Valentine’s day is a day to celebrate love and love is something that needs to be celebrated.
However somewhere along the way between the saint and the cinema, marketing kicked in and St Valentine’s Day is now firmly tangled up in notions of perfection of romantic love – roses, dinner and kisses under the stars.
While all of those things are truly delightful they bear very little resemblance to real romantic love - buried under laundry and chores of a rainy Tuesday evening, snapping at each other out of tiredness before collapsing into each other in giggles over a shared joke and experience.
The real history of Valentine
St Valentine was a real person who looked nothing like a cherub, did not, I believe, carry a bow and arrow and has never advocated for a three-course Valentine’s Day early bird menu. St Valentine is in fact buried in Whitefriar Street Church in Dublin which is a lovely worthwhile place to visit for a bit of perspective on St Valentine’s Day itself (though according to my ex - a bit morbid but give me a 15th century crypt over a shiny restaurant with 20 other pressurised-looking couples any day).
Between the success of Miley Cyrus’s Flowers (a modern day – I will survive) to Electric restaurant in Cork's banning tables for two on Valentine’s day, there is a resurgence of the importance of the day of Valentine’s day to celebrate not just romantic love but also self- and communal love. Valentine’s Day is an opportunity to celebrate love as a joining force - love of our friends and family, love of our community, love of our environment and nature.
Love yourself first
However, like everything to be able to invite in and share out love starts with good foundations. As cliched as it is, all love starts with the love we have with ourselves. As Buddist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh says: "To love without knowing how to love wounds the ones that we love." You need to love, honour and value yourself before you can accept that same deep love from anyone else.
For St Valentine’s Day 2023 why not commit to a regular self-love practice? It really doesn't matter if you are singled or coupled up - this is about your relationship with yourself. Here are a few pointers to help light your way:
- Catch your thoughts
A tricky one for sure but as you develop your self-awareness more you will become more mindful of the simple thoughts that go through your mind and how powerful or destructive they can be. Your friend didn’t text back quickly enough? ‘What did I do. They don’t like me anymore’. Your date cancelled last minute? ‘I will always be lonely’. We have these powerful and sometimes catastrophic worst-case scenario ruminations going through our minds at times and it’s so important and powerful to catch them, stop them in their tracks. They are big thoughts and they are big messages to give yourself.
- Talk to yourself with loving compassion
If you can catch your negative self-talk, you can then replace with some positive life-affirming statements – statements that resonate for you. Treat yourself as you would a good friend and speak kindly and non-judgementally – care for yourself and your thoughts and your feelings. “I am loved” and “I am worthy” and “I can take up space” are simple things to say to yourself regularly. This is not going to make your whole world different right away but practicing awareness of our words and changing the script is a great act of self-love which if done regularly will support your wellbeing.
- As Miley says - buy yourself flowers
This doesn’t have to be flowers it could be a nice plant – it could be a nice candle (though I would say that, wouldn’t I?), it could be anything that you would like to be gifted but you are waiting on someone to miraculously read your mind and gift to you.
For example I had to do something really difficult last year and I promised myself that if I got though it I would buy myself a nutri-bullet. I did it and I bought myself the nutri-bullet which I use every day. Not only was the juicer a supportive buy for my health but using it often reminds me of the challenge I overcame and it makes me feel empowered and courageous.
If you are coupled up, your partner may not realise exactly how much you desire that collector's Fleetwood Mac album – they may be a good partner but a terrible present buyer. If you accept their human imperfection and love them for who they are and accept you can sate your own desires and celebrate yourself – how good does that feel? Other than the powerful act of recognising your own needs and meeting them yourself, there is nothing more loving than accepting someone exactly as they are. I know the above is all very buy-y examples (to use the technical term)- you can also gift yourself free experiences, time alone, time with friends, a day trip to a scenic spot you've been putting on the long finger.
- Try a walking meditation – meditation is not all ‘oms’ and folded feet on yoga mats, you can take yourself out in nature into stunning parts of Ireland and the world and get lost (safely!) in the wilderness. A walking meditation is similar to a sitting meditation – you can focus on your breath or you can focus on a natural element around you – the breeze in the trees, the ebb and flow of the waves. Try to keep your focus and let distracting thoughts come and go to keep your attention on the waves of nature. You don’t need anyone else to do this – this is solely between you and our wonderful earth.
The consumerist nature of Valentine’s Day may irritate or upset you but if you take it is an opportunity to connect with self-love and love in all of its forms it could be the start of a year of genuine self-compassion.