As Valentine's Day creeps upon us, I encourage you to overlook this cringe-worthy occasion and make new plans with your best friends instead.
‘Hate’ might be too harsh a word, but I certainly have a strong aversion towards Valentine’s Day. Perhaps I’ve heard too many speeches from my cynical dad about the commercialisation of this annual celebration, but I simply cannot relate to someone who feels the pressure to do something (or feels like a failure because they’re not doing something) just because it’s 14th February.
Until recently, girls were taught from a young age that they would succeed in life if they found a boyfriend, or a husband, or a prince… just someone who would love and provide for them. Thankfully, fairy tales like Snow White and Sleeping Beauty are being retold in a way that presents the heroines as strong, independent characters who learn to love themselves over yearning to be loved by a man. Even better, children are now growing up with films like Frozen and Encanto, which focus on nurturing friendships and celebrating the women around them.
And while friendships have always been an integral part of most people’s lives, it feels like a fairly recent phenomenon to recognise them as something just as (and in some cases more) valuable than relationships.
Despite my distaste towards Valentine’s Day and the needless value or burden it adds to people’s lives, I have become enthralled by the recent introduction of an unofficial holiday on 13th February, comically dubbed ‘Galentine’s Day.’
If you didn’t already know, Galentine’s Day is a day to celebrate female friendships, and was coined by character Leslie Knope on the TV series Parks and Recreation in 2010.
Since then, Galentine’s Day has gained momentum and women across the world have been carving out time with their friends on 13th February - the eve of Valentine’s Day - to embrace being single and celebrate their self worth, outside of being in a relationship.
While the concept might seem a little trivial to some, friendship expert, speaker, and author Shasta Nelson told The Female Lead: “A holiday can give us extra motivation to express love and plan the moments that we sometimes put off due to being busy, distracted, or shy.”
“Having a day to celebrate our friendships reminds us that love in all forms is important, which is significant as we live in a culture that often idealises romantic love.”
Shasta Nelson has written several books on friendship, including ‘Frientimacy: How to Deepen Friendships for Lifelong Health and Happiness’. She says: “I definitely encourage everyone to take the opportunity to tell your friends how much they matter to you, and maybe even plan some fun quality time together that can continue to build the friendship.”
But prior to Galentine’s Day gaining popularity, many single women had already decided to celebrate Valentine’s Day with a cherished friend. Dolly Alderton, author of the award-winning memoir Everything I Know About Love, wrote in The Sunday Times in 2019: “I have precisely one single friend left. Her name is Sabrina.”
“Sabrina and I always have, and always will, celebrate Valentine’s Day together. Whenever either of us starts dating someone new and it looks promising, within minutes of telling each other about him, we inevitably say: “Don’t worry, Valentine’s Day will always be ours.””
She continues, “Love comes in many different forms, and one day we will, collectively and culturally, realise they are all equally important. Until then, remember on this February 14, and every other day of the year, that all love deserves to be celebrated.”
A few years on, and Galentine’s Day is now known to enough people that it will likely soon appear on most of the internet’s ‘awareness days’ calendars.
In a recent poll of The Female Lead’s Instagram audience, a whopping 49% of respondents said they were celebrating Galentine’s Day this year - a hefty amount for a holiday which is a totally unofficial alternative to Valentine’s Day.
For a long time, our slogan at The Female Lead has been ‘We Rise By Lifting Others’. It’s a phrase coined by our Founder, Edwina Dunn, who believes that gender parity will be achieved much faster if we learn to view women as our allies rather than our competition.
“We view Female Leads as people who gain strength from friends, family and mentors," Edwina says. "Women who help other women climb the ladder, rather than hold them back, will feel a greater sense of fulfilment.”
“Though it might seem frivolous, Galentine’s Day is just another way to recognise all of the amazing women in our lives and all of the incredible things they have achieved.”
“Volume two of The Female Lead book, ‘We Rise By Lifting Others’ does exactly that - it celebrates the stories of remarkable women and their outstanding achievements. It’s a wonderfully apt gift to give your friend on Galentine’s Day.”
Friendship expert Dr. Melanie Ross Mills agrees that women are brought up thinking they need to compete with each other, but changing this mindset can have a profound effect on our lives.
