It’s Valentine’s Day. If that’s not a concept you’re familiar with, let’s summarize it for you. The name comes from a Christian saint that nobody really cares about in the least because, realistically, he didn’t do anything worth talking about and is filling out the already-massive named saints list that is mostly populated with questionable figures who shouldn’t have qualified for an acknowledgement by their high school principal, much less an international religious organization. That, however, appears to be much the point of such organizations, turning useless people into role model figures to perpetuate their own influence. Rather sad, when they have so much power to do good in a world sadly lacking yet use it to expand dogma and supernatural silliness. A thought for another day, though. Onward we go — this is a day when a capitalist west has done what it does best, creating a reason for people to spend money or feel guilty not spending it. If you don’t demonstrate in an expensive and time-consuming way, everyone from your beloveds to your friends will feel left out and ignored, something that I have spent most of my life trying to achieve but apparently something that is not on the positive side of most humans’ experiences. You could go to a massive amount of trouble and put in the effort to make touching expressions of compassion and love. And I think that would be a very useful holiday.

Enter the Walmart generation, however, and you see gaudy pink hearts and overpriced chocolates, oversized flower baskets and perhaps the year’s most hypersentimentalized greeting cards. All in all, the laziness of people in the west is matched only by their all-consuming desire to be made to feel special. What is lacking in effort and work is quickly made up for by the application of huge amounts of money — if you can get away with flowers, chocolate and greeting cards under a hundred bucks, you’ll be doing pretty well and since this is completely additional compared to the already-mindless consumerism of Christmas, birthdays and the like, it’s probably not even figured into your lover-pacification budget.

What bothers me even more, though, is actually not the stupidity of the holiday itself, the overreaching of the church in creating a memorial day for a saint with no saintly characteristics or the sheer cost, which would be easily eliminated if people would simply look at it for what it is — perhaps it’s a nice excuse to express your love for someone but if you feel the need to receive gifts to understand that you are cared for, it’s time to reevaluate your life. The problem? I’m asexual and aromantic. This is a holiday designed to propagate many things — the economic benefits of a guilt-based culture and the notion that love is something you signify with your wallet rather than your words to name just two. But more than anything, it’s a holiday designed to indoctrinate each new generation with the necessary performance of romantic love.

While I certainly love people, I have no desire to go on dates with them, press my lips against theirs or have parts of our bodies rub against each other amid sweat and panting. I just don’t. I’m not that unusual in this, although I am well aware and reminded every day by the existence of popular culture just how much of a minority we of the ace/aro persuasion are.

To put that into a bit of perspective, though, romantic and sexual love is far more culturally-derived than you might imagine. There are no animals out there (not just most, absolutely all) who are not of the human species who engage in romantic love. It just doesn’t happen. I can even tell you why — you have to have symbolic language for the concept of love to exist. Humans have symbolic language. Animals can communicate, certainly, and their level of communication varies wildly by species. Whales and dolphins, for example, have incredibly sophisticated communication systems while cats and walruses don’t. Not that they’re stupid — you can only be stupid if you have the capacity for symbolic thought and communication and you don’t use it. They simply react to stimulus in the moment and learn through pattern-building. That’s how children learn, too, by the way, especially until their ability to learn is supplemented and eventually mostly-replaced by symbolic and theoretical structures.

So we created the notion of love through our human-specific thinking and cultural patterns. Animals definitely engage in pack behavior. Some even mate with long-term partners (and humans could definitely learn from some species’ devotion, given that most anonymous surveys put the percentage of adult humans who have engaged in an extra-relationship affair in their lives at somewhere over 80% — that’s four out of five people who have cheated on their partners at least once). But they don’t love their partners. Because they can’t without a symbolic, theoretical construct. So they can’t have romance because that, a symbolic and theoretical idea in its own rite, is based on the notion of love-for-sexual-contact. Animals mate. They don’t pursue with poetry and flowers, trying to convince their potential partners to be attracted to them. It’s almost always a male-desires-female pattern in which two things can happen. One, the male simply forces itself on the female. That’s quite common and it’s the norm in the overwhelming majority of animals — dogs, cows, cats, sheep, horses and the list goes on and on. Two, the male pursues the female until it either gives in and “allows” sexual penetration or selects another male. Lack of mating contact isn’t an option in the animal kingdom. Mating is a requirement and sometimes there’s the ability to select a mate but it’s relatively rare.

