Oh, Valentine’s Day—the holiday of love and romance! Or, at least, it’s supposed to be. For me, as a strong introvert with generalized anxiety, holidays are pretty much like those “Mystery Gifts” you bought at dollar stores as a kid. Expectations for awesomeness bloom in your head, only to wither away under a hodgepodge of mediocrity. It’s not all bad, though. Here are a few things that introverts feel on Valentine’s Day and some thoughts on what to do about it.
This is overwhelming.
Too much heart-shaped stuff, a coma-inducing amount of sugar (as if I needed more excitement), and an obscene number of public declarations of love on Facebook.
For a holiday that 36 percent of adults don’t even celebrate, it’s surprisingly ubiquitous. There is advertising everywhere. Pink and red packaging everywhere. Heart-shaped everything everywhere. And, that’s only the marketing pressure. There’s social pressure too. Even well-meaning friends or coworkers discussing their grand romantic plans can induce paralysis. There is a weird feeling that if you don’t do anything or, maybe worse, you don’t do much for your partner on Valentine’s, that it is somehow indicative of your feelings. It’s not. It’s indicative of how claustrophobic it felt when you attempted to plan that elaborate expression of love that one time.
This is inauthentic.
This is basically the only time of year when I am expected to associate true love with glitter, red and pink, and hyper-romantic professions of love.
With the exception of when The Bachelorette starts running, love every other day of the year happens in the context of day-to-day life. It’s less a pair of star-cross’d lovers moving toward happily ever after and more a couple of people appreciating imperfection and working hard in spite of it—and it’s definitely not covered in pink sparkles. Valentine’s Day as it is marketed is an exaggerated, narrow conception of love.
To make matters worse, it’s not even artistically or aesthetically exaggerated. At least if we were all spewing lines from Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet, swooning over the enduring commitment of Mr. Darcy to Elizabeth Bennett, or exalting the quiet passion in Rodin’s The Kiss, we could claim Valentine’s Day as a cultural boon. But we don’t. Valentine’s Day makes love seem like both a simple, perfect fate and a commodity.
This is awkward.
Do I congratulate friends? What is my date expecting? How do I remain polite without making anyone uncomfortable?
Valentine’s Day, unlike many other holidays, sits in a gray area. With other winter holidays, it’s a safe bet your friends are celebrating something—even if it’s just all the holiday pay. But Valentine’s Day is beloved by many, hated by more, and tolerated by some. It’s a pretty exclusive holiday in practice, celebrated mostly by those coupled among us, which leaves a lot of people out.
So, how do you know what is expected from your new partner, your friends, or—jeez—your coworkers? Hypothetically, if I were to bake heart-shaped cookies and share a romantic quote on Twitter, would I make a fool of myself at the office or inspire my love-skeptic friends to tease me for the next two weeks? Or, what if I do nothing, but everyone around me gets really into it? It’s awkward because it’s vulnerability, and it’s public, and there aren’t clear expectations for how to behave with everyone.
What to do about it.
Valentine’s Day can be a source of sensory and emotional overload because it is built around oversimplified or exaggerated romance and doesn’t include obvious standards to help navigate various social relationships. That doesn’t mean the day can’t be enjoyable for introverts, however.
As an introvert, it’s important to focus on your needs and on communicating expectations. If going through the candy aisle to stock up on treats for the office party gives you anxiety, ask if you can help with something else, like planning the music. And, if you’re not sure how your partner feels about the holiday, make a point to discuss your ideal Valentine’s Day ahead of time.
If you are dating an introvert, keep things simple and personal by avoiding elaborate and flashy professions of love. Opt instead for gestures that reflect intimate knowledge of your partner and deep appreciation for them.
Are you celebrating Valentine’s Day? What do you think about it and what are your preferences?