I sent my first Valentine’s day card when I was seven years old. It was ripped up by the seven-year-old boy who received it. The following year I sent one to my dad. The year after, I sent one to my new crush; it gained no response. Needless to say, I haven’t sent another card since.

Having never had a romantic relationship coincide with this holiday, it is rarely a date I factor into my calendar. Viewed as romantic, Valentine’s Day is seen to only apply to a select group of people, while its commodification serves to almost shun those who literally cannot buy into it. I have come to realise however, that whether single or with someone, Valentine’s Day is the perfect excuse to celebrate the most important relationship we all have and often forget about; the relationship we have with ourselves.

The idea that we would consider ourselves in a relationship with just us might seem ridiculous. But this is because our understanding of relationships is based around interactions with at least one other person. Practically however, there is no one else we could possibly spend as much time with, and no one else we will ever be as dependent on, as ourselves. It seems logical that we would prioritise this relationship above all others and accept that to make it work requires time and energy. Unlike other relationships, we do not have the option to end everything when it is not working and we are no longer happy. Instead we have to find ways to fix the problems that are apparent because otherwise we are stuck with a partner we cannot stand and who negatively impacts our quality of life.

recognise yourself as deserving of the same standards and treatment that you give and receive in any other meaningful relationship

We are quick to assume that love and care can only be provided to us by other people and only when they love and accept our flaws can we learn to be happy with them ourselves. This allows for a dangerous dependence on these external relationships and makes it acceptable to hate parts of ourselves in the meantime. I am not suggesting that we should, or even can, learn to love everything about ourselves but rather that, just like we would for a partner, we focus on the aspects that we do love and that makes us happy. Identifying these may not come as easily as seeing them in someone else, but dedicating the time to realise what they are is the crucial first step in achieving self-love.

We actively avoid doing this as we equate liking and caring for ourselves with vanity and selfishness and believe self-deprecation or even loathing is needed to be humble. In reality, to embrace self-love and self-care is to recognise yourself as deserving of the same standards and treatment that you give and receive in any other meaningful relationship.

Developing self-love is an ongoing and difficult process. Furthermore, the way to achieve it varies from person to person and for many of us, it requires professional and medical assistance. The growing awareness around mental health is helping to lift the stigma that prevents a lot of people from seeking the treatment that they need. Unfortunately, access to these resources remains severely restricted due to chronic underfunding in the public sector and realistically the only way to increase availability for these much-needed services is through public pressure. I mention the need for better mental health facilities not to divert this article on a political tangent but to emphasise its importance in achieving an overall healthy personal relationship.

celebrate the parts of yourself that you are proud of and make you excited to spend the rest of your life with yourself

Just like with any other relationship, there is no expectation that you will be happy all the time or that there won’t be periods where giving up might seem like the only option. Accepting that our relationships with ourselves are just as complicated, if not more so, than those with others, is an unfortunate but necessary part of it. Coming to terms with your flaws is inevitable but more important is the ability to embrace and celebrate the parts of yourself that you are proud of and make you excited to spend the rest of your life with yourself.

At the risk of overextending this relationship metaphor too far I will say; use this Valentine’s day as an excuse to celebrate how you make yourself happy, spoil yourself the way you feel you should be spoilt. Of course, like any other relationship, the everyday commitment to making it work is more important in the long run but that does not mean you cannot allow yourself the occasional extravagance. Regardless of your relationship status, be your own Valentine this year and send yourself a card that you definitely won’t rip up.

Marlena is a History and Environmental Studies student currently on an exchange year at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. She is strongly interested in social and environmental issues, including sustainability, gender equality and promoting sex positivity. Most of her free time is spent Swing dancing and travelling to different dance events.

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