Christmas was barely over before heart-shaped boxes and the funny, sexy and romantic cards proclaiming love began popping up in stores.
The corporate push for coupledom can be depressing if you're single and would prefer to be coupled. It still can be irritating if you're happily single or coupled or worse, unhappily coupled.
Statistics show 52.3% of the nation's population isn't married. We know that doesn't necessarily mean single, but the number is significantly higher than the 37.4% of unmarrieds in 1976. More people than ever are living alone
, by choice or necessity. (Yes, your sister is happier having divorced that bum.)
Instead of ignoring all the lovey dovey stuff, let's expand the love we express at Valentine's Day to include ourselves, family, friends, community and the planet. Best of all, you don't need to shop today for most of these gifts. You can act on them anytime of year.
There's still a lot of anger in the world — and plenty of reason to be angry. But don't you feel better when you do good in the world? Here are a few ways to try.
Love for our fellow beings. People in my life will take off their scarves and gloves in freezing weather and give them to homeless people, and get them to a shelter because they know where the shelters are. "God on the street," is what some people call it, referring to the person they're helping (although it can happen without religion).
Do you see a homeless person who needs your help? If you're nervous about approaching them, why not call your local shelter and find out what people need? You can donate to a shelter helping the homeless, whether it's a meal or warm socks or protein bars and give them what they need on Valentine's weekend.
Love for nature. Celebrate nature and the centennial of the National Park Service by visiting Yosemite or Yellowstone National Parks or one of the nation's park sites in your state. (There is one in every state, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories.) We can be awed by the same beauty and power that inspired President Abraham Lincoln (who protected Yosemite in the middle of the Civil War), Sierra Club founder John Muir and President Theodore Roosevelt.
Can't make the trip this year? Start at home. Plant some seeds in a flower pot to grow flowers by Easter or parsley for your Passover plate, an idea we got from PJ Library
(to connect Tu B'Shevat, the Jewish New Year of the Trees, to Passover). Give herb plants for the person who loves basil in her pasta or mint in her drinks.
Love for good chocolate.
CNN has investigated the child slave trade in the chocolate industry, and there's no reason to celebrate love on the backs of children. Democratic farming cooperatives are gaining momentum, empowering farmers at a village level. A cooperative whose members grow beans sustainably can be certified by organizations like the Fairtrade Foundation, the Rainforest Alliance and UTZ. Certified beans command a higher market price and a premium on top that feeds directly back into the community.
Love for all the world's people.
More than 59 million people have been forcibly displaced from their homes, the United Nations reported in June. Yet there is hope to be found, writer Rebecca Solnit has said. "The grounds for hope are in the shadows, in the people who are inventing the world while no one looks, who themselves don't know yet whether they will have any effect," wrote Sonlit in her book, "Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities."
In the shadows of tragedy, workers and volunteers with the International Rescue Committee, Save the Children, Doctors Without Borders and many others do amazing work in spite of overwhelming obstacles to help those suffering. They could use our help.
Love for our children. It's a perfect day to remind our children of their love for humans and animals alike. My child's school allows children to hand out simple, homemade cards if they go to everyone in the class, no store-bought gifts and no exclusions. Handmade cards are wonderful.
We're also fans of "Here Comes Valentine Cat," with words by Deborah Underwood and illustrations by Claudia Rueda. Using a grumpy cat and a new dog in town, it teaches kids to think about others' points of view.
And why not let them join you as you bring assistance to a shelter or a senior center? They will care about their community if they see you caring about it.
Love for oneself.
What is your struggle? Is it a terrible breakup, eating too much junk food or worrying about your retirement
? Tackle the issue you fear most, and maybe you'll get through it. For terrible breakups, we like "The Wisdom of a Broken Heart" by Susan Piver. For financial messes, "The Index Card: Why Personal Finance Doesn't Have to be Complicated" helps those with an aversion to the potentially complex issues around financial planning.
If you want to drop the junk food and eat whole foods but aren't sure why, try Michael Pollan's "In Defense of Food." Prefer to go deep and political? How about "Decolonize your Diet" by Luz Calvo and Catriona Rueda Esquibel?
Love for your parents. No, really. Don't you think they would love to hear from you on this day about love? Note to self: Send flowers and call Mom.