Comment Essay Op-ed and Comment

Valentine’s Day

What are you doing this Valentine’s Day? In which the author tackles this question for The National here

They’ve given me a column and apparently, the paper has an illustration of me to accompany my pieces.  Sad that I cannot see it here.

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Sick of Valentine’s Day? Try to find a (very) little love in your life

Feb 8, 2013

My husband has started resenting Valentine’s Day. I don’t blame him. I, too, feel pressure to perform on this day dedicated to Cupid. Hindi films don’t make it any easier with their soppy “girl meets villain who turns out to be her soulmate” plot lines. And Hollywood isn’t any better.

For mere mortals, Valentine’s Day has become a chore. Every year, I try to devise methods to prove my love to my spouse in a way that will rock his world. Almost always, my efforts end in failure and what ensues is a hurriedly-bought dozen red roses from the local florist along with some champagne.

That doesn’t stop us from competing though – to see who performs a better show or who comes up with an original gift. Except this is a loser’s game. If you win, you resent the other party for not trying; if you lose, you resent the other party for winning. We are tired before we begin.

As it turns out, we are not alone in resenting Valentine’s Day. This particular day has gone from being a joyous occasion to being depressing for couples. What is there to celebrate? Divorce rates are increasing; people are postponing marriage to pursue careers; everyone is stressed by jobs, children and ageing parents; and spouses often end up in couple’s counselling.

What, I ask, is there to celebrate? Valentine’s Day has become a series of questions that have no answers. What do you buy for your Valentine? Do you even have a Valentine? Do you give candles and chocolate like last year, or are you expected to come up with a new formula? Why must you be the one that is always trying to pep things up? Why can’t your wife come up with a gift? Do you even have a wife? If you don’t have that one true love, are you a loser without prospects? And so it goes – questions without answers.

The most hopeful research in recent times has to do with debunking the notion of love. A pioneer in this area is the psychologist Barbara Fredrickson of the University of Chapel Hill, North Carolina. In her book Love 2.0, Fredrickson suggests that love isn’t about finding that one true soulmate. She believes that love isn’t about a synchronicity that you feel with one person. It isn’t about finding a soulmate or serenading the object of your affections from a gondola in Venice with a string quartet in accompaniment.

Instead, she thinks that the positive emotions and biological processes that love evokes can be achieved through “micro moments” of emotional connection with a variety of people. Think about these scenarios: sharing a laugh with a colleague who gets your joke; hugging your child before bedtime; sharing a meal with a close friend; or even having a moment with a stranger in an elevator in which both of you are in sync with each other.

All these experiences, suggests Fredrickson, can trigger the biological responses of love and a flood of oxytocin, the feel-good hormone. She offers simple practical tips to increase the “love” in your life, including making eye contact.

Love doesn’t need to be exclusive. Instead, she suggests a Buddhist practice known as “loving-kindness meditation” as a way of opening your heart to more loving episodes in your life.

So, this Valentine’s Day, I am going to make eye contact with my spouse and share micro-moments of positivity with him. He, on the other hand, need only do one thing: buy me that Hermes Jypsiere bag that I have been coveting for years.


Shoba Narayan is the author of Return to India



  1. Boy what a buzzkill article.

    I don’t get why “the stress putting on a show” should take away from V-day. It’s like when you cram for an exam you don’t learn the subject, but if you learn the subject the exam isn’t as stressful. My girlfriend points out that there are “love” ideas all year, all you have to do is make a note of it and then execute it on Vday. Modern couples have devised better ways – the simplest gift, “cards only” (think of the nicest “love” event in the past year) or a gift limit ($40) – to remind themselves that love, no matter what else, never dies.

    I don’t get the good professor’s point though. A doctor may deliver a hundred babies and each safe delivery earns her the one selfless coo of love from the newborn infant but they hardly compare to the coo of her own child. Eating a hundred exquisite meals (cooked with all the love and expertise the chef could muster) elsewhere is hardly as satisfying as eating a simple PBJ sandwich made by your mate at home. These “micro” things are indeed love, but as Katherine Clifton (English Patient) explained, “different things, surely”. The world is full of the surly ones who are down on [something] when they don’t really have [something]. Their scorn, like how the illiterate scorns education, is not their biggest failure though. Their biggest failure is in that they gave up on themselves while trying to attain it.

    And, like the blob who gave up on weight loss, they find succor in a big bacon cheeseburger.


    1. “there are “love” ideas all year, all you have to do is make a note of it and then execute it on Vday.” – Stuff of quotes. I enjoy the style of your prose. It so much walks me along.

      BTW, hey Feluda, Your girlfriend sure has a sister, doesn’t she…?


      1. Krishna, man looks like something real bad happened to you. Love isn’t just emotions and BP, it can also be a quiet and supportive source of strength. I find your bordering nihilist negativity fascinating but let’s take it offline? Icons are just icons, don’t let the imagery fool you. We say “Durga Maa” – mother – and yet don’t mind the imagery of a savage wild woman riding a tiger and waving a decapitated head. Da Vinci wouldn’t approve, but that doesn’t take away from the Mother.
        Anyway, just take a prozac and chill. You’ll know love soon when it hits you between the eyes. Happy V Day in the meantime.


  2. Am one with you on this, in a broader sense though… My logic goes Love is never meant to be celebrated in the first place. It’s a wildly misunderstood yet highly desirable malfunction of heart that weakens the brain, causes eyes to sparkle, cheeks to glow, BP to shoot up etc. Wipes out all sense of time, destroys all memory of a beginning and all fear of an end. And then you have that incongruous Cupid as its icon – Tell me, When you think about romance, isn’t the short, chubby toddler coming at you with a weapon the last thing on your mind….?


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