Valentine’s Day is rapidly approaching and the emotions are running high. Whether it’s excitement, anxiety, or anger, Valentine’s Day evokes something in all of us, even if we don’t want to admit it. Regardless of the origins of the holiday, there’s a stronger reason why Valentine’s Day strikes a chord in us every year. And, it’s not because it’s a commercially-driven holiday invented by greeting card companies (cue the cynical rantings of my 16 year old self.)
If the holiday was simply about lust, desire or romantic love there wouldn’t be adorable greeting cards exchanged between friends in Kindergarten. If it was meaningless, it wouldn’t generate the widespread attention it does.
To be seen
To put it simply, Valentine’s Day is about validation. It’s a deep-seated need we all have from birth to death and it often becomes the root of our insecurities and the core of our success (that may help explain all the sales.) Deep down, often on an unconscious level, most of us struggle with feeling “I am not worthy. I am not deserving. I am not special.” When we are shown attention (especially from someone we admire), it shatters these beliefs.
The most powerful and popular Valentine’s Day gestures stem from validating the other person and challenging these insecurities. When someone brings home flowers, it’s a way of saying “I was thinking about you.” When you buy someone (or yourself) a gift, the message is “you are deserving” and when you plan something unique or write a thoughtful card about the person, the message is “you are special.”
It’s not about the crayon
When I worked with children, the most surprising fact I learned is that more important than grand gestures or enthusiastic praise, children thrive when they are simply seen and validated. During Graduate school I tested this in a room full of first graders who were quietly drawing. My task was to avoid making any judgments, and to simply comment on their work by verbalizing what I saw; “I notice you are giving a lot of attention to that shape… I notice you are using several different colors… I notice you are using a blue crayon.” Without fail, the children responded to my neutral observations by smiling widely and saying “Thank you!” Then it hit me. The most valuable thing I could offer them wasn't to say how much I liked their flower garden or that they were doing a good job; but rather “I notice you.” That simple gesture has such powerful results.
That’s why Valentine’s Day hits home for all of us; especially for children and couples. It’s not that we need chocolates and flowers (though some may challenge that.) But rather, it’s because we need to be seen, to be validated, and to be acknowledged. We crave that validation every day, but on this day we see (or think we see) everyone else being validated around us, and our insecurities start to rise. Once we realize where it comes from, it helps to alleviate some of that anxiety, and it helps us give our loved ones what we really need.
Three realistic ways to put this into action
Although we should practice these every day, Valentine’s Day is a pretty good start.
First: Make peace with the fact that three dozen roses and the finest reservations mean absolutely nothing if you check your text messages throughout the night or keep your phone on the table. Before beginning your night, have a conversation with your significant other and make a mutual pact to unplug for a while. Doing this conveys to the other person that they are worthy and deserving of your attention… and they’re special (or at least more interesting than your Facebook news feed.)
Second: You don’t need a romantic date. Knowing that the most fulfillment on this holiday comes from being noticed and validated, make an effort to communicate with someone who can fill that need. You can try placing a call to a nurturing parent or scheduling a lunch with a long time friend. Whoever you choose, make it a point to be with a person or people who really see you.
Third: Just as being noticed and validated makes us feel all warm and fuzzy inside, so does giving this gift to others. Whether it’s making an effort to verbally “notice” something about your child, or sending a text to a friend just saying you’re thinking about them, the act of validating another makes us feel important and useful.
So instead of Instagramming every moment of your romantic night, or snarling at others’ status updates, turn the distractions off and let someone in your world know they matter, they’re important, and they’re worthy of your amazing and valuable attention.