Happy 'Friendship Day' — And Maybe That's a Good Thing

That's what another mother wished me as I was returning from dropping my son off at school today — and I must say, it warmed my heart. Our school is making a very pointed effort this year to emphasize that Valentine's Day is about all sorts of warm and friendly feelings, not just romantic love.

That always would have made sense in an elementary school population, of course, but I was hearing some loud beeps from my trend radar. After all, just about everybody has friends, but the latest population data find that more and more, we are a nation of singles, living alone. Might American demographics be pushing Valentine's Day away from romance? Can census data triumph over Hallmark?

I turned to Dr. Irene Levine, a professor of psychiatry at the NYU School of Medicine, "friendship doctor" for The Huffington Post and Psychology Today, and host of (Catch her excellent recent Radio Boston segment on friend break-ups here.) She emailed:

Here are a few thoughts:

1) Historically
It isn't new. The first handmade Valentine's Day cards in the 1800s weren't intended only for lovers. They also celebrated affection between friends and relatives.

2) Culturally
Other countries have traditionally viewed it as a day of friendship. On February 14th, people in Finland celebrate Ystävänpäivä, which is translated as Friend's Day. In Mexico, it is called the Día del amor y la amistad, the day of love and friendship.

3) Sociologically
Almost half of the U.S. population (48 percent) is uncoupled---and living single is a growing trend----so it makes sense that people would redefine the day.

4) Developmentally
I think it's a great idea to desexualize the day and to replace romantic love with friendship for kids that age! It also takes away the idea that you can only have one best friend---and opens it up to having many.

Hope this helps!

It did help, Irene — you are a very good friend...

This program aired on February 14, 2012. The audio for this program is not available.

Carey Goldberg Editor, CommonHealth
Carey Goldberg is the editor of WBUR's CommonHealth section.



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