Vintage Valentine's Day card, illustration of two angels standing on a cloud painting a red heart. Text reads "To my Valentine"


It’s a missed opportunity to let Valentine’s Day be reduced to something that’s only cheesy and commercial.

IMAGE: Valentine’s Day greetings card of 1909. Credit: Wikimedia commons


As the shiny excitement of the holiday season wears off, do you groan at the thought of Valentine’s Day looming ahead? Does the sight of pink and red decorations and heart-shaped trinkets make you cringe?

Love. With Valentine’s Day, it’s readily associated with the romantic type —

which in and of itself, of course, is multifaceted. Yet there are so many kinds of love, and so many ways to express it, to feel it, to give it.

“Oh love!” writes Harriet Doerr. “Who’s to say what it is? It’s like the verb for hope and wait. It has no single meaning.”  Before she died in 2002, Doerr knew something about hoping and waiting. Her enduring love for reading and writing led her to finally publish her first book at the age of 73, the novel Stones for Ibarra, which won a National Book Award in 1984.  Her work was a “labor of love,” we might say, a manifestation of something deeper and stronger that gives our lives meaning. 

When I think about love, I think about the 1998 album The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. It’s a remarkable example of expressed love: romantic, maternal, familial, nostalgic. It’s also a triumph of received love: among its numerous honors, Hill earned five Grammy awards, including Album Of The Year — the first time any hip-hop artist achieved such success. In between the songs, a teacher speaks with his students about love, asking them to define it and what they think about it. He challenges them to give examples of songs and movies that are about love. Students shout out some obvious choices: “Titanic!” “I Will Always Love You!”

This audio interaction has stayed with me since I first listened to the album when I was in the eighth grade, maybe because I felt like I, too, needed to heed the assignment. But now I think the question should have been, “Can you give an example of something that isn’t about love?” I have yet to find an answer.

Everything seems to be about some type of love, in one way or another, to some degree. Every song, every movie, every book, every kind of artistic expression, possibly even every human interaction, on some level, is connected to love. I believe that love is at the core of the human experience. Our lives are centered around finding it, finding more of it, finding better versions of it, understanding it, learning about it, keeping it as best as we can, feeling it as often as we can, giving it as best as we can, and figuring out how to give it in different ways.

Valentine’s Day, then, makes perfect sense as a holiday because other than Death (which we all also experience; see: Halloween, and Dia de los Muertos), what more universal thing is there to recognize, honor, and celebrate than Love?

“It’s a missed opportunity to let Valentine’s Day be reduced to something that’s only cheesy and commercial,” says Francisco Gallegos, professor of philosophy at Wake Forest. “Holidays are a kind of social technology that allow people to coordinate and synchronize and attune to each other and the things that bind us together as a society. Holidays do important work.”

Professor Gallegos, who earned his bachelor’s degree in philosophy from UNM, also points out that Valentine’s Day is ideal for people who are involved in the Humanities to rise in some way to the occasion: “This is a time for the poets to earn their money, for artists to show why art matters, and for the world to take some time to get in touch with their own humanity — as well as to appreciate that some people dedicate their whole lives to learning the skills and traditions, these forms of expression and of inquiry, that have held together the Humanities disciplines over generations and across time.”

Because this essay is about Love, I feel it’s relevant to say that Francisco and I dated during our mutual time at UNM; we met in a French class, and the amoureuse nature of the French language could inspire an entirely separate essay. Years later, our paths crossed again in a convivial, platonic manner when we realized that my partner is great friends with his partner — and now our children play together. So unfold Love’s evolution and mysteries and surprises and amusements and joys.

On the topic of Plato, Professor Gallegos brings up Plato’s Symposium, in which seven main characters, including Socrates, Alcibiades, and Aristophanes, come together to offer their musings about Eros, the god of love, and about Love in all its definitions. They compete to sway each other, seeking a singular, victorious truth. Despite that elusive ideal, they realize they need each other for their own lives — their words, thoughts, behaviors — to matter. They need each other for accountability, to live with more noble and honorable purpose because alone, it’s impossible to feel the richness and variety of all that life has to offer. In other words, it’s impossible to really live without love.

“That’s why we need each other. That’s why we need Valentine’s Day. And actually, that’s what the Humanities as a whole has been trying to do since the beginning,” Professor Gallegos says.

The other great thing about Love? “Love makes more love,” writes Anne Rivers Siddons. “To love, to love anything or anybody is to start some kind of engine that makes more.”

Skip the trinkets and the baubles this year, or don’t. Frown at red roses and boxes of chocolates, if you like. Meet up with your friends for Galentine’s Day, or briefly pretend you’re not bonding with others at an Anti-Valentine’s Day party. Like Science, Love is real even if you don’t like it, don’t believe in it, don’t understand it (perhaps science is a kind of love?).  This February find your own way to define and express love. Challenge yourself to make it entirely unromantic. Don’t buy a single material thing. At the very least, show some love to the Humanities: Visit a museum, listen to music, check out a (banned?) book at your local library, donate to a youth program. Take a cue from Harriet Doerr and pursue something you’ve wanted to do for a long time.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

 1 Passion: Visions of Love, in Word and Image (Philadelphia: Running Press, 1997), 36.

2 Harriet Doerr Is Dead at 92; Writer of Searing Sparse Prose

3 1998 Grammy Winners — 41st Annual Grammy Awards

4 Passion: Visions of Love, in Word and Image (Philadelphia: Running Press, 1997), 77.

Headshot of guest blogger Monika Dziamka
Writer and blog contributor, Monika Dziamka.





Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this blog post/article does not necessarily represent those of the New Mexico Humanities Council or the National Endowment for the Humanities.




Monika Dziamka is a writer and editor from Albuquerque. She has an MFA in creative writing from Queens University of Charlotte, a Master's in publishing from Columbia, and a BA in journalism from UNM. As an editor, she has helped hundreds of authors publish their novels, memoirs, mysteries, academic textbooks, and more. Her own creative writing has appeared in New Mexico Magazine, the Chicago Review of Books, River Teeth, and elsewhere. Monika is a mentor in the UNM Student Publications alumni program and a volunteer with the Read to Me! ABQ Network, which promotes early childhood literacy and distributes gently used books to kids around Albuquerque and Bernalillo County. Read banned books, support local bookstores, and connect with Monika through