Everything is adjustable these days.
Gig economy, start-ups and remote work, not to mention constant technological developments shifting the sand beneath our feet, have largely done away with the traditional career ladder and nine to five. Mainstream publications in increasing numbers have begun to discuss alternative ways of conceptualizing and organizing our personal relationships, as long-term monogamy and the nuclear family are framed as choices many of us are (not) making, rather than the natural goal.
For most of us in Western urban environments, this liberty is exhilarating. The relative safety of the welfare state allows us to ask important questions about things that we have taken for granted as part of human nature. I truly believe this easing of social normativity will, in the long run, benefit all of us, as we can strip the unnecessary bells and whistles and focus on fulfilling our basic needs in the way that makes sense to us as individuals. Food and shelter, community and companionship, and something meaningful to do can take near infinite forms in near infinite combinations.
The liberty is also exhausting.
If everything is a conscious choice, we have to interrogate all our decisions and desires. Do I really want this, or have I only been programmed to think so? And then there are the perpetual practicalities, the whens and what-nexts in addition to the whys and what-ifs that are the direct result of independence and flexibility. Freedom, surprisingly, takes up an enormous amount of cognitive bandwidth.
Which is why I’m delighted about this year’s Valentine’s Day.
An imported US American consumerist scam, this holiday celebrating normative romance offers us exactly what is missing from our unfettered and individualistic day to day. A set date repeated annually. An agenda. Even a color scheme. Aside from some relatively straightforward questions like “who pays when we’re both the same gender?” there is very little actual thinking required for this celebration. Someone makes dinner, someone brings wine and flowers, everyone puts in great effort to make the other feel loved and appreciated. Even with some adjustments (such as celebrating the previous evening as the actual Valentine’s Day falls on a Monday when one of you has class until 6 p.m.) the idea is pre-existing, the time window limited, and the tools for execution readily provided in the form of special offers and displays by supermarket entrances.
The appeal of capital t Tradition is that it makes things easy. Holidays, with their preset schedules and aesthetics allow us to safely and temporarily, try on this mindset of unquestioning compliance and enjoy its alluring simplicity.
Tomorrow we may return to our big critical questions with renewed vigor. But today, let us turn off our brains and gift our loved ones, or ourselves, something pink and heart shaped. This should, hopefully, sustain us again until Easter.