“If you don’t have one, then everyone is your valentine.”
I’d picked up “M Train,” Patti Smith’s 2015 memoir, by chance. It was early February of last year and I was desperate for a distraction from another Valentine’s Day spent combing through candy bags and conversation hearts for my friends in saccharine-scented grocery store aisles.
Valentine’s Day is the misfit of commercial holidays rejected by the majority of society out of sheer annoyance for what it represents and a little bit of poorly hidden insecurity. And so, in a desperate attempt to differentiate myself from this trope of the perpetually lonely — borderline insufferable — teenage girl, I resolved to pass on the message of love it was seemingly trying to offer.
But I’m not that noble — and as fiercely as it had come, my resolve was slowly beginning to fade, the facade of unconditional optimism slipping away. And though I can’t be sure Smith intended for a brief line in her book to serve as divine rehabilitation for my spirit, her 10 words of offhand advice salvaged my relationship with our beloved Hallmark-esque holiday. Here’s why.
There is a certain perspective ingrained in Hollywood’s depiction of Valentine’s Day, as demonstrated by outdated sitcom specials and Julia Roberts romantic comedies — it is not only a source of unobtainable standards for love and romance but an equally concerning generator of cynicism.
We have glamorized the idea of romance to the point where it has become unnoticeable in any form that does not fit this flashy, cinematic mold. Ironically, Valentine’s Day has been manipulated into the opposite of what it hopes to inspire: it has become a breeding ground of resentment, feeding into the false notion that love is only worth celebrating in the boundaries of relationships we see on screen.
We have been deluded into believing that romance lies solely along these linear planes, a one-dimensional existence between characters we are nothing like, and worlds we will never live in. To that end, we have also been forced to endure another consistent theme: if we do not fit into this extremely selective ideology, romance is not ours to claim in any form.
But to believe this is not just cynicism — it’s a delusion. Love and romance do not have to be exactly like they are in the movies. And that’s a good thing.
Smith’s words are a pragmatic reminder that despite the linearity of what we’ve been shown, romance is a spectrum — a vast rise-and-fall of large and small gestures that make up our incomprehensible definition of love. If we choose to approach love in the way she suggests, Valentine’s Day does not have to be a date on the calendar, marred by loneliness and overpriced chocolate boxes.
Instead, it can be something much greater — a reminder that romance as grand as the kind found onscreen exists also in the fractions of our everyday lives. In this way of thinking, love does not have to be colossal to be important. And it does not have to be traditional to be celebrated.
There’s one more thing: while I like Smith’s quote as is, I’d like to advocate for a small revision — everything, not just everyone, can be your valentine.
There is inherent romance in the things we normally consider frivolous. It is in these small pieces of our lives that comfort can be found and loneliness can be cured.
This upcoming Feb. 14, I’ll inevitably return to Smith’s words. I will look for such romance in the smallest crevices of my life — from flowers I buy that brighten the corners of my room to the way my friends greet me when I see them, even if we’ve only been apart for hours.
I will find it, too, within Valentine’s Day itself — an entire stretch of time and space dedicated to the one thing we all want, if we are willing to look hard enough: love.