Along with countless advocates worldwide, Julia Goldberg will use February 14 to help bring an end to violence against women and girls.
Not long after my boyfriend and I first started dating—approximately seven and a half years ago—we had “The Valentine’s Day” talk.
I like to celebrate Valentine’s Day and I wanted to make it clear at the outset that whatever reservations he might have about the holiday—too schmaltzy, too commercial, too pink—would need to be put aside in order for our nascent relationship to work.
As it turns out, I was right in suspecting he was no fan of February 14—I just didn’t have the right reasons.
When he was in his 20s, my boyfriend’s father died following a domestic dispute gone bad; a police officer responding to the house shot and killed him. My boyfriend’s mother committed suicide a year later. February 14, as it happens, is the day my boyfriend buried his father.
Understandably, these events of his past had not left my boyfriend with a keen taste for celebrating love on this particular day. On the other hand, the prospect of moving on—of rebooting the day to celebrate rather than mourn—did hold enough appeal that my boyfriend agreed that going forward, Valentine’s Day would be noted.
It is certainly true I am not a likely candidate for espousing the wonders of Valentine’s Day. I lean toward the cynical; sentimentality is not among my most salient characteristics; and having spent most of my adult life in the newspaper business, most holidays involved meeting early deadlines and trying to schedule around other people’s vacations.
Moreover, I’m an agnostic Jewish vegetarian, so traditional holidays translate as little more to me than annual object lessons in cultural alienation and carbo-loading.
But Valentine’s Day—if one ignores its original anti-romance conception by the Catholic Church (which seems to be what everyone has done since the holiday was first declared circa 498 AD)—is a holiday that excludes no one. I don’t think of Valentine’s Day as a holiday for couples—I’ve had great Valentine’s with friends when I was single and in relationships—nor do I think of it as a day predicated on binary gender roles or aspirational consumerism (He’s at Zales buying diamonds! He must really love me!) I’m not interested in presents or expensive dinners (although a card is always nice). Really, for most of my 20s (and into my 30s), I thought of Valentine’s as a day that emphasized activities I enjoy but are usually missing from the day-to-day: eating chocolate, buying flowers, dressing up (my other favorite holiday is Halloween, which shares many of the same qualities). I liked buying the jumbo pack of miniature Valentine’s to leave in co-workers’ boxes; baking treats; having a reason to wear pink without fear of mockery.
But over the last decade, my view of Valentine’s has changed to also encompass the idea that if ever a society was in need of a holiday that privileged love—romantic, platonic, familial, whatever—I am living it.
As a reporter in my 20s, I spent some time in family court, following the process that couples in dispute underwent once their situations went legal. “In dispute” is polite. I watched couples of all ages with mutual restraining orders, tales of chronic verbal and physical abuse and, in most cases, children stuck in the middle, make their cases in front of the family court judge. I talked with the other staff members in family court about the required mediation processes such couples went through. I spoke with the director of the battered women’s shelter where people—primarily women and children—ended up. I remember one conversation I had with the family court judge about all the mechanisms in place to try to help couples stuck in the devastating cycle of domestic violence. I asked her if she was seeing progress as new and more programs were put into place. Her answer, simply, was no.
When I became editor of the weekly newspaper in Santa Fe, New Mexico, I oversaw several devastating stories about domestic violence. These were not stories about the statistics—although few people would argue that domestic violence is at epidemic levels in my state—but very personal stories about tragic deaths, generations of violence documented by public agencies, and the unavoidable truth that whatever progress has been made against domestic violence, it’s not enough.
Throughout my tenure at the Reporter, we held an annual Valentine’s Party, the proceeds of which were donated to the local battered women’s shelter, whose staff members often manned information booths. We invited Planned Parenthood to hand out safe-sex kits. If that doesn’t sound like much of a party, not to worry: There also were burlesque dancers, sex toys, and plenty of chocolate throughout the years at those events. The paper under its current editor continues to bring heightened awareness to the serious and systemic issue of domestic violence.
Valentine’s Day repurposed as a day to both celebrate love but also heighten awareness is clearly on the rise. On February 14, activists in Santa Fe and all over the world will participate in One Billion Rising, a mass demonstration against the mind-boggling pervasive rape and violence experienced by women and girls. But, obviously, this is not a problem that only affects those of us who are female.
When I asked my boyfriend if I could share his story in this article, he said yes, and then added that he was proud he had broken away from the cycle of violence in which he was raised. Indeed, he is, without question, one of the kindest and most loving people I know. Thus, I have planned my Valentine’s Day to encompass all the facets I’ve come to value in the holiday. I’ll first go to the state Capitol and cheer on the flash mob performing for One Billion Rising, then bring chocolate cupcakes for my students to my afternoon class and, after school, take my boyfriend to see the new Die Hard movie. What happens after that is private, but I promise it will be more uplifting than a post-Thanksgiving food coma.
Julia Goldberg is a freelance writer and editor living in Santa Fe, New Mexico, whose work has appeared in a variety of regional and national publications, including Salon, In These Times, and AlterNet. She currently teaches writing at Santa Fe University of Art and Design, as well as Santa Fe Community College. You can find her on Twitter @votergirl.