It’s a new decade and the first of its many Valentine’s Days, and society still largely associates love (and its corresponding holiday) with romance, sex, and straight relationships. What’s absent from these celebrations, however, is, well, every other type of love — including what it means to experience love as an aromantic and/or asexual individual. While more people may be familiar with asexuality, being aromantic means not experiencing romantic attraction, and a person may identify as aromantic and asexual, as one or the other, or as any identity across the aro and ace spectrum.
So, how can Valentine’s Day be more inclusive of all the different kinds of love in the world — especially aromantic and asexual love? And when does the limited view of traditional Valentine’s Day celebrations begin to take a toll on mental health? We asked six individuals on the aro and ace spectrums if they celebrate Valentine’s Day, their thoughts on social expectations of intimacy and relationships, and, more importantly, what they think others should realize about expressing and appreciating love as aromantic or ace individuals.
1. The day can hold the significance of familial love.
“My grandma has been sending me cat cards for Valentine’s Day since I was 5. My dad also sends me a card and chocolates, and until I moved out, I always spent Valentine’s Day watching movies with my mom, from The First Wives Club to 9 to 5 and The Other Woman. Now I try to get together with a big group of friends. This year, I’ll be playing in a Super Smash Bros. tournament with friends.
“For me, the day always holds the significance of familial love, and my dad making sure to set a good example of appreciating my mom. The Greek words ‘storge’ [familial love] and ‘philautia’ [self-love] are both words for love. Those are what I like to celebrate.
“I briefly dated a man who was not okay with my asexuality and had planned a whole Valentine’s Day dinner – and I had to pay for it. So, my only experience with a ‘romantic’ Valentine’s Day seemed like a waste of time and money to meet the expectations of society.
The only media representation we have [of queer relationships] is over-sexualized, and it’s [about] so much more than that.”
Chezzy Redford, 21
2. The holiday is all about couples.
“I’m aroace [aromantic asexual], so I’ve mostly ignored Valentine’s Day. This year, I have a queerplatonic partner and want to try something for Palentine’s Day. We are long-distance, so I might Skype my QPP. I was never interested in celebrating before because the holiday is all about couples. I wish people realized that [romantic love] should be on the same level as platonic, queerplatonic, and familial love.”
3. It isn't widely accepted to celebrate your love for a close friend.
“I feel that Valentine’s Day is one of the many tools to condition people to think romantic love is the pinnacle of achievement – something we're all made for. [There is a lot of] gender-related baggage, and as both an aroallo [aromantic allosexual] and a member of the LGBTQ+ community, Valentine’s Day feels super toxic.
“My 20s and early 30s were a non-stop barrage of people telling me what I should do or feel or want on Valentine’s Day. [So] I always try to spend the week leading up to Feb. 14 practicing extra self-care and being in a calm state of mind. As a single parent, I'll kick off this Valentine’s Day with a gender-affirming book or a game of Guess Who? to remind my kids about the many types of love, families, and orientations, and that no one needs to be ashamed of their feelings. I'm also doubling down on the idea that queerplatonic friendships are totally valid.
“Valentine’s Day is a special kind of lonely for me because I'd love to spend it with my friends, but they are either off celebrating or [feeling sad] because they are single. Meanwhile, it isn't widely accepted to celebrate your love for a close friend. This is especially tricky as a trans man with gay male friends. There's always this fear [among my gay male friends] that spending Valentine’s Day with your trans male friend would mean that you're straight now.
“I wish more people knew that aroallos can feel love too! Many of us can cuddle and hold hands and just share a loving space with another person without expecting ‘something more.’”
Aren S., 38
4. People shouldn't attack us if we celebrate love differently.
“As a single asexual, Valentine’s Day is a regular day. I guess I'd like to spend it with my partner if I had one: go to dinner; go to the cinema, or watch a movie at home; cuddle and hug a lot. I don't consider it a special occasion, but it would be a good excuse to spend a whole day together with the one I love.
“Everywhere you see advertisements for chocolate and flowers – I don't like it. The day has a beautiful meaning but I'm not into celebrating it. Among my family or close friends, we take this celebration as a joke [because, to us,] celebrating love on a specific day is ridiculous.
“People should know there are different forms of love that can be expressed in many ways. They shouldn't attack us if we celebrate it differently.”
5. Valentine’s Day brings up complicated feelings.
“I identify as asexual and biromantic. I don't celebrate Valentine's Day, but it does bring [up] complicated feelings. I definitely want to fall in love so Valentine's Day makes me feel kind of guilty, or at least bad, that I haven't been able to do so because I'm ace. I haven't dated since coming out; I tried. I can't seem to find someone in the Venn diagram of ‘Someone I Feel Romantically Towards and Someone Who Feels Romantically Towards Me’ who won't walk away when the topic of me not liking or wanting sex comes up. Valentine's Day is almost annoying. Mocking, even, as if to say, ‘This is what you could have – all this red and pink and candy if you weren't so… broken.’
I'll see cool events or parties and I'll want to go, but they're all structured around the idea of having a partner. I usually ignore, sometimes sneer at Valentine's stuff because it makes me angry – at the world, at myself, at ex-partners who didn't last. Honestly, the best thing about Valentine's Day is the day after when all the chocolate and candy go on sale!
“There's also a part of me that wants a partner to go out to dinner with me and buy me flowers. Making romantic love out to be so important that it needs a major holiday makes people who want and don't have, or who don't want/need [love] seem to be outcasts. People pity them or don't understand how they could live without love.”
Beth D., 31
6. The fact that friends and family are so sure that I need a SO kind of pisses me off.
“Throughout my childhood, I always considered Valentine’s Day to be a day to eat chocolates and give or receive cards. As I've gotten older and realized that I am aromantic, it’s been less fun. It's not the actual day that I don’t like – it’s the way almost all my friends and family ask if I have someone to celebrate with. They don’t know yet that I’m aro. The fact that they are so sure that I need a significant other in my life kind of pisses me off. I am happy for them and their relationships, but honestly, it gets repetitive and annoying over time.”
Ultimately, celebrating or acknowledging Valentine’s Day is an individual choice. It’s up to you to define what feels right and whether or not you want to participate. Asexuality and/or aromanticism should be safely nurtured and expressed however someone chooses to do it.
*Names changed for privacy