For many, February is a month of joy, celebrating one of the most beautiful connections to exist among the human race: love. Whether romantic, platonic or familial, love is honored this month is the form of flowers, cards and chocolate.
But for some, the bright pink hearts lining the aisles of grocery stores are a grim reminder of the love that has been shown to them in the past — love that is not consistent with societal expectations.
With such a powerful emotion comes many emotional extremes, from utter elation to bitter resentment. There are many forms of the expression of love, ranging from physical to verbal. It is something that is supposed to be safe and warm, but this is not always the case.
Often, love can be presented in the form of domestic abuse and sexual violence. In a study conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice from 2003 – 2012, 1 in 4 women and 1 in 9 men experience sexual violence from an intimate partner at some point in their lives.
This means that for roughly 15% of the population, Valentine’s Day is a reminder of the abuse from the person they trusted to be their partner. Love should not hurt, but it does, and pretending that it does not is invalidating to victims. Among the pastel pinks, adorable animals and groan-worthy puns lining the seasonal greeting card aisle, the common message linking every Valentine’s Day card together is the persistence of love.
When it comes down to the survival of love versus the survival of self, the self should always outlast. We should be teaching children and adults alike that it is healthy to end a relationship, even one full of love, before the relationship becomes increasingly damaging to those in it.
As a society, there is not necessarily a need to eradicate Valentine’s Day altogether; rather, a need exists to present love more realistically. Love has its ups and downs, and for those experiencing a toxic or abusive relationship, those downs can be at rock bottom. For individuals who have previously been involved with manipulative partners, Valentine’s Day can be a reminder or even re-experience of rock bottom.
Rather than promoting love triumphing over all, the truth is that we as individuals should triumph. Just because someone loves you does not give them an excuse to hurt you, and it does not give you reason to forgive them. Some victims may be able to separate themselves from their abuser both mentally and physically, but there will always be certain days of the year that are a heavy reminder. Anniversaries, birthdays and, of course, Valentine’s Day.
Often, we dismiss these victims. It is easy to label them as crabby and miserable while we are feeling the euphoria of our romances. Nobody wants to hear about their peers’ dejection while they are trying to enjoy a happy relationship.
However, the only common thread among love within humans is that we all feel it at some point. There is not one correct way to love. The problem with Valentine’s Day is that it pretends there is.
The solution to this is one that would solve many world issues beyond just Valentine’s Day: offering more kindness to our fellow neighbor.
When you are leaving to go on your Valentine’s date with your partner, it is crucial to provide more empathy to your friends around you. Maybe they are jealous that you are in a happy relationship, but it is also likely that they are saddened to see you joyously experiencing something that brought them down so intensely in the past.
Generally, we do not know the full picture of what is happening in someone’s head. Behind every crabby single person is a more complex picture of their relationship with love. They are hurting on Valentine’s Day and in the context of other love-related reminders.
Be gentle. Be kind. Love freely and openly, but be aware of how this may be affecting those around you. Happy Valentine’s Day.