Stanford Love Letters: The case for Galentine’s Day

Feb. 13, 2022, 3:08 p.m.

This article is the first installment of a new Grind series called “Stanford Love Letters,” a twist on the New York Times’ “Modern Love.” We hope to collect stories, including both essays and reporting, covering the topic of relationships — platonic and romantic — from the greater Stanford community. If interested, please submit to thegrind ‘at’ stanforddaily.com.

Hot take: As far as major sitcoms go, “Parks and Recreation” is better than “The Office.” “Parks and Recreation” has produced waffle-related jokes and viral TikTok sounds galore to keep brunch-loving, pop-culture fanatics like myself as loyal fans. The show has made many contributions to the modern internet landscape, and by far its greatest is the term “Galentine’s Day.”

I remember being confused hearing the expression for the first time when watching the show in my mid-teens. I was sitting on my living room floor painting my nails various shades of blue, with my mother in the kitchen. She was complaining about the fact that I was watching “Parks and Recreation” again. Sitcoms weren’t her favorite. Fueled by my own small version of teenage rebellion, I continued watching.

The episode started off with the women of the main cast exchanging gifts over brunch and sharing love stories. In the show, the unofficial holiday of “Galentine’s Day” is celebrated on Feb. 13. It is described as a day of champagne, female empowerment and “ladies celebrating ladies.” The pun didn’t make sense to me, although I was only half-listening to the television, instead focusing on not smudging my freshly painted nails. In those younger years, I don’t think I quite understood the term. At 15, I was making forays into developing my opinions about the world, and I believed we didn’t need consumer-driven celebrations for Valentine’s Day, let alone Galentine’s Day. I was staunchly anti-love holidays. However, the sentiment associated with Galentine’s still managed to stir a feeling of warmth in my younger, more cynical heart. Friendship was worth celebrating. 

Today, 12 years after the creation of the term, the Galentine’s Day phenomenon is inescapable. Dozens of articles pop up in my news feed every year offering advice on what to buy my best friends for the holiday. I see people hosting Galentine’s parties filled with heart-shaped cookies and chocolate strawberries to commemorate another year of friendship. The social media posts I see are dominated by the Galentine’s Day narrative where best friends get posted more than significant others. We’ve gone gaga for Galentine’s.

Galentine’s Day’s exponential growth seems natural given the current world condition. The pandemic suddenly tore us from friendship networks that brought support and purpose to our lives. The usual methods for friendship connection — dinners plans, in-person hangout sessions and taking walks around Target without buying anything — were suddenly gone, only to be replaced by paragraph text messages and hour-long FaceTime calls. As the months of quarantine dragged on, the paragraphs became short sentences and the FaceTime calls dwindled. Everyone (myself included) became absorbed by the weight of their own struggles. Many were caught in a feedback cycle of loneliness and fear of reaching out to old connections. Groups of friends became smaller as the difficulties of online connection placed strain on maintaining friendships. Those who had to devote more energy to their families lost friendships. However, over two years into the pandemic with no semblance of normalcy in sight, we’re more set than ever on finding new (if cheesy) ways to connect with old friends to make up for lost time. In light of the pandemic, Galentine’s Day is an act of defiance. It is an act of joy.

Instead of partners celebrating partners, Galentine’s represents a day where friends can celebrate friendships. It’s a holiday that goes against the traditional idea that romantic relationships must be at the forefront of our consciousness and praise. The day allows us to express the love and joy that accompanies close friendship and the idea of chosen family. It is a day to say that friendships of all kinds matter and add value to our lives.

I can’t help but think of what Galentine’s means to me now in the context of my social Stanford experience. Despite the amazing success of Stanford students, as a collective, many of us are unlucky in love. As I was trying to source ideas for my first story for this column, I spoke with friends and dormmates about their experiences in love. I had hoped to start the series with a positive student account of romantic love to inspire the community. Unfortunately, I found myself disappointed as I was met with stories of breakup after breakup, awkward hookups and very few online dating successes. I was reminded by my dormmates that for every student org putting together crush-grams, there is another putting together an event about how love sucks. It seems that romantic love is causing college students anguish. No surprises there.

While college is a time of relationship exploration, I can’t help but note that the emphasis is on the exploration of various styles of romantic relationships. This is a valuable time to gain experience in the arena of romantic partnership, but unless you are part of the small, lucky percentage of people that manage to find a happy long-term partner at Stanford, the most enduring and formative relationships you will make will likely be your friendships. Given the romantic state of Stanford’s campus, maybe we should be exerting more effort on the formation and maintenance of our friendships. Have fewer valentines and have more “pal-entines,” if you will. 

When I was a senior in high school and had recently been admitted here, I went down a Stanford YouTube rabbit hole watching all of the student-made videos I could find. A common saying from all the videos I watched was that what made Stanford Stanford was the people. At that time, I was skeptical of the truth behind that statement. I was in a state of mild panic, wondering if I would even be able to find a single friend once I arrived on campus. How could those students in the videos be so certain? 

That skepticism persisted once I got to campus as a frosh. I was overwhelmed, paralyzed even, by the sheer volume of people. Like many frosh, I found that my transition to college was marked by periods of loneliness and the fear that I wouldn’t be able to find “my people.” I was caught up in ideas of college friendship that I had internalized through the media — that I would find the best friends of my life within the first week of school. Our bond would be intense, immediate and unbreakable. Yet I had forgotten that many of the most meaningful friendships of my life up to that point had been built through time and that strong bonds can’t be forced. Throughout the course of that year, as I began to focus less on forcing bonds or on how much the people around me liked me, I relaxed more and was able to be receptive to people who resonated with me.

Now, well into my junior year, I’m fortunate to have found people who bring me joy. The people who charge me and make me laugh through the mention of obscure inside jokes. People who spark smiles. Unfortunately, the interpersonal victory is bittersweet. Due to the pandemic, my friends are spread across cohorts. The great dispersion of friend groups that occurs at college graduation has been expedited for me. Half of us will be gone and scattered around the world by the middle of next year, the other half finishing up undergrad. With that sad news in mind, Galentine’s Day this year is more important than ever. I feel fortunate to have the friends that I do and to be able to be a part of their lives.

But the state of college friendships as they exist is marked by a sense of urgency and impermanence. There will only be so many more months when we’ll be able to get meals together multiple times a week. As half of us enter the workforce and face regular schedules, late-night FaceTimes will become more impractical. We will likely live on different coasts or continents, physically distant and unable to keep up with the minutiae of each other’s lives. While the baseline values of a friendship may stay the same, the nature of friendship changes after graduation.

In the face of the changing current of time, I am now a proud supporter of love-related holidays. Galentine’s Day to me is now more than a funny phrase from a sitcom associated with girlbossing and mimosa brunches. It’s a reminder to cherish the moments I have with friends. To be present. To love.

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