Valentine and telling men that their love isn’t strong enough unless it’s expressed through gifts and an expensive dinner. When I was younger, I bought into this idea of Valentine’s Day completely. I had very low self-esteem and was always looking for someone to tell me that I had value.
I also knew that I was queer, but I felt ashamed of my sexuality and didn’t know how to talk about it.
Valentine’s Day channeled all of that insecurity into a single event. Each year, I dreamt that someone might confess their feelings for me through a gift, meaning that I was finally worthy of love. When that didn’t happen, I was despondent.
As I got older and entered my first few serious relationships, I tried to create the Valentine’s Day I had seen for years in movies, TV shows, and commercials. However, I still wasn’t fully comfortable in my queerness, and I dated people who I knew wouldn’t bring up my sexuality or try to discuss it with me. I was unhappy and still insecure in myself, so of course I was never truly satisfied with how my Valentine’s Day turned out. No matter where we went for dinner or what kind of flowers I got, my anxiety and dread surrounding the holiday never went away.
Valentine’s Day didn’t work for me for one reason: I’m a queer woman who was trying to mold myself to fit a heteronormative standard. The day is supposed to evoke a sense of want and fantasy, but mainstream celebrations convince you that the holiday is only for couples who act and present a certain way. But the fact was that, deep down, I never even really wanted to wait around for someone to prove their love to me through chocolates and jewelry. I wanted more than that. I wanted to enjoy a healthy and dynamic relationship where I could see my complete self—including my sexuality—reflected.
Fully embracing my queerness has helped me see that instead of trying to fit myself into Valentine’s Day, I can reclaim the holiday to fit me.
This year marks my second Valentine’s Day with a partner who is very special to me. He is also queer, and instead of holding each other to any gendered expectations or any standards that are contrary to our identities, we see the day as a celebration of our unique, deeply loving relationship. There is no pressure to prove our love for one another through how much we spend, either. We just do things that we both enjoy, together. I am free from the negative, shameful feelings that Valentine’s Day once created for me, and for the first time, I am truly looking forward to it.
I hope if you dread Valentine’s Day like I once did, you can find a way to reclaim it for yourself, too—even if you aren’t currently in a relationship. Love, including love for yourself, is worth celebrating.