Rethinking Valentine's Day

I forget my dad's birthday almost every year.

It's in September--I know that much. As I write this, I can't tell you if it's the 18th or the 21st. Even worse, I have a feeling both of those dates might be wrong. Yes, I'm terrible.

My dad lets me off the hook once I realize I've missed it (or my mom calls me to tell me I missed it). It's a good thing he cares as much about his birthday as I do about mine which is to say, not much.  My mom's birthday is a bit harder to forget because it's the day before mine, but she's never demanded much on her birthday anyway. This has been typical for us. No outings, no elaborate gifts, and certainly not any countdowns to the big day. A standard birthday for me in high school looked like my mom letting me go buy a pizza and breadsticks from Pizza Hut. Fifty Cent would be so disappointed.

For most of my life, I didn't understand why people made such a big deal out of birthdays. It's the way I was raised--no fanfare, no need to make a big fuss. I didn't want anyone to go out of their way to do anything for my birthday--to me, it's just another day. Nothing changes except I have to remember to add a number to my age. When it came to other people's birthdays? I understood I should show some kind enthusiasm for them, but for me, it was more often out of obligation than genuine excitement.

A few years ago, a friend explained to me his approach to birthdays, and it changed the way I think about them. He said, "It's about celebrating this person--and they deserve to be celebrated as much as possible." Changed my life.

Enter Valentine's Day.

People feel all kinds of ways about February 14th. Some people love it--Cupid shot them with some kind of arrow laced with love steroids, and they get super jazzed. They might have lofty expectations and grand plans for the day. They might even extend the holiday into Valentine's Week or Month. They want the roses, the chocolates, the perfect date, the weekend getaway, the whole house decked out in red and pink. Other people hate it. They hate it because they're single and it reminds them of what they don't have. Some people hate it because they think it's a holiday perpetuated by Hallmark. Some people hate it because they're married to or going out with one of those crazy people who love Valentine's Day, and now they have to think of something awesome and amazing or they're screwed. Some people hate it simply because it's going to be impossible to eat out without waiting forever for a table or being surrounded by nauseating levels of PDA.

Maybe you love it. Maybe you hate it. Maybe you're somewhere in between. No matter what your feelings are about it, I'd like to make a case for Valentine's Day we can all live with.

If you have sky-high, near-impossible expectations for Valentine's Day--drop them.

If you're feeling pressure to meet those expectations or resentment that you have to meet those expectations--let yourself off the hook.

If your cynicism has you hating on it for being a commercialized ploy to get you to spend your money--take a break for a minute. Cynicism's exhausting, anyway.

If you think Valentine's Day is a chance for you to make up for slacking in the past or to build "love credit" that will last you for a while in the future (a horrible way to approach relationships, for the record)--forget it .

If you see Valentine's Day as a day that's only valuable for couples--it's not.

I want to shed all of the complications and baggage around Valentine's, and offer this thought to guide how we approach the day:

It's good to celebrate the people we love.

That's it.

It's not about proving your love or buying someone's love or impressing or appeasing someone. It's not about spending money at Hallmark. It's not about whether you have a romantic companion or not.

It's another opportunity to celebrate the people we love. And we should take every opportunity we have.

Sometimes, we make life more complex than it needs to be. I've found that much of the wisdom that guides me through life doesn't come through some profound revelation--it comes from being reminded of what I already know to be true. A good chunk of our dissatisfaction can be cured by simple reminders to be grateful.

So much of the strife, resentment, and unhappiness we experience in our relationships is because we let the negatives dominate our thoughts, and we forget what we love about someone. We forget why we fell in love with them in the first place, or why we value their friendship so much. We forget what makes them so unique and amazing and beautiful and fascinating. We forget how lucky we are to have them.

Gratitude has a stupidly short expiration date. We think it's non-perishable--in the immediacy of our good times, we don't think we could ever not be grateful for how he takes out the trash, or how she takes care of the kids, or how he responds to a mistake with kindness, or how she finds the right words to be supportive on a bad day. There's no way our gratitude for this person could ever fade, right? But give it a day or two, or a week, or a month. Wait for work to wear you down, or wait until that person disappoints you or hurts you.

Much sooner than later, our gratitude expires on us, and we usually don't even realize it. Time passes, we grow more discontent, more bitter, more resentful, and we have no idea why. Our gratitude went sour a while back. If we're lucky, we'll figure it out and find a way to refresh.

The same reason I now care about birthdays despite the way I grew up is why I'm all for Valentine's Day--it's another chance for me to remind someone and myself why I'm grateful for them. There are some amazing, incredible people in my life--they deserve to be celebrated as often as possible. I can't celebrate them enough, and I'll take every opportunity I can to be grateful for them.

There's someone in your life who deserves to be celebrated. You don't even have to be married or dating someone--you have some loved ones who should be celebrated.

When this weekend rolls around, I hope Valentine's Day can be less about proving and performing, less about expectations, less about the haves and have-nots--and more about the simple act of celebrating the people you love.

They deserve it. You need it.

Happy Valentine's Day. (or Week or Month, you crazies.)