Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day.
A day that has always embodied romance- a day to honor couples. Their lives, their love. But by doing so it often shames and saddens those who are unattached. As a child I remember being asked to write, design and give to other kids in my class a card honoring who they were and what they meant to me. The goal being to acknowledge everyone who’s an important part of your life. They may have been silly store-bought cards in many cases, but it still felt good to carry a slew of them home to sort through later. That’s what the day should really symbolize.
Although the history is murky, Valentine’s Day is probably based on one of three martyred saints. Those religious origins morphed in the early 1700s to the more secular holiday today. In the 1840s, Esther A. Howland began selling the first mass-produced valentines in America. Howland, known as the “Mother of the Valentine,” made elaborate creations with real lace, ribbons and colorful pictures known as “scrap.” Today, according to the Greeting Card Association, an estimated 145 million Valentine’s Day cards are sent each year, making Valentine’s Day the second largest card-sending holiday of the year (more cards are sent at Christmas). Women purchase approximately 85 percent of all valentines.
But there is little debate that today American adults are far less likely to be married than they were two generations ago. In 1950, married couples represented 78 percent of households in the United States. In 2011, the U.S. Census Bureau reported, that percentage had dropped to 48 percent. In 2014, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported it was only 37 percent. By then 124.6 million Americans, 16 years and older were single. For the first time they were a majority of the population at 50.2 percent. A trend continuing to this day. So maybe the holiday needs an update!
This may seem outrageous to previous generations, Among today’s growing single population, 63% have never been married, 23% are divorced, and 13% are widowed. The majority, 53%, are women living independently on their own. Is this influx of single women desperately dating away, in a race against their biological clocks? Quite the opposite: they’re healthier than ever before. Studies found single women have lower BMIs, waist sizes, and risk associated with smoking and alcohol than their married counterparts.
This shift is also reflected in the creation of Galentine’s Day- you read that right- Gal-entine’s Day, celebrated the day before Valentine’s Day. The day started as a fictional holiday on a 2010 episode of the show Parks and Rec. During that episode the main character, Leslie, wanted to celebrate the joys of female friendship and celebrate women apart from the way much of society measures a woman’s value: marriage, kids, family. And so, Galentine’s Day began. Since its introduction on the show, the day has taken off in real life.
Galentine’s Day acknowledged a broad truth about American life as it’s lived in the early 21st century: Friendships, increasingly, are playing an organizing role in society. Long conceived as side dishes to the main feast—marriage, kids, the nuclear family above all—friendships, more and more, are helping to define people’s sense of themselves in the world. Friendships are lending stability, and meaning, to people’s, and especially young people’s, lives. The deepest friendships are operating not to replace the family unit, certainly, but to complement it.
In a day and age where couples occasions are honored regularly with wedding, bridal and baby showers, along with anniversary celebrations, where are singles in this mix? Valentine’s Day has become as important a holiday as any other, so today let’s make it a celebration of love, not romance.
Love in all its forms. For spouses, children, parents, family, co-workers, bosses, siblings, teachers, neighbors, partners, and friends. Love for any one and everyone who touches our lives. Today, reach out to those you care about. Join together in celebration of the love you share and the beauty it brings to all your lives.