During the last week of winter break, shoulder to shoulder with a good friend from home, I strolled into Target, unsuspecting of the decorative hit we would receive when we walked through the doors. Replacing the Christmas decor that had filled the entire store just last week were streamers speckled pink and white. Cards with small hearts and cherubs lined the store’s front row, awaiting customers to purchase them for their loved ones for Valentine’s Day. We were chronic Target shoppers, devoted customers, but we couldn’t help but comment on the decorations. Weren’t these a season too early? Returning home, I rid my family’s yellow Christmas lights from our roof and packed for my spring semester at Yale, and as daylight faded to dark on the shuttle from JFK airport to Phelps Gate in January, Valentine’s Day was the last thing on my mind.
But when February arrived, it was impossible to ignore Valentine’s Day. Falling on a Friday this year, Valentine’s Day, like other holidays at Yale, transformed into a multi-day marathon, inspiring study breaks, fundraisers, a cappella shows, formals and parties leading up to the big day. I quickly lost track of the number of Valentine’s Day-themed events on Facebook. Emails from Datamatch popped into my inbox asking, “Want double-legacy children, but need another Yalie?” Did I want double-legacy children? Only time would tell. Or Datamatch. Dunkin Donuts offered special Valentine’s Day red velvet lattes, windows on Broadway displayed Valentine’s Day deals and collections. At this rate, I was turning corners and seeing red and white on the most innocuous objects: flyers, book covers, the Donut Crazy sign. In these days, I could not scroll through Instagram without seeing a mention of Valentine’s Day. Posts celebrating relationships were followed by a wave of posts celebrating Galentine’s Day and another wave of posts on the more gender-inclusive companion, Palentine’s Day.
I have never been one to oppose decoration, festivities or love, but observing the festivities and decor for Valentine’s Day at Yale this year, I could not help but wonder what the hype was around. Valentine’s Day had not garnered this much excitement last year. But despite the overwhelming number of Valentine’s Day festivities on campus, the holiday retained its significance to many on campus, regardless of their relationship status. Earlier in the week, one of my suitemates, Aliesa, in describing her plans for the holiday had remarked, “It’s a good way to celebrate a different kind of love than that is typically expected. You can celebrate your love for people in your life like your friends, not just your romantic partner.”
This was true — evidenced by the growing number of posts celebrating Galentine’s and Palentine’s Day on social media. Inspired by the public showcases of affection for friends and significant others, I attended Franklin’s Valentines & Ice Cream Sundaes event with a friend the evening before Valentine’s Day. As we made cards and ate hefty amounts of red velvet cake and candy hearts, he told me he places more sentimental meaning on Valentine’s Day. When he was young, he celebrated Valentine’s Day with his family, going on a day trip out of Los Angeles, his hometown or to the beach. His mother viewed Valentine’s Day as a day to celebrate familial love as well as romantic love. As he grew older, he said the memories he has made on this day deepened his appreciation for the holiday. For Valentine’s Day last year, his partner visited from New York and the two celebrated the day by eating cake and ice skating. He attributes that day as a turning point in their relationship, and said it was “nice to see that someone cared about me that much.”
Though Valentine’s Day has inspired a number of fun festivities this year, the holiday also highlights bigger questions of relationships and intimacy on campus and gives us pause to reflect on our own personal relationships at Yale. “At Yale, everyone wants their relationship to be perfect — we try to achieve perfection in so many aspects of our lives,” one Franklin senior had said that night while we made cards. “And unfortunately I think many times people commit to things other than each other. But that’s the reality of being in a high-stress environment.”
Over their four years at Yale, many students struggle to balance personal relationships, academics and professional goals. And when pressure really builds, they can push away their loved ones to prioritize exams, papers and interviews. I am not immune — despite my love for the people in my life, I have felt myself drifting away in times of stress, greeting people with customary “hellos” and “how are yous” and — exhausted from the nonstop thread of work — not even truly grasping them when they respond with enthusiasm. Over winter break, I had showed my friend from home Yale memes on Facebook that displayed captions such as, “‘Let’s get a meal sometime’ – from a Yalie you won’t see in six months.” We had both laughed, forgetting that these jokes come from a more truthful place than we may want to admit. Perhaps that is Yale’s biggest Catch-22, the most universal conundrum of college — campus walls blurring the lines between social, academic and professional spaces, we fall victim simultaneously to the limitations of our own time and desire for perfection, adopting a work-first mindset and losing sight of the people who are truly important in our lives.
So maybe the holiday dedicated to love is the holiday we most needed at Yale. No other holiday in the academic year celebrates love for one another, creates awareness of our personal relationships, the time we are investing in them. And maybe what has traditionally been dedicated for couples, then a reason for the many festivities on campus this year, can take on another meaning at Yale, encouraging us to devote more time to the ones we love, through more than just passerby words and pset help. Perhaps it is time we start showing our love for the people around us.
Claire Lee | firstname.lastname@example.org