A Better Valentine's Day

Most of us could admit having a love-hate relationship with Valentine’s Day. We might remember the excitement of getting roses from a new love or trading candy hearts with childhood friends, but we also can’t forget old heartbreaks or ignore new loneliness. And the holiday’s presumptive focus on those who have a “special someone” can make others feel like they’re being asked to celebrate “Singles Awareness Day.” Restaurants are often at their worst on V-Day, corporations often appear to have taken over the entire holiday, and the whole ordeal can seem to merely marginalize singles while placing extra pressure on couples. Is there any redeeming quality to Valentine’s Day?

As unappealing as some now find it, many still believe in the value of an intentional, simultaneous, and wide-ranging moment of appreciation for love and connection. A few years ago the Imago community set out to reclaim Valentine’s Day for celebration of true connection and growing love between committed partners. Their “Keeping It Real” initiative aims to rescue Valentine’s Day from materialism and satire by encouraging couples to use the day to reconnect and focus on the positive parts of their relationships.

I recently attended a workshop for Imago therapists during which the presenters asked participants to close their eyes and think back to the early days of a meaningful love relationship. We were invited to think about how it felt to look in another person’s eyes and hear their stories for the first time. When the meditation was over, one of the participants admitted, “I don’t want to leave this!” The other attendees chuckled in agreement. With the pains of daily life and what one of my clients refers to as the “list of injuries” between partners, it can be challenging to refocus on earlier, happier memories.

But there are tremendous benefits to talking with a partner about the happy parts of the past as well as the present. A common Imago metaphor describes positive dialogues as the fuel that keeps a relationship’s engine going over rough terrain. Maybe this Valentine’s Day could serve as that filling station along the path in your relationship. Take time to refuel through exchanging intentional gratitude – spoken appreciations, rather than insinuations via flowers and chocolate.

There is a reason that terms like Singles Awareness Day have entered the zeitgeist – many of us are not “coupled” for any number of reasons, including choice and circumstance. But if Valentine’s Day can serve as a day of reconnection, there are so many things that all of us, singles included, can do to take care of ourselves. It might mean making intentional plans with friends, setting a blind date, or even ignoring the calendar entirely, all for the benefits of emotional refueling.

Fighting against the presumptiveness and materialism of Valentine’s Day is an enormous task, especially with Hallmark and Godiva’s Goliaths setting false expectations all around us. But as we know from the Imago approach of validating experiences and asking for small adjustments, tiny shifts in thinking often lead to big changes.

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