Let me cut right to the chase: the way we do Valentine’s Day has gotten old.

Heart-shaped chocolates. A teddy bear you have no idea what to do with. An underlit restaurant with an overpriced menu where you will inevitably be seated by the bathroom, forgetting every other couple under the sun would have a reservation for the 14th.

And that’s if you are in a relationship or have any interest in the cheesy, canned romance of what is best described as a Hallmark holiday. If you’re single, even if it’s a choice you have consciously made, you will probably still be told you should be looking for love. It gets dull pretty quick.

You might even fall into a third camp of people: those of us who, relationship or not, just generally dislike this holiday for all its unnecessary emphasis on romance and lack of originality in marketing.

Why is everything always red and pink? Why not neon green and electric blue? Or orange and lilac?

It’s always the same, and it’s boring. Not this year. I am proposing a change.

In my opinion, the group who consistently does Valentine’s Day right are not the group you’d expect. In fact, it’s the group that probably cares the least about romance out of all of us: elementary school kids.

That’s right. I’m talking 10 years old and younger. 

College kids can pretty quickly get wrapped up in the Valentine’s Day marketing madness. There are often date parties or functions that happen around this time of year, and showing up alone doesn’t seem like an option. You either intentionally band together with a group of single friends and make it a thing, or you find a date and feel pressured to hook up with them by the end of the night.

This is not a problem in the third grade. 

Valentine’s Day in elementary school means a class party. I have vivid memories of filling out valentines for each of my classmates, trying to cram my long name written in the enormous penmanship of a 9-year-old onto the miniscule “From” line.

The valentines themselves were nothing special. They were tiny, with images of kittens or puppies, silly jokes, bright colors — or, if you were really fancy, pictures that would move when you tilted the card. The ones with candy taped to them were the best.

But they were fun. Each kid would get a box full to take home and look through. It was about having a good time, doing something thoughtful for your friends, and making everyone feel included.  

Elementary school kids have it right when it comes to this holiday. It’s going to be corny, it’s going to be plasticky and fake, so why not include everyone and have a party?

Nobody in the third grade cares whether you have a partner. They just care if you brought Blow Pops or Pop Rocks.

So let’s go the elementary school route. Include everyone, single or taken — but add a twist. Instead of leaning so far into the forced romance of this commercialistic holiday, I say we go the other way.

Exchange anti-valentines with friends that have (good-spirited) insults on them. Take a big group to a thrift store and buy ridiculous outfits for each other to wear to dinner. Go bowling and make the person with the worst score perform an opera rendition of a Lizzo song.

Whatever activity — or lack thereof — you choose to participate in this Valentine’s Day, consider making it a priority to invest in your non-romantic relationships. Consistent, stable friendships and familial connections are some of the most important bonds in life.

Think about ways you can express your love for everyone in your life, not just your partner. But please don’t buy a teddy bear holding a heart. Seriously, what are you supposed to do with those?

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