In humans, though, in theory there’s a difference. Sexual coupling has been culturally normalized to be about consent. It’s a bit of a myth. With sexual violence an almost-complete segment of the female component of human society (it averages out somewhere between 85% and 95% of women having or being expected to experience coerced or forced sexual activity in their lives), you could certainly think of humans in the same category as dogs and horses, where forced-penetration (otherwise known as rape) is the predominant human method of sexual activity. It’s certainly not that simple, though. Just because most women will experience it in their lifetimes, which is a horrendous disaster of its own and one that I have devoted much writing to already, doesn’t mean that most sex is rape. It might be but I suspect that’s the wrong word for it. Most sex is culturally-conditioned. If your potential partner isn’t coercing you into having sex, which does seem to be the norm — the times when both partners are enthusiastically consenting is far less than the times when one is trying to encourage the other who isn’t particularly interested but just doesn’t have the will to resist or the desire to be subjected to the moods that will follow, whether they be open aggression or the passive variety, the lack of sexual activity, which people have been taught is something they have a right to expect.

But that’s not where most of the pressure comes from. Society says we’re supposed to have sex. It is pressed on people by the use of sexuality to sell products and ideas. It’s an expectation. You get old enough and if you haven’t had sex yet, you’re mocked. If you’re not desiring it all the time, you’re told you’re not normal. You’re encouraged to pursue, expected to want it. We are all aware that if a child is told over and over that they’re stupid, they’ll believe it. If you tell someone every day they’re fat, it won’t be long before they start looking in the mirror and seeing the Michelin Man, regardless of their actual body shape. Someone might hear that they’re stupid a few dozen times before they start thinking it’s true. How many sexual references do you experience in a day? Whether it’s clothing designed to show off as much exposed skin as possible, especially around the breasts or high skirt lines to get as close to the genitals as possible without showing them outright, or jokes about sex, making it seem exciting in its forbidden and dirty implications or one of a thousand other versions of sexual discussions, there is the implication that if sex isn’t the focus of your every single day, you’re not normal.

People will change their behavior to be seen as normal. If you do that long enough, you’ll forget that it’s pretend. You’ll believe it’s part of your real self. That’s certainly not to say that having sex isn’t a natural thing or that it’s shameful. It can certainly be part of a completely normal human life and for most people it’s likely that it is a positive experience, preprogramming aside. But our society’s obsession with sexuality has led to huge, overwhelming problems. Firstly, it has propagated the notion of sexual partners as property. Secondly, there’s the assumption that sexuality is the measure of adulthood. Thirdly, perhaps most distressingly, it has led to people thinking of sexuality as a right, causing people (mostly men but not exclusively) to pursue with guilt, violence, shame and rumor their selected sexual partners, leaving them no effective way out other than submission to penetrative dominance.

Valentine’s Day is a celebration of an entire species subjugated into the cultural norm of sexual coupling. It leaves those of us with no sexual interest completely out in the dark and propagates the notion that asexuality is a defect, making us (whether ace, aro or both) valid targets to be ostracized and mocked — if sex is the norm, lack of sex must be a reason to see us as the other to be hated and to be punished. We are continuously forced to have sex by cultural or physical means and it is not at all uncommon for those of us who are young enough to still be in school to be outright told by educators that sexual desire is perfectly normal — that an absence of sexual desire is something we should hide and we need to pretend — that we’ll get used to it. There is a hateful notion that those who don’t want to have sex can be “cured” by being forced to do it. It happens every day, all over the world.

By all means, make the people you love aware that you love them. Give them whatever you desire to make them happy. Cook them beautiful meals and present them with chocolates and flowers. But for the love of all that is good in this world, don’t do it all on the same day and give those who are completely left out the freedom not to be forced to participate.