In “Galentine’s Day,” a Season 2 Parks and Recreation episode, Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) launches a holiday meant to be, as she says, “ladies celebrating ladies.” In the 2010 episode, Knope surrounds herself with her female friends, gifting them with essays about why she loves them so much and other heartfelt surprises. When asked what the holiday is all about, she exclaims, “What’s Galentine’s Day? Well it’s only the best day of the year.” Galentine’s Day is a party for women and by women, where women’s love for their romantic partners takes a back seat so they can really hold space to celebrate one another. “Every February 13, my lady friends and I leave our husbands and our boyfriends at home, and kick it breakfast style,” Knope explains.
A decade later, Galentine’s Day is now a surprisingly impactful holiday: Media ranging from Goop to NPR covers Galentine’s Day at length, offering readers ways to celebrate their female friendships. Brands capitalize on Galentine’s Day, pushing parties and discounts. And an array of books, including Eva Marie Taylor’s Galentine’s Day: 20 Hand-Drawn Cards to Tear, Color and Share with Your Favorite Ladies (2016) and Alicia Clancy’s Be My Galentine: Celebrating Badass Female Friendship (2017), focus on empowerment and levity. As Caroline Reilly wrote in a 2019 Bitch article, “Galentine’s Day reflects a long-standing desire to express love in non-romantic, non-heteronormative, non-commercial ways, no matter how much of a premium society puts on those forms.” In short, Galentine’s Day has an endearing concept: In a culture that prioritizes romantic love above platonic love and friendship, celebrating friendship is a surprisingly radical message.
But this message doesn’t land the same for everyone, especially queer women or other queer people who already don’t prioritize cisgender men in their romantic lives. Embedded in the idea is a sweeping assumption that women date and love and marry men, so that Galentine’s Day, taking place as it does the day prior to Valentine’s Day, offers women a sweet moment to put their friends first. Valentine’s Day itself and the expectations of how we celebrate it are overwhelmingly heteronormative. Even as some brands attempt to make Valentine’s Day more inclusive, offering LGBTQ cards and featuring same-sex couples in ads, we’re still inundated with advertisements for men to purchase jewelry for their wives, or for women to go get dolled up for their boyfriends. There are deeply gendered and deeply straight ideas about who Valentine’s Day is for and what it should look like—and for single women, the idea becomes that being partnerless means celebrating alone.
After all, what should a single woman do on Valentine’s Day other than cry into a bowl of ice cream? Seeing this scene is a signifier of the single-girl trope constantly embedded even within the most “empowering” pop culture, such as Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, New Girl, Hitch, Legally Blond, and Friends. The message is simple: There’s no way a single woman could possibly be happy without a male partner on Valentine’s Day. But what if she’s celebrating Galentine’s Day with a girlfriend instead? Alison, a 32-year-old lesbian based in New Jersey, says that Galentine’s Day isn’t particularly inclusive of lesbians or nonbinary people. “My relationship with Galentine’s Day is a little different than my friends, particularly because when I am looked at with my partners, we are often seen as, or even called, friends despite our open displays of physical affection. [It’s] frustrating.”
“There’s a major emphasis on Valentine’s Day that can be alienating because it’s so heteronormative,” says Janee Ronca, a 27-year-old white queer woman based in Boston. And there’s still pressure when queer people choose to celebrate Valentine’s Day: In a 2018 article for Feministing, journalist Katie Barnes writes, “Never am I more aware of my queerness and difference than on Valentine’s Day. I’m used to not seeing many queer people out and about, but going out for dinner with my partner on the most visible day for love is always nerve-wracking.” That’s the reason the concept of Galentine’s Day feels safer and more inviting to some queer women. “Having your own traditions or support system around this time can feel freeing,” Ronca says.
For Ronca, celebrating Galentine’s Day is a means of creating spaces that feel happily queer and free of the expectations typically associated with Valentine’s Day. “Knope celebrates it with the women in her life and tries to show her appreciation for her non romantic supportive female friends which I thought was cute,” Ronca says. “At the time we heard about it, my best friend and I were intentionally trying to expand our group of friends who were women, and who were queer, and trying to get to know new people, which was difficult because we’re both very introverted and anxious people. We used this as a way to invite new girls and expanded it to just non-men in general too, to include nonbinary and gender fluid friends and acquaintances and just generally not cis men.”
Galentine’s Day also feels like a natural outgrowth of the way queer people often construct their families. “As a queer person I do feel like I have a more in-depth relationship with it because the concept of Galentine’s is very queer,” Elizabeth Sellers-Bruch, a 25-year-old queer traveling poet, tells me. “As queer people we create our own families and communities and I think Galentine’s Day is a great way to have fun with the concept of found family. Showing how much you love your friends seems even more important for me as a queer person, to be queer is to welcome different types of love into your life and I think friendship is one of the most important forms.
Others agree that Galentine’s Day feels less limiting and exclusive than Valentine’s Day. “For me, as a young girl, celebrating Valentine’s Day was my first introduction to queer relationships,” Konstantina Buhalis, a 24-year-old queer POC and writer based in Michigan, says. “The closeness I felt to my friends was beyond any romantic relationship I’ve ever had. Celebrating it as a young age was also an introduction to sapphic relationships, and when I got older I immediately recognized mine and my girlfriends’ behavior.”
Galentine’s Day taps into the broader idea that all relationships, no matter if they are romantic or platonic, have value.
In some ways, it seems as if Galentine’s Day is less guilty of erasing lesbians and more guilty of offering straight women tips from the queer woman’s playbook: Look how fun life can be when men are decentered. By encouraging women to continue valuing friendship, even once they’re engaged in a heterosexual relationship, Galentine’s Day taps into the broader idea that all relationships, no matter if they are romantic or platonic, have value.
“A couple years ago, [my partner, now wife, and I] went to a Galentine’s party [where] all our friends’ boyfriends were not invited, but we both were despite being in a relationship—because the host felt we could just celebrate our friendships instead,” Alaina Lavoie, a 26-year-old communications manager and editor based in Boston, tells Bitch. “It’s a nice, cute way to celebrate our relationship both as friends, which we were before we dated, and romantic partners, especially since our first kiss was on February 15. I wish my close friends a happy Valentine’s Day and I make it extra cheesy for my wife.”
Instead of leaning into the idea of “gals being pals” and queer women inherently being friends, some queer people understand Galentine’s Day as a way of elevating friendship rather than lessening the impact of queer women’s romantic relationships. “All kinds of folks can find deep value in their friendships, but the holiday can be more meaningful to queer people because a lot of us treat our chosen families as true families,” Grace Quest, a 30-year-old queer nonbinary freelance illustrator and designer based in Phoenix, Arizona, explains. “A lot of us structure our lives differently than straight cis people, in ways that leave more room to value different types of relationships. I have always felt more loved when I’m engaged with my community, so I will always find it important to celebrate my community as much as I celebrate my partnership.” In the end, Galentine’s Day will continue being important, especially for queer people who want to be surrounded by their friends—all year round. “Showing how much you love your friends seems even more important for me as a queer person,” says Sellers-Bruch. “To be queer is to welcome different types of love into your life and I think friendship is one of the most important forms.”