On Sunday, America will celebrate Valentine’s Day: the only expression of “love” less romantic than a third-wife prenup. In theory, our overpriced dinners and often begrudgingly purchased boxes of chocolate commemorate the martyrdom of Saint Valentine, a brave young priest who stood against the Roman Empire. The cruel Emperor Claudius II had banned marriage for young men, believing they’d be better soldiers without wives and families. Appalled at this injustice, Valentine defiantly married young couples anyway, and died at Roman hands. He traded his life, the ultimate sacrifice, for the ultimate worldly jubilation of others — love. By contrast, our 21st-century selves would be lucky to even get a Snapchat from our valentines, no less a text.
Each year, Valentine’s Day frustrates many of us here because it forces us to confront the reality of our relationship statuses — and reflect upon whether or not we are happy with that reality. Any way you slice it, Valentine’s Day demands an answer — you cannot really equivocate to yourself about your own life. Abstaining from reflection is not an option. Our collective ironic social-media moping just won’t allow it. If you’re single, will you happily be with other single friends, or will you tearfully eat Nutella and watch “Grey’s Anatomy” on your futon? If you’re dating, do you “do” or do you “not do” Valentine’s Day? Should you even be together at all? And, if “it’s complicated,” then what? (My advice: “lose your phone for 24 hours,” and then make a Facebook status on Feb. 15 informing everyone that you “found your phone.” Sneaky, yet effective.)
At Yale, a lot of people are unhappy with their relationship statuses. This is not a blanket statement — there are happy couples, happy single people and happy people doing everything in between. Still, my hypothesis stems from my three-and-change semesters of listening to friends yearning for something a lot snugglier, more comfortable and more consistent from their partners. A lot of single people — of all genders, of all majors, of all colleges, of all years — want something more like a relationship than a one-night thing. Many of us want something along the spectrum of togetherness and dating, something between living together and leaving together. Call it a “small-r” relationship: anything between Relationship and a snuggle buddy — something that has both kissing and feelings.
Yet far too few people have their ideal small-r relationship. Sexual and emotional dissatisfaction is an epidemic here, and we need to address it.
To extend the epidemiological metaphor, perhaps heavy-handedly, our campuswide allergy to love, relationships and monogamy is the perfect petri dish to host this, pun intended, culture. Yale’s aversion to dating cripples the silent romantic majority — without a socially sanctioned model of how to initiate a small-r relationship, we struggle to proceed. Yale has a series of relationship-oriented one-liners floating around: “It’s a sixth class, easily,” or “Yeah, but youth is about experimentation,” or “What about all the other people you’re missing?” Love does not always feel compatible with a Yale life, and so a lot of people tiptoe warily around intimacy in their sexual encounters. There’s no real place for dating here — Yale is a binary of hooking up or hitching up. There’s nothing in between.
So this year, with this tiny megaphone, I’m suspending my personal apoplectic hatred for this annual chocolate-centric bloodbath in favor of really celebrating Valentine’s Day at Yale. I think it’s actually a great opportunity for a campuswide reality check. Instead of shunning Valentine’s Day or dismissing it in an Instagram of you eating a sandwich (caption: “BAE”), we should embrace Valentine’s Day. Take Sunday to consider what you want from your relationships, and what lengths you would be willing to go to achieve that ideal. If you’re single, is that your ideal? If you’re in a relationship, are you with your partner because they’re just there, or are you with them because they make you happier than being with anyone else (or maybe being with no one else) would? If you’re not meeting that ideal, why not? What’s the obstacle?
The pursuit of love is meant to be hard. If it were easy, we’d have no literature, no art, no philosophy, no war — no nothing! Love is the emotional engine driving humanity; the only force that can really get humans to do anything beautiful at all. And it’s worth a thoughtful sacrifice. Chase your ideal, whomever and whatever that may be: self-love, a jilted ex, someone a few seats over in lecture, a certain Blue State barista — whatever. Trust me — it just might be the most worthwhile thing you do in your whole damned life. Because other than love, really, what else have we got? So, Yale: Wear your heart on your sleeve this Sunday. If not now, then when?
Amelia Jane Nierenberg is a sophomore in Timothy Dwight College. Her column runs on Thursdays. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .