The Catholic Case for Galentine’s Day

This year, both Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day will take place on Feb. 14—an unusual event in our calendar system that last happened in 2018 and after this year, will happen only one more time—in 2029—before the century ends.

Feeling conflicted about whether you should be eating those chocolate candies out of a heart-shaped box from your beloved on the same day you begin to abstain from sweets for 40 days? Here’s an alternative: This year, try celebrating Galentine’s Day with your gal pals on Feb. 13.

Celebrated on the day before Valentine’s Day, this relatively new, unofficial holiday found its origins in Season 2, Episode 16, of the NBC sitcom “Parks and Recreation” that aired in 2010. Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) hosts a brunch for her girlfriends, presenting them with gifts that include mosaic portraits of each friend “made from crushed bottles of their favorite diet soda” and spiral-bound, 5,000-word essays about “why each of [them are] so awesome.” 

Our best friendship doesn’t get a sacrament or ceremony. But we also know that doesn’t mean it’s less holy.

Leslie Knope’s Galentine’s Day model is at the extreme end of a continuum, but many women have genuinely embraced the holiday and celebrated it in some way since the episode’s premiere. While Valentine’s Day can feel alienating or exclusionary for people some, Galentine’s Day is a chance for women to honor their female friendships, share in community with one another and celebrate the platonic love that friendship can provide.

My best friend Meg and I talk every day. I cannot remember a period of time when we have gone more than two or three days without speaking to one another by text, phone call or the occasional voice memo. We’ve known each other since childhood but became bound to one another when we were partnered in the same small group on a Kairos retreat in high school. From then on, our friendship was cemented. She is brilliant, kind and gracious. I talk about Meg the way the couples in our favorite rom-coms talk about one another: She completes me. She is my person. Sharing how much we love each other happens every day, but Galentine’s Day is a designated time to celebrate that love. 

Part of our friendship includes speculating about our future romantic partners. Weddings are a topic Meg and I discuss, romanticize and plan extensively, frequently. We imagine that our weddings will be extravagant and raucous, and we often share songs with one another that we plan to have the D.J. play at our receptions. Neither of us plans on getting married anytime soon, but our conversations often include how heartbroken we are that our relationships with our future partners may be recognized by the church, sanctified and celebrated in an official way, but our best friendship doesn’t get a sacrament or ceremony. But we also know that doesn’t mean it’s less holy.

“Nothing is more romantic than the intensity of mutual connection,” writes bell hooks in her book Communion: The Female Search for Love. “Deep, abiding friendships are the place where many women know lasting love,” says hooks, and nothing could be more true for a friendship like Meg’s and mine. Female friendships are a distinct form of friendship because they can include the true closeness and emotional intimacy of romantic love, but without the romance. That emotional intimacy is something that many women give and receive more openly and more often than men traditionally do. That love, given freely and seeking nothing in return, models the love that God has for us. We may not have a sacrament to bind us, but our love is sanctified and solidified in our true commitment to one another.

Scripture shows us just how strong female friendships can be. Perhaps the most prominent example is the bond between Ruth and Naomi. Ruth, the daughter-in-law of Naomi, is a Moabite woman and the widow of one of Naomi’s sons. After her husband and her two sons die, Naomi implores Ruth and her other daughter-in-law, Orpah, to return “each of you to your mother’s house. May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. May the Lord grant that you may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband” (Ru 1:8–9). Naomi wants a stable and secure household for these two women. Orpah chooses to stay in Moab in hopes of finding a new husband, but Ruth clings to Naomi, refusing to leave her. She says: 

Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me (Ru 1:16-18).

Ruth’s commitment to Naomi illuminates how vital friendship is to our very being. Ruth rejecting “going to her mother’s house” and staying by Naomi’s side is a commitment to a love of God that is active in their friendship. In a time when women were regarded as property and child-bearers, Ruth and Naomi, in claiming their status as widowed women, are bonded together by their friendship. Ruth’s words, “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay,” are a serious declaration to make. Having left her family, losing her husband and having no children, Ruth is essentially resigning herself to a life of poverty as an outcast by being with Naomi and not seeking another husband. 

This kind of commitment is what true, abiding friendship calls us into. I’m not saying we must always give up this much to be in a committed friendship, but Ruth’s promise to be where Naomi is illuminates an essential part of friendship: sacrifice.

In an article in America in 2016, Eve Tushnet wrote that “the greatest friendships in the Bible are sites of sacrifice,” speaking of Jonathan and David’s commitment to one another in 1 Samuel as Jonathan sacrifices his kingship and relationship with his father to honor the friendship covenant he has made with David. The same kind of sacrificial friendship is modeled by Ruth and Naomi. Ruth is willing to sacrifice a life of social and presumably fiscal security and clings to Naomi, knowing that God is at work in their relationship. 

Ruth’s promise to be where Naomi is illuminates an essential part of friendship: sacrifice.

The notion “where you go I will go” is true in the physical sense for Naomi and Ruth, as they journey to Bethlehem together, but it is also true in the emotional depths of their relationship. When the two women arrive in Bethlehem and Ruth encounters Boaz, the man she will eventually marry, she is rewarded by Boaz for her faithfulness to her friend; “I’ve been told all about what you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband…. May the Lord repay you for what you have done” (Ru 2:11-12).

Though she is not beside her physically, Naomi, through her uncompromising friendship with Ruth, is still “with” her and informs how Ruth acts as a wife to Boaz. Because Ruth and Naomi love one another, Ruth trusts Naomi completely when Naomi tells her to “gain favor” with Boaz so that he may marry her. Never do they leave things to chance but instead, emboldened by their commitment to one another, they actively work together to better one another’s social standing. Their friendship is one of resilience and empowerment. 

bell hooks writes that the closeness of female friendships informs the kind of romantic love many women want to receive: “knowing how to give love, we also recognize the love we want to receive.” How we love informs how we want to be loved. I have come to understand “deep, abiding” love at work in my life because of the support and sacrifice of friendship.

Being in love, both platonically and romantically, means going where our beloved goes. But what does this mean in practice, since it’s not often that I can pick up and go to Meg’s side when she needs me? I cannot always literally go where she goes, though because of our closeness, I often feel I am alongside her when she tells me that she is going to try a new coffee shop in her neighborhood or asks me which rock salt she should buy for her icy sidewalks (two questions I received in text messages from Meg just while writing this essay), even knowing I don’t have the answer. I’m not with her in the cafe or the home improvement store, but I’m with her, always. 

Our friendship supersedes the space between us and we can go where each other is emotionally. I can share in her difficulties and struggles, in joys and happiness because wherever she goes, I am there with her offering the support, laughter and encouragement she needs. A call to friendship is a divine call, one that serves the good of another.

When Meg and I went off to different colleges, leaving our shared hometown and entering into a new chapter of our lives, she wrote to me:

“It doesn’t matter where you are, I am always with you. We will always have each other.” 

Where you go, I will go.

First appeared on www.americamagazine.org

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