February is upon us – it’s the shortest month of the year but it has a tendency to feel like the longest. That initial New Year excitement is rapidly depreciating with every carb-free fun-free dinner you whip up. The promise of summer and holidays feels like a distant myth used by the bourgeoisie just to motivate the means of production, i.e. you. And that overdraft you justified dipping into over Christmas just won’t seem to disappear. Then there’s Valentine’s Day; whether you’re partnered off or not, it’s hard to ignore, but maybe that’s not as bad as it seems.
We all know the story – surprisingly well in fact. Valentine’s Day is one of the annual holidays celebrated with considerable commitment, from an incredibly young age, across the world. The legends of St Valentine have been regaled upon many a hopeful toddler, tween and teenager, though the actual origin of its connection to the customs we practice today remains slightly less clear.
Centering around Christian and ancient Roman traditions, the holiday is a commemoration of one or more saints named Valentine. After a decree by the emperor of the time had banned young men from marriage in order to improve military performance, Saint Valentine was supposedly martyred for continuing to marry young couples in secret. If that isn’t enough to make you swoon, worry not, as the romance does not cease there. From prison, it is said that Saint Valentine wrote to the woman he loved and would sign off his letters with the infamous phrase we all recognise, “From your Valentine”.
In modern times, Valentine’s Day has become a topic of ambivalence. Some favour Valentine’s Day as a day to take a moment to show appreciation for your partner – it’s romantic and necessary. Others seek to question why these kinds of activity need to be concentrated into one day of the year, surely it seems less sincere if it’s scheduled. Sceptics cry that the holiday is vacuous and exhibitionist: true romance does not have a price tag, they say. Recently, we have sought to reappropriate the day. The argument given here is that Valentine’s Day has historically been a day serving to isolate singletons and elevate couples. Our response should be to appreciate the freedom felt within singlehood – less stress, less money spent, fewer headaches. A day to reject the status quo and be thankful for the lack of pressure to perform some grand gesture of love.
To me, it seems almost too easy to fall into the role of an embittered spinster who lives for pizza, Netflix and #metime. Of course, I live for all of those things and think there is absolutely nothing wrong with that as a lifestyle choice, I highly recommend it from time to time. But as much as I seek the downfall and overthrow of the capitalist heteronormative (read here: boring) parade of gendered teddy bears and sickly sweet chocolates that has become 14 February, I think there are aspects of the day that are definitely worth salvaging from the wreckage.
As I dip my toes into the sobering ocean of adulthood, I find myself gaining a better understanding of what love can be. I propose we unsubscribe from this damaging outlook that tries to polarise romantic and platonic love altogether: this idea that you’re either taken for Valentine’s Day or you’re single, and a side must be chosen and embraced. It has become standard to place the love of a romantic partner on a pedestal, towering above the love of our friends, family and everything around us. The quest for a bae, a man who can do both or relationship goals, seem like some sort of cheat code to unlock the final level of the game of life.
Without meaning to sound cliché, love is love, and love is great. I love my huge family that spans across continents and teaches me things every day. I love my friends who somehow manage to put up with me on a daily basis, or on rarer but equally as perfect occasions. I love the lessons that I am able to learn from the things in my life that I don’t love quite so much. It’s all soppy and emotional but it’s also all important.
That’s why I am all for the development of Valentine’s Day as a celebration of love; a love of the world, a love of self, a love of a higher being, a love of another or a love of all those around us. This playlist is my small attempt to help us all unplug from the Hallmark sponsored conception of Valentine’s Day. Not to bash relationships, past, present or future, and call men garbage – not right now anyway – but to broaden the scope.
Here is a compilation of songs to be played while you enjoy a night in alone deep conditioning your hair, while getting ready for a date, or while you sit comfortable and relaxed in a room full of your squad. Find here your romantic neo-soul faves, Erykah Badu, Jill Scott, Bilal and D’Angelo. Throw all the way back with the likes of Al Green, Bobby Womack and Chaka Khan. Listen to the modern take on love songs from Daniel Caesar, Frankie Cosmos, Kehlani and Jordan Rakei. Other artists include: Solange, Frank Ocean, Moses Sumney, Curtis Mayfield, Beyoncé, Boyz II Men, John Legend and Mac Demarco.