"We compare everything from one another’s brand of shoes to body weight to socioeconomic status to IQ," she told The Female Lead. "The list goes on and on. Until one day we realize that we crave true, honest, authentic connection in friendship."
"We transform into caring about the heart condition of our friend more than comparing, competing, judging, jealousy, etc. and all that comes with not only embracing our own worth, but the worth of others."
"This is why I love Galentine's. It’s all about loving our friends because we’ve also learned how to love ourselves. "
As we get older it’s all too easy to lose friends. Work, relationships and children take priority and we sometimes feel like we don’t have the capacity to fit anyone else in. But ironically, it’s friendships that can actually relieve some of the stress that comes with work, relationships and children.
Friendships create a great support system through tough times. There will always be moments in our lives that we need a friend’s shoulder to lean on, or a friend’s humour to lighten a situation.
It’s also important to remember that women live on average 5% longer than men, so there is likely to be a time in our lives when we need our friends more than ever.
84-year-old Doris Revill lost her husband nine years ago. She told The Female Lead that at that moment in her life, it was her female friends who kept her sociable. “When you lose your partner who you have shared your life with for all those years, you suddenly feel like you’re on your own.”
“My friends - many of whom I’d lost touch with - have since been a tremendous help. If I didn't have them my life would be very boring. I would probably find it very lonely.”
“I would like to think I've supported them in the same way. If we're feeling down we just pick up the phone and we’re always there for each other.”
“I’d never heard of Galentine’s Day until recently, but I think it’s a wonderful idea. If you have Valentine’s Day, why can’t you have Galentine’s Day?”
“Women can talk about different things - things our partners wouldn’t have been interested in. I love my friends! We have lots of laughs when we’re together. We look forward to the future and encourage each other to do different things.”
Though it might seem hypocritical of me to praise Galentine’s Day which is, in a similar vein, forced interaction with loved ones, most people either live with their significant others, or see them on a daily/weekly basis. It takes a little more effort to meet up with friends, which to me makes Galentine’s Day feel worthwhile.
Radhika Sanghani, author of ‘Thirty Things I Love About Myself’, is giving away two copies of her book to mark Galentine’s Day.
“Self-love is the most important thing we can give ourselves,” she told The Female Lead. “I've been actively working on loving myself for five years now and it's made my life so much better. It's why I wrote my latest novel - to help people do exactly that.”
“People criticise Galentine's Day for being commercial and trivial - but isn't Valentine's Day the exact same thing? If we're going to have a day to celebrate love, then why not also have a day to celebrate other kinds of love?”
“To me, it's lovely to have a reason to celebrate our girl friends and also ourselves. I love the idea of people practising self-love on Galentines, and giving themselves the love they might have always sought externally.”
Danielle Jackson is a publicist, friendship coach, and educator teaching women about the power of social (and business) connections. She told The Female Lead: “Celebrating Galentine’s Day is important because it’s a declaration of our commitment to platonic love.”
“Female friendship sustains us, and in a culture that emphasizes the value of romantic partnership, it’s critical that we take the time to elevate these kinds of relationships.”
Hundreds of people have been in touch with The Female Lead to tell us what their plans are for Galentine’s Day this Sunday. Amongst the countless brunches, trips away and picnics, were more niche plans, like puppy yoga, cabaret, vineyard tours and salsa classes. Many are also sending their friends gifts to let them know they’re thinking of them, including self-care books, homemade cards and care packages.
If you haven’t already made plans, why not reach out to someone you care about? Maybe someone you haven’t spoken to in a while, and spend the day celebrating yourselves and your friendship.
If you want to send a friend a copy of The Female Lead book, which is full of original interviews with inspirational women including Tarana Burke, Julia Gillard, Nadia Murad, Katie Piper, Jodie Whittaker, Geena Davis and Jade Thirlwall, click here.
For more free content on how to build stronger relationships with your friends, click here.
By Holly Droy
At The Female Lead, we want to make sure every child has access to positive female role models. If you want to read and share the stories of 67 remarkable women from around the world, you can purchase our NEW BOOK, or nominate a school to receive a copy for free.