I’m throwing a “Jumanji”-themed party on Valentine’s Day.
For those unlucky souls who’ve never seen it, “Jumanji” is a 1995 children’s flick about a magic board game that puts participants in jungle-themed danger after every roll of the dice. Roll a two and you may find your home infested with murderous vines. Finish the game and all of your troubles disappear.
I didn’t choose this theme as a method of flipping love the bird, and I’m not trying to say that relationships are plagued with the same arbitrary pitfalls as a turn in “Jumanji.” Rather, I want to redefine what Valentine’s Day can be.
Last week, my housemate Dave and I had a disagreement about Valentine’s Day traditions. He concluded that Valentine’s Day should be about loving yourself, not others. He obviously put quite a bit of thought into his argument, as he methodically outlined his rationale. It boiled down to three points: 1) Too many people spend an inordinate amount of time cultivating a public image and neglecting themselves; 2) Even though we’re constantly thinking about ourselves, it’s often times stressful (i.e. grades, job/internship applications); and 3) If we can’t love ourselves, then we can’t love others. Why take a day to love others when most people don’t have time for themselves?
Though I rarely waste my time pontificating on the meaning of Valentine’s Day, Dave’s arguments made me think. While there aren’t any indices that accurately quantify any of his three points, there are trends in our culture that seem to bolster his assertions.
While casting social media as Satan’s tool to destroy our grammar and our confidence is far too easy, there are some legitimately negative side effects that support Dave’s first point. Facebook and the never-ending quest for ‘likes’ expose the lengths to which our obsession with perception has gone. There’s a suffocating need for ubiquitous exposure. Posting PhotoBooth selfies and pictures from a weekend in Chicago may seem self-indulgent, but it’s also a strategic attempt to impress one’s virtual friends.
Is that any different than the past? Not really. People have always been presenting themselves strategically, and they always will. But now it’s constant. Between Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, I can manipulate my image all day, every day, and that can be both stressful and exhausting. There’s a reason studies have shown that social media can increase anxiety and insecurity.
Dave’s second point seems valid as well. As a second-semester senior, I can attest that every week, I devote hours to stressing about jobs, schoolwork and the added burden of checking every box on my ‘before I leave Ann Arbor’ checklist. It’s hard to find time for myself, and after three years of hearing similar complaints from nearly all of my friends, I know I’m not the only one.
Many of us are overstressed, running on a diet of caffeine during the week and alcohol during the weekend. We’re overexerting ourselves, but we’re constantly reminded that we could be doing more. The Shapiro Undergraduate Library is now open 24 hours a day, so why aren’t you studying all night? Want a better GPA? Just spend about ten minutes searching for Adderall — it’s that easy.
As for the last point, take that with a grain of salt. “How can you love someone if you don’t love yourself” is a common piece of folk psychology, but what does it mean? Why couldn’t you love yourself through loving others? Studies have shown that committing acts of kindness for others positively affects one’s own self-worth, illustrating that loving others can be the key to loving one’s self.
Dave’s phrasing may be off for the final point, but the sentiment summarizes his argument. In order to enjoy ourselves, we must understand what makes us tick. Find your passion and immerse yourself in it. Your sanity will thank you.
Valentine’s Day doesn’t need to be another day of stress. For those who enjoy the romantic side of Saint Valentine, go for it. But I think I’m going to take a big step back and focus on me (and no, that’s not a double-entendre). Valentine’s Day should celebrate love, but why should we limit it to romantic love? Instead, let’s redefine the day to celebrate loving your surroundings and yourself.
I promise that my passion doesn’t revolve around reenacting Jumanji scenes. But right now, it’s exactly what I want to do. And if it makes me happy, then why not celebrate it?
Andrew Eckhous can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.