One winter day my sophomore year, a senior on the track team drove me back to campus from practice. As I got out of the car and my friend was about to drive off, he called out the window, “See you later, man. I love you.” Without really thinking I replied, “Yeah, I love you too.”
We never talked about it, but every once in a while after that we would, in passing, mention our love for one another. It was an odd experience. Recently, I’ve been thinking about what might have motivated my friend to say that to me, and why it felt so odd. In large part I think he was messing with me. It can be fun to throw underclassmen for a loop, and having a big, intimidating senior say he loved me certainly did the trick.
At the same time, however, we did love each other. Hours spent practicing together, laughing over meals and sharing our life stories led to deep caring. Neither of us were physically attracted to each other, but we were still meaningfully invested in each other’s lives. My teammate was just verbalizing a feeling too often left unsaid amongst friends.
Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, a holiday seemingly designed to disappoint everyone. Those of us who are single are reminded of it in no uncertain terms, while those of us in relationships feel a strong pressure to make a day special which holds no inherent meaning. It is a frustrating holiday.
But Valentine’s Day can afford us a special opportunity. It can give us a chance to reflect on what love means in our lives and whom we really love, beyond the most obvious candidates.
In my anecdotal experience, the women I am friends with do a much better job of this than the men. I have heard several of my single female friends mention their plans for Valentine’s Day, almost all of which revolve around a bottle of wine, a campy movie and their best friends. The single men I am friends with, by and large, have no particular plans.
Of course, my point is not that everyone needs to be doing something on Valentine’s Day. Far from it. Hallmark is doing just fine without our support. However, I do think this particular example is illustrative of our difficulty in expressing love for each other. It can be hard for friends, especially men, to break through the façade of general banter into something more meaningful. After all, most of us believe, in the abstract, that we love our friends. But actually taking the step of saying it can be more intimidating.
That is a shame because there are substantive benefits to verbalizing our affection. In my experience, the transition from home, a place where love is central to daily life, to college, a place where it is largely absent, can be jarring. Of course, it’s part of growing up, but the transition can also be unnecessarily tough. The world can suddenly appear an unwelcoming place. As a sophomore, hearing that I was loved by a senior I respected meant much more to me than he could have known. Even if feelings are mutually understood, having the courage to vocalize them can do wonders.
I think Valentine’s Day is a pretty silly holiday. But then most holidays, when viewed in a certain light, are pretty silly. It is up to us to imbue them with meaning, and that gives us incredible power. Let’s have Valentine’s Day be a chance for us to turn to our friends and let them know how important they are. It will probably be awkward, and a bit forced, and you may both laugh uncomfortably. But it will also help break down the barriers we have unconsciously constructed between each other. In doing so, we can only become better people.
Isa Qasim is a senior in Jonathan Edwards College. His column runs on alternate Thursdays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.