With the world becoming so toxic, tell someone on Valentine's Day that you accept him despite differences
When it comes to holidays, everyone has his favourites.
For the traditionalists, it is hard to beat the history and time- honoured rituals of classic religious holidays such as Easter, Chinese New Year, Hari Raya and Diwali. The creative and fun-loving often wait eagerly for October - their chance to go all out on Halloween. And, of course, there's the global holiday darling: Christmas.
But few among us would admit to having a soft spot for Valentine's Day.
Say in jest that you are one of those "who just loves love" and you are likely to be bombarded by scoffs and eye-rolls. Proponents of the occasion are indisputably labelled suckers - swayed by the tactics of greedy advertisers and the greeting card industry.
"Love should be celebrated every day," is a common gripe of V-day scrooges.
"I cannot bear to partake in a holiday so sappy and overly-commercialised" is another likely complaint.
And in complete honesty, these statements are not without merit.
Its unfortunate positioning on the calendar - just weeks after Christmas - means our hearts, minds and wallets have barely recovered from the festivities of December before we are bombarded again with cutesy, love-themed merchandise.
The fact that brands and companies market the day almost singularly as an expression of romantic love is also hard to ignore. Should you be single, the memo reads to just hide under the sheets with your cats and wallow in self-pity until Feb 15.
Men are also unfairly expected to put up an elaborate show of surprise and expense for their significant other. Didn't send her an overpriced bouquet of flowers or arrange a fancy prix-fixe meal for dinner? May as well just give up on your relationship already.
In this context, it is not hard to see why Feb 14 has become the punching bag of global celebrations - a pop-culture pariah if you will.
My personal experience with Valentine's Day, however, has been slightly different.
It might sound painfully politically correct, but V-day, for me, has always been dedicated to celebrating love in all forms, rather than romantic love alone.
I could attribute this to the fact that I spent my formative secondary school years in an all-girls school, where V-day was just pretty much synonymous for friendship day: think schoolmates and teachers alike laden with a mix of baked goods, cards, flowers and candy by the end of it.
But the truth is that most of those same formative years were also largely spent sans romantic Valentine.
You would think that being single among friends who were revelling in the endorphins from their romantic relationships would sour any interest in the day. And don't get me wrong - I concur that it is hard not to feel murderous with rage when your walking path is blocked by couple after couple who refuse to move without their arms interlocked in loving embrace.
But personally, because I was always lucky to feel included by friends and family on Valentine's Day, I never saw it as a holiday that needed to be romantic or particularly expensive.
I recall one V-day handing out boxes of sultanas to my classmates with the accompanying cheery note: "Don't have a date? Have a raisin instead."
Another year, I was invited and happily third-wheeled with my best friend and her boyfriend for dinner in Boat Quay - there was no awkwardness.
Two years ago, I had a "Gal-entines" dinner with some of my closest girlfriends, where we all took time out of our busy schedules to celebrate friendship over a home-cooked meal at my house. Yet another year, it was spent at home with my family, baking Valentine-edition brownies and watching a rented DVD.
Even when I spent the day with a romantic Valentine, we never found the need to go over-the-top on Feb 14. My fiance is more likely to get a (sorry, spoiler alert) funny card or Star Wars-themed socks from me than any sort of splashy present to signify my love.
Still, to the haters, I will concede - it might not be necessary to single out a special day to do any of these things.
But let's be honest. Without a little push - albeit it being of the Hallmark Inc variety in this instance - most of us are hardly the sort to put effort into thoughtful gestures all year round, right?
More pertinent, though, is that right now, the world needs the essence of Valentine's Day - a commitment to love in its varied but truest forms - more than ever.
Perhaps it is a job hazard, but my social media newsfeeds these days are filled almost singularly with antagonistic headlines and fiery comments.
In recent months, we have seen an uptick in racism globally and blatant threats to gender equality. People have been singled out because of their ethnicity. Borders have been shut. Refugees have been shunned.
It is indisputable how toxic the world is becoming.
And given that it takes no time to shoot off a snarky comment on social media, maybe we all need one day to remind us that it is just as easy to show compassion.
In an era when opinions are able to so sharply divide, it is becoming imperative to take time to remember the things that bind us - most important of which is our ability to show and feel love.
And what better way to celebrate that than on Valentine's Day?
Whether it is family, a friend or even a stranger, taking time away from the negativity this V-day to focus on something positive about relationships could not possibly be something to scoff at.
So sure, shun the flowers and romantic dinners. But do take the time to tell someone on Tuesday that you love him. That you accept the person despite his differences - be it skin colour or opinion. That you respect his choices.
This sort of love might not look like that espoused by Valentine's Day cards. But to the recipient, it will feel like love nonetheless.
It might be just one day. But it will count.
And if nothing else, the world could do with the good karma.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 12, 2017, with the headline 'Show and feel the love on V-Day'. Print Edition | Subscribe
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