This Is My Brain on Valentine’s Day

Happy V-Day :) Photo-Illustration: The Cut; Photos: Getty Images

Once upon a time, which is to say September 5, 2016, Rihanna went for what I assume was a contemplative, post-sex-with-Drake (they were dating back then) stroll through New York City. The time was circa 7 a.m. and she still had on the same big fluffy heart jacket and jorts she’d been photographed in while leaving The Club. Her sartorial choice added texture to an otherwise unremarkable activity: wandering peacefully through the empty streets of Soho, scattering breakfast for the pigeons. Someone spotted Rihanna — very hard to miss due to being dressed like the cardiac monster from Looney Tunes — and took a video, which quickly made the rounds on social media before taking up permanent residence in a festive corner of my brain space. It spends most of its time in there sleeping, but then the seasonal sections at the drugstore turn pink, and here comes Rihanna, pelting me with birdseed behind the eyeballs. This image is pure Valentine’s Day, baby — tidy visual shorthand encapsulating all my thoughts and feelings re: this annual tradition.

Granted, the scene did not (and does not) have anything to do with Valentine’s Day; the timing is way off. Rihanna does, however, look undeniably like a walking Valentine, so there’s a pretty clear 1:1 line between the large red heart and my holiday associations. But it’s the pageantry layered over the fundamentally mundane that really gets me. What is Valentine’s Day, if not exactly that?

Valentine’s Day celebrations break down into three main categories: Go big, go home, or go out to dinner. Let us consider them in reverse order, starting with a by-the-book, flowers-chocolates-dinner-at-a-favorite-pasta-spot approach. A classic for a reason, some of you are nodding in agreement; everybody likes date night. Largely true, though date night does feel conspicuously less intimate when everyone else in the restaurant is doing date night, too. It may also feel embarrassing, if for example the restaurant’s manager decides to honor the occasion’s demand for ambiance by cramming big freaky teddy bears into an already-overcrowded seating plan. I think about the times I have reluctantly agreed to a full-blown V-Date. I think about buying a flower for the boyfriend (festive); trundling over the snowbanks as the February wind continues to blow open my coat and my dress (flirty); wedging ourselves into a sea of other couples (sensual); trying not to jounce the table with our knees and knock over the Lambrusco (bubbly, on-theme); willing the raviolis to be extra romantic, because we are committing to the bit. We are not just on a regular weekend date; we are sharing a special moment, as you can see from the cupids on the menu. To me it feels like the performance of romance, like I am just one player in the production, a little cog in the V-Day machine.

All of which constitutes a compelling argument for having a nice little evening in. When you are at home, it is much easier to have a drunk, naked feast in true Valentine’s spirit, so say you light a health-hazardous number of candles to enjoy a cozy, flame-lit meal of gorgeous, slutty spaghetti. That sounds like a solid option for one, two, three, really any number of people; it also sounds like a regular pandemic Saturday. Nothing to sneeze at, but still, familiar. Perhaps you’re going to want a gimmick.

Some would say that’s the trick to solving the V-Day puzzle: Not taking it so seriously, and instead, going all in on the absurd. Maybe you maroon Kenny G in a room full of roses, if you happen to have a Kanye budget, or maybe you lure your sweetie into a room packed floor-to-ceiling with balloons, if you don’t. You could craft your fiancée an elegant and edible arrangement from chicken nuggets, you could fill your best friend’s bathtub with candy hearts; ultimately you want the final product to feel unexpected, memorable, and above all, arresting enough to distract from the fact that February 14 is just a Monday that would otherwise proceed just like all the other Mondays. It is basically unremarkable. It is a morning commute. It is a loft of pigeons pecking at a New York City street. It is jean shorts. But bundle it into a Saint Laurent fur et voilà — elevated. We are not just wandering aimlessly, chucking breadcrumbs into the wind; we are wrapped in a warm, fuzzy heart, and now it’s an Occasion.

This Is My Brain on Valentine’s Day