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Ask Philip: Yes, Virginia, there IS a St. Valentine

Dear Philip:

Valentine’s Day makes me sad. I have been single for the past several years, and this Hallmark holiday feels like the world is trying to rub my singlehood in my face.

I have friends who are single who get together for a Valentine’s Day dinner every year, and while it was always at someone’s house, this year it is going to be at a restaurant, and I for one don’t want to have to look at all the happy couples at other tables.

Should I go and be miserable, or stay home alone and be miserable?

Lonely Heart

Dear Lonely,

If you’ve already decided to be miserable, it doesn’t really matter where you are, does it? I vote for ‘go out and celebrate your friendships.’ First, though, it might help to brush up on your history.

Saint Valentine’s Day wasn’t invented by Hallmark; in fact, the card folks are relatively late to the party. Centuries late. The best most historians can figure, the Catholic Church created the feast day in the 5th century to celebrate a martyr from the 3rd.

The martyr was St. Valentine, who served during the reign of Emperor Claudius II. Claudius had outlawed marriage for young men, figuring that single fellas made better soldiers. Valentine, a romantic soul, quietly went on performing marriage ceremonies, until Claudius got wind of his actions and had him jailed and then executed. It’s thought that Valentine passed a note before he died to his jailor’s daughter, professing his love for her. Legend has it that he signed his note “your Valentine,” and thus eventually gave birth to the second-largest greeting card holiday.

But he wasn’t killed for that note, nor is he traditionally celebrated for it. St. Valentine died for the crime of making others happy: he was martyred because he saw the injustice of denying young men the chance to marry, and he acted out of compassion and love. Love of fellow man. Platonic love. That he may have found a little of the other kind before he died is terrific, but it’s not why they put the “St.” in front of his name.

So maybe you might consider broadening your idea of the celebration of love as each Feb. 14 rolls around. You might throw the celebration of loving friendship in there, too, and recognize you wouldn’t be alone in doing so: according to our friends at The History Channel, a solid 85% of all Valentine’s Day cards are bought by women — and I’m guessing that not all 85% are addressed to men.

I’m so sorry that you’re lonely, Lonely, especially on Valentine’s Day, when it can seem like everyone else in the whole world is paired off. The thing is, though, the world isn’t. It’s filled with folks who have never married, or gotten divorced, or been widowed, or who aren’t particularly happy with their mate. It also has its share of romantic show-offs: those friends of yours — we all have ‘em — who feel the need to shout their love from the rooftops and carry on as if they just walked off the pages of a Harlequin romance novel. (Pity them: insecurity is a sad, hard road to walk — and their relationships tend to burn out as spectacularly as they start.)

If you ask me — and you did, God bless you — Valentine’s Day doesn’t come often enough to waste on a single Valentine. I’ve got several. My lovely bride is one, to be sure, but so are my daughters. So are my friends Shannon and Liz. At some point today I’ll send an email to Jennifer Estlin, my college girlfriend, asking her for the 27th time if she’ll be my Valentine. Her fiancé will understand: he knows that life is a little richer if we’re able to celebrate not only the people we’re with, but also the people who we’ve thought of with love along the way.

Go to that restaurant, Lonely. Keep in mind that St. Valentine is remembered not so much for sending a mash note, but for feeling so connected to his fellow men that he gave his life for their happiness. Love like that is worth celebrating.

Platonically yours,
Philip

Philip Van Munching is a New York Times bestselling author of advice books, and was a finalist in the Good Morning America nationwide “advice guru” search. You can find his previous columns at askpvm.com, and email your questions to philip@askpvm.com.

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