Whippings, sacrifices, executions, and nude elites running through the streets—not exactly evocative of the modern Valentine’s Day.

What we now know as the day for love, hearts, cards, and chocolate has far darker origins than one may expect. Valentine’s Day dates back to the ancient Roman festival of Lupercalia, the celebration of purification and fertility.

In this festival, after sacrificing animals, the men would run the streets with thongs from the hides, whipping females as they passed, a blow that was said to increase fertility. The festival involved a matchmaking lottery, where young men would choose the names of women from a jar to “pair” with for the weekend.

The execution of two men named Valentine during the festival in the 3rd century brought the Catholic Church into the mix. Their martyrdom was honored through the creation of a day that attempted to remove the hedonism while still celebrating fertility and love. It became known as St. Valentine’s Day.

Centuries later, after a fair amount of romanticization by Shakespeare and Chaucer, the holiday gained popularity in Europe and people began exchanging handmade cards. The industrial revolution mechanized the tradition and in 1913, Hallmark cards began mass-production of valentines, the inception of the $20 billion dollar industry that we have today.

Today, Valentine’s Day is celebrated by kids and adults alike, and while some have started celebrating Singles Awareness Day (SAD) instead, they’re in the vast minority.

I remember Valentine’s Day being a sort of competition as a child. It was about giving the coolest valentines (which was often a reflection of how much money your parents could spend on them) and making the coolest box to put them in (which was often a reflection of how much time your parent had to help you).

As I got older, it became more and more what I see it as today: pressure. It’s pressure for people in relationships to be as romantic as possible. It’s pressure for singles to either be in a relationship or to prove that they’re self-sufficient, lest they be the dreaded SAD single. It’s pressure for parents to pay for valentines or take time to craft them so that their children can stand out at school.

There’s pressure from all sides to squeeze all of our love into one day, and that’s not how it should be.

Celebrate Un-Valentine’s Days

We can take the pressure off by celebrating Valentine’s Day year round, not just on February 14th. I’m reminded of the neologism of the un-birthday, coined by Lewis Carrol in Through the Looking Glass. It’s a day that’s celebrated on any or all of the 364 days on which it’s not the person’s birthday.

Now, statistics prove, prove that you’ve one birthday
Imagine, just one birthday every year
Ah, but there are three hundred and sixty four un-birthdays!
Precisely why we’re gathered here to cheer

Valentine’s Day itself should be seen as an opportunity, not an obligation. It’s just one day, but there are 364 other Un-Valentine’s Days that we could be celebrating the love and relationships in our lives.

Don’t get me wrong. I think you should celebrate Valentine’s Day. But it’s important to be thoughtful about how you do it so that it’s truly a celebration rather than a burden.

First evaluate what the holiday means to you by doing a rituals of connection check with yourself. How did you celebrate Valentine’s Day as a kid? How did your parents celebrate it with each other? With you? What does it mean to you?

Then, if you’re in a relationship, evaluate what Valentine’s Day means to your partner. Ask the same sort of questions and start to think about what this might mean for your relationship. What do you want to carry forward in your relationship? Is Valentine’s Day important to you and your relationship or do you want to embrace new traditions?

By all means, celebrate Valentine’s Day. Just make sure to celebrate the 364 Un-Valentine’s Days, too. Here’s how.

Go on a weekly date
A fancy date once a year is not enough. Try to go on a weekly date. It doesn’t have to be big, doesn’t have to be expensive, but each week, set aside dedicated time for you and your partner. Use this time to check in on each other’s Love Maps, have important talks that you don’t otherwise get time to have, and have fun. Treat it as sacred time to focus on being together.

Ideally this time is set aside and away from the stressors of home, but if money or childcare are in scarce supply, a home-cooked dinner can be just as nice or tea and cookies after the kids go to bed.

If you’re single, try to go on a weekly date with yourself. Take time to check in with yourself and practice some self-care. People in relationships should do this as well because taking care of yourself lends a hand in your relationships.

Practice small things often
Practice doing small things often for your partner rather than grand gestures once in a while. Offer your partner affection and admiration when you can. Kiss them for at least six seconds every day.  

When you’re reminded of something you like about them, tell them. Send them little texts to let them know you’re thinking about them. Try to start and end the day well. Check in with your partner before they leave and when then get home. Strengthen your Love Maps by actually listening to the details of their day.

The same can be said for friends and family. Tell them you appreciate them, develop Love Maps with them, and send them thank you notes. Nurturing the relationships that aren’t necessarily as readily in-front of us is often overlooked but just as important as nurturing the one with our partner.

Make bids and turn towards them
Make verbal and non-verbal requests to connect with your partner and turn towards your partner when they make bids. Respond when your partner asks you about your day or when they sigh. Ask your partner how their day was or how they feel about something.

This goes for friends and family, too. The more you turn towards the people in your life, the more successful your relationships will be.

Don’t feel bad if it doesn’t happen all the time. All of our relationships are a work in progress. They require nurture and care. We’re basically plants with feelings—we need water, sun, and love to grow.

So take every opportunity you can to celebrate your loved ones. Show up for them every day, not just on February 14th.


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A Case for Celebrating Un-Valentine’s Day

Katelyn Ewen is an advocate for sexual assault awareness and sex education. She works as a Graphic Designer at The Gottman Institute and seeks to better communicate stories through visual language. You can check out more of her visual work and case studies at katelynewen.com.