There’s no way to win on Valentine’s Day. Either you’re celebrating a cheesy rom-com holiday devoted to false illusions of perfectly fulfilling, lifelong romantic partnership — or you’re involved in a hollow response to it. Of course, there’s a third option: to ignore the fact that Valentine’s Day is happening at all. But that’s kind of a shame, too. The truth is that even the snarkiest among us love love.
There have been some solid efforts to expand the definition of love beyond this couples-centric Hallmark holiday. Eve Ensler renamed it V-Day, an occasion to talk about vaginas and raise awareness about violence against women. This provides decent programming for campus women’s centers but falls short of capturing the joy and butterflies of St. Valentine’s V-Day. Two years ago, episodes of Tina Fey and Amy Poehler’s respective sitcoms jokingly reframed Valentine’s as a day to celebrate women. “And a happy Anna Howard Shaw Day to us all!” Liz Lemon declared on 30 Rock. (Shaw participated in the temperance and women’s suffrage movements, though Wikipedia reveals, “her focus on temperance subsided as she became more heavily involved in the suffrage movement.” Good choice.) But the Valentine’s Day alternative capable of leaping the joke-to-reality divide came from Parks and Recreation. “Every February 13th, my lady friends and I leave our husbands and our boyfriends at home, and we just come and kick it, breakfast-style,” Leslie Knope explains in an episode from season two. “Ladies celebrating ladies. It’s like Lilith Fair, minus the angst. Plus frittatas.”
Even though it was maybe a joke about the coping mechanisms of sad single women — and technically scheduled for the day before the flowers-and-chocolates frenzy — Galentine’s caught on. Can’t stomach the idea of candlelight and dinner reservations, but don’t feel like making a big deal about it? Here’s a Hallmark-ready excuse to opt into something better with female friends you love.
Click ‘View Slideshow’ above for Valentines for friends and lovers (and vibrators).
For all its punny charms, though, Galentine’s Day leaves me a little cold. Sure, I love the idea of eating frittatas (or guzzling whiskey and catching up on RuPaul’s Drag Race) with a bunch of ladyfriends. But I don’t see friendship as an alternative or runner-up to romantic love and partnership. It’s not a February 13 amuse-bouche for “real love” (or the hope thereof) on the 14th. Friendship is the main event. Let’s run through the style-section trends, shall we? People are marrying later. Women are settling. (Or refusing to settle.) The divorce rate remains pretty damn high. In practice, the lifelong romantic partnership, like the lifelong employer, has become passe. William Deresiewicz calls friendship “modernity’s central relationship.” It’s time we start acknowledging it as such, and calling it love.
Like romantic love, friendship is a source of joy. It provides sustenance when things get tough, and encouragement to aim higher, think bigger, love harder. In “The Age of Girlfriends,” an essay about Sheila Heti’s book How Should a Person Be and (what else?) HBO’s Girls, Anna Holmes wrote, “It is other women, not men, Dunham and Heti seem to be saying, who most impact the evolution of girls into women. Other women, not men, who provide the opportunities for self-expression and self-discovery. Other women, not men, who bear witness to the triumphs and tragedies of young womanhood. Other women, not men, in whom we both find and lose ourselves.”
Ideally, then, Galentine’s Day — like other designated “forget boys, this is for my girls” moments — is not about splitting a bottle of rosé and a pint of Haagen-Dazs to take emotional refuge from a holiday dedicated to narrowly defined romantic couplehood. It’s about acknowledging in a true and independent way that our female friends are fundamental to our personal development. Today and every day.