Patricia Yarberry Allen, M.D. is a Gynecologist, Director of the New York Menopause Center, Clinical Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Weill Cornell Medical College, and Assistant Attending Obstetrician and Gynecologist at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. She is a board certified fellow of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Dr. Allen is also a member of the Faculty Advisory Board and the Women’s Health Director of The Weill Cornell Community Clinic (WCCC). Dr. Allen was the recipient of the 2014 American Medical Women’s Association Presidential Award.

“I’m 50 years old and single,” says Joan, a woman I know socially. “I’m fit, attractive, and solvent.  I like the company of men and have lots of relationships with men professionally and socially. I am at a place in my life where getting married is not of much interest, but I do enjoy dating, travelling with someone special. and having good sex in a safe and kind relationship.  I’m seeing a really nice man now, but I made sure that I was not around for Valentine’s Day since it causes me such stress.”

Why?

“I hate Valentine’s Day. It’s a problem that many of my single women friends over 40 talk about every year.” She asked me, “Do you hear from your readers or patients that this so-called holiday makes them sad? Where did Valentine’s Day come from anyway, and why do so many of us suffer when it rolls around?”

There are many stories about the origin of Valentine’s Day. Most come from the efforts of the early Catholic church to Christianize the pagan Roman festivals held in the middle of February, which were fertility rites and often involved matching young men and women for year-long relationships. No one knows who the official patron saint of St. Valentine’s Day was. The Catholic Church recognizes several different saints named Valentine or Valentinus. There are legends about a man who became known as St. Valentine who secretly married young men who were soldiers in the Roman army, against the rule of the state, which wanted unattached soldiers.  He became a saint after he was killed for these actions.

Over time this February festival became connected with romance or special feelings among close friends. In the past three centuries, printed cards were exchanged between people who were lovers and friends.  In this country, commercially produced Valentine’s Day cards were first available in the mid-19th century.

Valentine’s Day has evolved in the last century, becoming a more commercially driven holiday with over a billion Valentine’s Day cards sold, and billions of dollars spent on chocolates, roses and romantic gifts.  It is an entrenched part of the social calendar at this point, so we are unlikely to be successful at removing it from the list of holidays we celebrate.

Women suffer because they buy into the commercially driven expectations that romance is the norm and if one is not in a Hallmark Card relationship then something is wrong with that person.  This is obviously a result of clever and ubiquitous marketing that makes lots of money for many people.  
Women tell me that they remember once again, every year on Valentine’s Day, all the grade school slights on this holiday when they were not the popular girls in middle school. They remember high school and college Valentine’s Day traumas as if they were battlefield victims.  (Like the women at right from Wild Women on Wine.com!)

It would take social anthropologists years to decode the hidden meanings that Valentine’s Day evokes between couples and certainly between those who are just getting to know each other. This is an interesting question for women to think about, since the suffering from Valentine’s Day is unnecessary, even though it is more universal than imagined.  It is, after all, how we choose to interpret the meaning of this day that can make it a positive one for each of us. We are all capable of self-care and self-love. So the easiest way to have an emotionally healthy Valentine’s Day is to look at this celebration objectively and to create a ritual that gives each of us joy.

It is basically a silly little holiday, best experienced by children, teenagers and young adults.  Grownups who find that this holiday brings back memories of alienation and engenders feelings of marginalization can do exactly what women like Joan have chosen to do: take a trip, take a course with others who share an interest of yours, or make it an annual girls’ weekend that everyone can look forward to all year. Others might choose to use this night as a time to give back to those who have much more suffering to deal with than the past memories of Valentine’s Day slights.

I love this question that Joan raised.  It is only by examining these minor pains in our lives that we can create a more fulfilling life for now and for our future. I hope to hear from women who have created a special ritual for this mid-February celebration that has given them joy and erases the anxiety of the past. And for those who love the chocolates and roses and lacy cards, reach out to friends who are sad at this time. Do send a card that says, “Be my Valentine.”

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  • Elizabeth W February 14, 2010 at 7:16 pm

    AMEN! My best, most fun Valentine’s Days, have been dinners out with a bunch of women friends, eating great food, splitting a bottle of wine, talking and laughing.
    Much more fun than the way typical romantic dinners can feel orchestrated and pressurized.

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