By Sara Onitsuka
Valentine’s Day is one of my favorite holidays. Although I am not a fan of commercialization or the capitalistic nature the holiday has taken on, the concept of a day centered around love at its core reminds me to reach out to those I care about and express my appreciation in a way that I sometimes forget to do in the midst of the day-to-day grind (though I am working on it!). When I was younger, I loved that we all used to exchange Valentine’s Day cards at school. Back then, we brought a little note for each person in the class - those small cards with a cute message or a pun, folded over and sealed with a pink, purple, or red heart sticker. I miss those days. Somewhere along the line, probably when we started getting into and prioritizing romantic relationships over platonic ones, we stopped exchanging Valentine's cards. In college, though “Galentines” and “Palentines” celebrations are popular, Valentine’s Day is a sad holiday for most single folks. If you bring it up, you’re usually met with groans, glaring at happy couples, and a muttering under the breath of, “I hate Valentine’s Day.” As pink and red chocolate roses line the shelves, single people are reminded of how we do not have that one person to share the day with - to shower and be showered with love. It’s the day when the desire to be with someone and the weight of loneliness, usually relatively bearable on other days, hits the strongest.
It’s understandable why Valentine’s Day is difficult for people without a significant other. It sucks to feel like the odd one out. Valentine’s Day is fixated on romantic love, because our society has so prioritized romantic love above other types, seeing it as the universal, ideal type of relationship to achieve. Amatonormativity, a term first used by Elizabeth Blake, describes this concept as “the widespread assumption that everyone is better off in an exclusive, romantic, long-term coupled relationship, and that everyone is seeking such a relationship”, leading to romantic love being the norm. But why must other kinds of love be overlooked? There might be differences in how intimacy is expressed, or at least the expectations of how it is expressed, but is romantic love really more important than platonic love?
I want to challenge this notion of the superiority of romantic love. Maybe when people stop thinking it is the ultimate form of love, they will stop feeling like they need to seek it out to be happy. Most of our society, at least in the United States, still has this idea that we need to find someone to spend the rest of our lives with. But the pressure to do so is stressful, reinforced through media such as the oversaturation of love songs and unrealistic romantic movies. We should not be made to feel incomplete without a romantic partner.
We put so much into romantic relationships, and they can be really fulfilling, but here’s the thing - friendships can be long-lasting too. They can be meaningful too. On the flipside, abusive friendships and friendship breakups, while not often discussed in mainstream media, are painful and require a process of healing, just as domestic abuse and romantic breakups do. Are we not doing ourselves a disservice by erasing, or at the very least not paying close enough attention to, these very real experiences?
Admittedly there are many indications of romance being different than (but not superior to) friendship, but these differences vary. That might be even more of a reason not to perceive one as more important than the other. Some folks think that sex distinguishes a romantic relationship from a friendship, but there are people who engage in sex with friends. There are also people who choose not to have sex at all, including in relationships. Sex is not the only way to be intimate, and sex can even be devoid of intimacy. Some people are aromantic, meaning they do not develop romantic attraction towards others, but that doesn’t mean they can’t have sex, or be wonderfully loving to their friends, and it does not mean they are in any way deprived of love. Others are polyamorous and have multiple partners, challenging the monogamous norms of romantic love. In many cases, though, friendships carry less expectations than romantic relationships, and they are special in that you can often lose contact with a friend for years, and resume your friendship where it left off, as if no time has passed. This is typically not the case in romantic relationships. Still, there are casual romantic relationships just as there are serious and dependent friendships. The differences, then, seem to be dependent on how each individual defines their relationships, and what they are comfortable with.
Recently, as I realize the true depth of friendship, I have been re-evaluating my own thoughts on romantic and platonic love. I have generally been someone who entered relationships seeking to be protected and loved, thinking that romantic partners were the only place I could get that from. As a result, there were many times when I was single and needed that one person to talk to, that one person to confide in, and felt lost when I didn’t have them. What I didn’t realize is that all my friends were there, ready to support me. I just didn’t reach out, because I had assumed that I could share the intimacy of my vulnerability with a significant other alone. I suppose I didn’t properly understand the significance of my friendships, of the power and support and love you can get from friends.
The truth is that we care about our friends. We go out to dinner and movies with our friends. We share our deepest, darkest secrets with friends - maybe things that we don’t even tell our partners. I, at least, can say that I love my friends just as much as I have loved my romantic partners. It is time to subvert this culture of devaluing friendships and platonic love.
I am about to graduate college, and I realize that I realistically will not be seeing many of my friends for a while. I am trying to make it a priority in my life to nurture these friendships with radical love. From now until May, I want to take every opportunity, not just Valentine’s Day, to let my friends know how valuable, worthy, valid, and appreciated they are. I really wonder what is so different about friendship. I am attempting to challenge my own socialization by telling my friends I love them, checking up and doting on my friends, holding them, creating space for honesty and vulnerability, and making sure they always know I am here, in the same way they have done for me.
This world can be harsh and overwhelming, and we are all just trying to survive under systems that threaten to take us down. Let us make it easier for each other, and give friendships and platonic love the weight, energy, sincerity, and the seriousness that they deserve.