February 14 is always a normal day until dinner time, when I notice Irene’s bowl of pink and red chocolate. A little too late in the day, I begin commemorating the day of love with the rest of the world. Valentine’s Day, in theory, silences difference to celebrate a common denominator popularly shared across the globe. Valentine’s Day is one of the few holidays that embodies some of the core values of liberalism. Social liberalism centers on individual freedom and tolerance, and the public expression of love on February 14 combines elements of unity and individual liberty. Now if Valentine’s Day commemorates love and liberalism, why is it the least-celebrated holiday on a primarily liberal campus? Every year, campus groups organize many alternative activities without coining them as Valentine’s Day programs so students don’t feel left out. Though these programs hold value, the actual celebration and acknowledgment of the day is absent.
During an online shopping endeavor with Amie Sillah ’20, she shared the same sentiments with me. “It’s a day to reflect on love, and the best day to combine black, red and pink together. I don’t feel Valentine’s Day here because there’s no PDA culture. It’s another regular day.”
Maurice Asare ’19 also agreed with Amie and me. He concluded that, “Valentine’s Day doesn’t exist here because there is no dating culture.” He continued, “Valentine’s Day is about relationships and human connection, but this is all in a [romantic] relationship connotation. I wish people would broaden it to those who aren’t in a relationship.” Though Maurice was initially frustrated that he wasn’t in a romantic relationship at the moment, he happily shared his plans for day. “I’m going to dinner with my roommate to have a fake date.”
On one of my weekly phone dates with a Bowdoin alum, Ama Gyamerah ’17, who lives in Los Angeles, she reminisced about her Bowdoin Valentines. “Every Valentine’s Day was a galentine’s day, with girls and guys included. All my experiences have been with my friends, and I felt appreciated and loved so I was never bitter on Valentine’s Day.” She was even more excited to share her plans with her boyfriend this year. “I’m going to a beer garden with my boyfriend to go listen to music. It’s cool. I’ve never had a Valentine but I do miss spending Valentine’s Day with friends.”
Though I recognize that this holiday has evolved solely into a celebration of romantic love, I think it’s important to take it back to its roots. Valentine’s Day is a day to reflect love to those in your life, including yourself. Many students show love to their friends and other relevant people in their lives especially on this day.
Valentine’s Day is about love, but it’s consumerized to be about romance because romance sells. It has become commonplace to purchase chocolates and cards even in kindergarten to give to your valentine—often your crush. Like Ama said, “In a liberal arts college like Bowdoin, it’s easy to look at it as a capitalist-driven holiday, which it is, so it’s easiest to protest and dismiss.” However, Bowdoin is against the prototypical Valentine’s Day because it is inherently exclusionary. In our efforts to protest the romance-specific notion of the day, we silence the whole day. This suppression is also caused by our lack of dating culture which stems from the prevalent hookup culture at Bowdoin. Our hookup culture is not suited for brewing romance. In fact, celebrating the day with someone you are hooking up with indicates a level of commitment that many students fear. Nonetheless, I think it is still necessary to highlight the other ways in which we spread love. By doing this, we create Bowdoin’s rendition of Valentine’s Day that protests consumerism. We redefine the day to embrace platonic and romantic love equally on our campus. If we want to achieve acceptance and the common good, dedicating a day to celebrate the love present on campus should be a prerequisite.