It’s Valentine’s Time

Lupercalia most likely derives from lupus, “wolf,” though both the etymology and its significance are obscure (bronze wolf’s head, 1st century AD). Photo credit: Wikipedia.

Different meanings for different folks


Lupercalia most likely derives from lupus, “wolf,” though both the etymology and its significance are obscure (bronze wolf’s head, 1st century AD). Photo credit: Wikipedia.

“Valentine” is not my surname. It’s a pen name I use to honor my first wife who passed away on Valentine’s night three years to the minute she and I shared our first kiss. I’m not making this up. And I’m not trying to buzzkill anyone’s happy, romantic day.

But for two-plus decades now, celebrating Feb. 14 is a navigation between honoring my deceased wife and any significant other who may be leasing my heart in the here and now. I’ve just started lightly dating someone—let’s call her Beth—I want to keep around, so I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t feeling a little lost right about now.

You may think all this would make me jaundiced toward the pseudo holiday, but it doesn’t. Holidays based on the concept of love sound more like a solution than a problem to me.

Nonetheless, just like Christmas and New Year’s, a portion of the population—both coupled and singled—struggle with the implications behind the special day.

“Right around February 15 I inevitably start fielding calls about hopelessness and disappointment. And so it’s at this time of year that I can’t help wondering whether we wouldn’t all be better off if Valentine’s Day was no longer setting up that huge gap between expectations and reality for so many couples,” writes Melissa Orlov in a Psychology Today article called “The Problem with Valentine’s Day: For some couples, this holiday hurts more than it helps.”

Orlov’s article highlights the inevitable disillusionment that follows for at least one half of a couple with high expectations and not-so-high follow through.

And then there are articles like “Dealing with Valentine’s Day Depression” by Dr. Paul Greene on the Anxiety And Depression Association of America website. He focuses on people who have recently gone through a split-up and offers a listicle of advice on how to cope. The listicle—which, among other things, suggests avoiding substance abuse and separating legit feelings from destructive thoughts—makes sense.

Yet, it seems that’s what we should be doing every day, any time. And so the inevitable social media posts, radio ads, and love-themed TV shows seep into our mindset and wreak some level of havoc.

When I find myself disillusioned, I try to see it as a good thing. Who wants to be living through an illusion? And an effective way to wipe away illusion is to think past the Hallmark-card version of Valentine’s and understand its origin. You don’t have to be an historical scholar to find this Wikipedia entry:

Lupercalia was an ancient, possibly pre-Roman pastoral annual festival, observed in the city of Rome between 13–15 February (the start of spring at that time in that part of the world) to avert evil spirits and purify the city, releasing health and fertility. Lupercalia was also called dies Februatus, after the instruments of purification called februa, which gave February (Februarius) its name.

The advent of spring. Purification and health. Averting evil. Nothing depressing about that. So, if you’re feeling stressed out or a little down when Friday comes around, just think about those Lupercalia things a little more and the Hallmark vibes a little less. You’ll be fine.

Now, what to get Beth?