The Creative Imperative

How innovation and play beget wellbeing

The One Valentine We Never Send

The One Valentine We Never Send


Boom! Today’s the day. Valentine’s Day is here. You can stop pretending you didn’t notice, because you did. Even for the Occupy Valentine's Day protesters, there's really no way around it.

When all is said and done, flowers delivered, presents opened, and chocolates consumed, whether you like it or hate it Valentine’s Day is about celebrating your love for your wife, husband, partner, girlfriend, boyfriend, paramour, classmate, teacher, or crush — and really, that’s great. Please go ahead and celebrate your love/like/aspiration for them today, or any day for that matter. Seriously. There are no snide remarks are coming now.

But let’s talk for a moment about a love that you almost certainly won’t celebrate today. Besides all of the people who come to mind when you think of your "Valentine," there is one person in your life who you love (well, hopefully you do), who is essential and central to any other relationship, romantic or non-romantic, that you have. Without loving this person you can’t truly love anyone else. Who could that be?

Give up?  The Valentine that you probably won’t send this year, and that you’ve never sent is for you. And the reason you've never sent it before, well, that’s a bit more complicated.

It may seem like a farce to consider sending yourself a Valentine's Day gift, but I’m more than half-serious, at least metaphorically. I mean, why not celebrate your love for yourself on Valentine’s Day? It seems like as good a day as any, really. Is it not important to love yourself? Actually it is. In fact, it’s critical. If you don’t love yourself, you can’t really give love freely to other people.

We have a lot of prohibitions against self-love in our society because we equate it with Narcissism. Yet the two could not be more different. Self-love comes from knowing and valuing who and what you are. Narcissism is a defense against painful feelings of being unloved. Whereas Narcissists feel empty inside, people who truly love themselves feel full. Think about how this plays out in other relationships for a moment. People who are empty or hungry are generally not generous with their food. In fact, quite the opposite, they ration their reserves out of fear that they wont have enough. In contrast, people who feel full are usually more likely to share because they are not afraid that they won’t have enough.

Loving and valuing yourself is one of the keys to having a healthy romantic relationship. You must love yourself as much as you love your partner. If you don’t, your relationship will be as lopsided as one of those Tower of Pisa wedding cakes from Cake Boss, and lopsided is no better for a relationship than it is for a building. Lasting relationships are built on even ground, slowly, brick-by-brick, and battle-tested over time. Those that are constructed on a slope, or are put up quickly are more like a tent, a lean-to, or a sukkah than an actual building- Yes, they are functional enough, and sometimes even pretty, but they are definitely not built to last.

So before the day is out think about doing something different this year, consider how you can love yourself. Get a rose, a giant Hershey's Kiss, or even a carnation (if you are one of my many Junior High readers). You and everyone you hold dear will be the better for it.

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Ben Michaelis, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist who specializes in helping patients achieve mental health and well-being through creative expression.

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