Nkem Ndem: Valentine’s Day is not a do-or-die matter

I am going to be completely honest: I am a huge romantic. I love love…and as such, I certainly adore the idea of a specific day being set aside to celebrate love. Unfortunately, though, I haven’t had much luck with Valentine’s Day!

My earliest memory of the holiday is of my bubble literally bursting after a package I found in my schoolbag (and had been so excited about) revealed a rusty GL neck-chain which my secret crush -who sadly, wasn’t the guy I fancied at the time – had obtained from his grandmother’s box of rejected pieces of jewellery and placed in a card designed with the picture of a half-eaten apple and a mouth that said “You are so delicious”.

Even worse was Valentine’s Day 2008, my third year at Covenant University, when a porter at Deborah Hall, one of the school’s hostels, seized the bag of provisions my mother had sent to me through a family friend, Obinna, with claims that Valentine gifts were not allowed from males at the female hostels. The thought of that day still brings tears to my eyes. It was the worst experience ever. Not only did I have to deal with the pain of realising that I would have to survive the next four weeks without milk, Milo, Rice Krispies, Titus Sardines and other school-life necessities, I also had to sit through hours of watching other girls gush over the Val gifts their boyfriends managed to smuggle into the hall and silently wonder when “amoshine”.

Over the years, I have come to realise that contrary to what romantic comedies had me believing since I was about 6, Valentine’s Day actually isn’t all that great. In reality, it is more like a number of the fancy clubs on Lagos Island – the idea of the club is way better than the actual club in itself. The music is so loud you are in a constant state of stress; the people suck, you spend so much money but never have any fun really yet, you keep coming back, telling yourself that will it get better.

Let’s face it; Nigerians are submerged in the cultural hypnosis that nudges them to associate true love and commitment with Valentine’s Day. I consider this a form of “conditioning” as the Valentine’s Day of today so obviously has nothing to do with real love. It is now a highly commercialised day of forced love with the main beneficiaries being brands that gets to sell you anything from red flowers and chocolates to exorbitant destination getaways. Even worse, having a date on this day, also, has become a status symbol more than anything else, and for some God-knows-why reason, being able to celebrate Valentine’s Day means that you are somehow better or more successful than your single friends.

Quite honestly, the level of pressure this holiday brings is worse than that of a shaken bottle of Coke. The singles who dream of being coupled up face the pressure of finding a date at all costs; those who are dating feel the pressure to find the ultimate gift or pull off the most original and meaningful romantic gesture ever and Nigerian girls who like to show off their Val gifts certainly do not want to be at the bottom of the totem pole, so, they weary their men and literally everyone else with their demands. In fact, even the men – especially the stingy and weak ones – who do not want to deal with all the pressure, say and do all they can to get away with not celebrating it. You find them making such silly statements as “every day is Valentine’s day”, “can’t you see its quarter to Buhari O’clock?”, or “love should be spontaneous and not contrived, Valentine’s Day defeats that purpose”. Some even go as far as breaking up with their girlfriend’s days before February 14th.

The truth is, Valentine’s Day celebration is not a do-or-die affair. The choice to go ahead with the celebration is up to you and if you decide you don’t want it or that the day is not for you, no one will kill you (hopefully). Of course, the sentiment behind the day is probably worth celebrating but…whether you choose to abstain from the celebrations, or whether you go along with the commercialised way we presently celebrate the holiday, note that you’re grand gestures will not be able to replace emotional intimacy if the security of your bond is already in question.

Also, for those who are single and filled with resentment for people with partners to celebrate the day with…please, “Stop it. Stop jealous”. The day is not just for those who have partners, and as such, you are not required to have a “bee” to enjoy it. Make the most of the day. And if not for anything, take full advantage of this day because it is a day in your life.

I am hoping this February 14th will be pleasant for everyone really. Surely, every Nigerian can use a bit of love at this time as we keep standing together #IstandwithNigeria

Happy Valentine’s Day!