I found out yesterday that in Finland, Valentine’s day isn’t Valentine’s day. It’s called Ystävänpäivä, which means Friends’ Day or Friendship Day. The traditional gift is a pink rose, not a red one, and it’s a day to celebrate just how much friendship really means. As a Finnish friend of mine put it: “To celebrate and appreciate the friends that are there for you, love you, support you and never let you go.”
Over here, of course, we have Hallmark Day, or Be Miserable You’re Single Day, or Feel Obliged To Spend Money On Insincere Formulaic Expressions Of Love day (NSFW). And if you look back at the history of the celebration, what have we got to blame for the creation of this horror..? Oh yes, courtly love again. A medieval rationale for adultery which for some reason we have enshrined as the highest possible achievement of human affection. A celebration devoted to the heady early stages of a relationship, based in the illicit and utterly orthogonal to the value of steady companionship. St Valentine himself, incidentally, is usually commemorated as a man who was martyred for marrying Christians against the will of the Emperor Claudius – presumably his modern equivalent would be a CofE priest who marries a gay couple.
Human nature? Doesn’t change much.
We don’t really value friendship at the cultural level, here in the UK. Many ancient cultures had concepts like blood brotherhood, which regardless of the public health implications spoke of a profound respect for the depth a “mere” friendship can achieve. We don’t have any cultural institution like that over here; friends are “just” friends. The base unit of our society is a sexual relationship, and later the family that relationship creates. We don’t even really have extended family any more, which includes all the various people who’ve been united by loving the same bloodline.
It’s pretty selfish as a way to live, really. Solipsistic, even. Not really that surprising for a capitalist-individualist culture. The older I get the more I see wisdom in collectivist cultures like Japan, which foreground the startling notion that a person’s value might be determined by what they do for everyone else, not just what they do for themselves. I think we could do with a bit more of that over here.
So in the spirit of that, I think I’m going to ditch V-Day in the future (or VD, as some of my friends used to call it). I think I’m going to start doing something nice for the people who do nice things for me. It’s a less selfish celebration: anyone can take part in it. And it honours something which has steady, constant positive effects on human happiness – not the exhausting rollercoaster of emotions we’ve come to mean by the phrase “Twue Wuv“.
So here you are. This is for my own good friends.
To everyone who made time to spend with me when I was lonely, I love you for it.
To everyone who went out of their comfort zone for me, I love you for it.
To everyone who learnt how to roll with my quirks and foibles for the sake of making me happier, I love you for it.
To everyone who put up with my shit and forgave me, I love you for it.
To everyone who has reached out to me across time zones and continents just because, I love you for it.
To everyone who took me up on a wild new idea and helped me change how I see myself, I love you for it. (Some of you guys have no idea who you are and only touched my life briefly, but I love you anyway.)
To everyone who helped me make or do or achieve something and shared their own limited resources with me to do so, I love you for it.
To everyone who has inspired me with their calmness and strength in the face of terrible adversity, I love you for it.
To everyone who’s given and given purely because they have plenty and I have less, I love you for it. Be that giving material, emotional or both.
To everyone who’s admired me, appreciated me, found me deep and interesting and full of potential – I love you for it. You’re what makes me feel OK about myself.
To everyone who cares about me: I love you for it. You, you personally, are why I’m still here and still trying. Never be afraid to ask for my help if you need me. I deeply appreciate what you do for me, and nothing would make me happier than to give you something back.