From the ages of 11 through 23 I was sick every year on Valentine’s Day. “Allergic to love” was a common theme in the emo anthems that hugged my cassette player on the 7-minute drive from home to school, and it is also a phrase that I believed accurately described me. I was glad to miss out on mandatory classroom Valentine’s Day cards and pink shit. I was glad to miss out on everyone else’s flower deliveries. Last week someone asked me if I had ever been in love, and I just laughed and laughed and they were quiet. “Invented by Hallmark,” “sexist capitalist bullshit,” “just another day whatever,” “I mean how are we defining love anyway.” I celebrated the last few Valentine’s Days on a “self-love” tip, which consisted of overcooking steak and watching Beyoncé videos with a whole bottle of Pinot Noir. Valentine’s Day makes me sick, and not just because I’m a feminist, and not just because I’m alone.
Drink when you check the “single” box. Drink when that makes you feel a way. Drink when Beyoncé says you and means you. Drink when you’re not the girl in the Kay Jewelers commercial.
There are plenty of arguments against Valentine’s Day, both rooted in feminism and rooted in a full, blind surrender to media’s heteronormative, patriarchal myths of what womanhood is and should be, of our purpose in relation to men. What we should desire. In other words, some women hate it because it tells them what to want, and some women hate it because they’ve listened, they want the myth, they want to be the fairy tale, but they have fallen short. My aversion, my sickness, I think, comes from somewhere else. It comes from a mistrust of completion and finality. I am wary of anything that promises salvation.
Lately I’ve been investigating my hatred of romantic comedies. I was always the one who offered pretentious, dark indies to slumber parties, but ended up suffering through Win A Date With Tad Hamilton! or The Wedding Planner. My high school boyfriend took me to see The Notebook and he lost his shit while I, stone-faced and rolling my eyes, held his head in my arms. I broke up with him right before Valentine’s Day, which I spent home sick in pink slippers, making frozen cookies and alternating between weeping and chugging NyQuil.
But lately I’ve been thinking, maybe I’m not too good for feel-good.
Drink when you see Katherine Heigl. Drink when you hear Sinatra. Drink when they’re an unlikely match but so totally perfect for each other that they can’t even, like, see it.
This week I’ve watched, for the first time in my 27 years, both When Harry Met Sally and You’ve Got Mail. Last week, Jumping the Broom, The Devil Wears Prada, Love and Basketball. Despite my politics and cynicism, I also like to feel good, float away, fantasize about simplicity. The neatness, though, depressed me. I expected to find the women weak and their female friendships unrelatable. I expected overwhelming whiteness and disgusting heteronormativity. I expected to want what I saw, then immediately bury the wanting. That is not what happened. I felt, in myself, a difference hardening. Not a resentment or a bitterness, but a relief at my understanding of love, of romance, as something bigger.
This isn’t about being alone. Being alone is fine, or it isn’t fine, or the city’s too big, or no one dates anymore, or it’s not my fault or it is my fault or whatever.
Drink when someone wishes you Happy Single’s Awareness Day. This isn’t about that.
The kind of knee-jerk “screw men” attitude I sometimes catch like a sneeze isn’t a product of feminism. The Patriarchy isn’t an amorphous pyramid of guys who never texted me back. Maybe I fear vulnerability, maybe I am sad or confused. I don’t hate rom-coms because they’re about “love.” Maybe I think they’re genuinely awful, maybe they’re too white, maybe the women characters are flat cutouts, pacing their too-good-to-be-true apartments with only a man on their minds. But even that I usually stomach as fiction, fluff.
Drink when someone tells you what to want. Drink when someone tells you what to express, when, how and to which soundtrack.
I usually watch them right up until the end. That’s where the sickness is. In the end, the tension vanishes like a dandelion in the wind. In the end, she gets the man—he’s perfect!—and it’s clear he’s going to love her with that same gaze forever. (Drink.) In the end, she doesn’t have to worry about those other things: career, creativity, economic independence. (Drink.) She’s delivered! By his jawline! By his joke!
In the end, it is the only thing she has ever wanted. She seems to disappear into her love for him.
Maybe I don’t want to disappear. Maybe I believe in my greatness, my magic. And that is feminism. Maybe love doesn’t look like anything, and that is feminism. Not like roses or dinner reservations, not like drowning bad Tinder date memories in Pinot, not like candy hearts, not like a chance meeting in a bookstore or a final-scene profession. Feminist love is compassionate love, open love. Rebellious love. Love that doesn’t save but builds, begins, infects, attaches. Love without a punchline. Love without credits. Drink for me, please, when you feel that.