Thoughts on love as you scroll through social media today

Jordan Sellergren/Little Village

Americans consume fairy tales from birth.

Storytelling is ingrained in our DNA. So it’s no surprise we want Valentine’s Day to be full of rich chocolate, roses and showy displays of affection.

Materialism is ingrained in us, too. Take a peek at any social media feed on Feb. 14 and Feb. 15, and you’ll find an infinite scroll of flowers, cards and gifts designed to solicit likes, shares and envy. According to the National Retail Federation, Americans spent an average of $23 billion on Valentine’s Day in 2022. What does all that spending and gift-giving mean if we’re spinning some fairy tale for social media, but only half-present in the lives of the people we love?

Social media claws at us every second of the day. Dings and blinking notifications seduce us into watching mindless videos and perusing endless posts. Iowa’s combative political climate and the nation’s messy democracy keeps us tense and on guard. The rising prices of food and costs of living heighten our anxiety about the future. And, after countless surges and several rounds of vaccination, COVID-19 is still infecting and killing people, despite not dominating the headlines.

It’s stressful. Who wouldn’t want a little retail therapy and fantasy to distract us from the litany of issues we face? So on Feb. 14, retailers will beam. Consumers will search for the perfect gifts, while their anxieties are temporarily cast aside. Sparkly balloons and crimson flowers will add splashes of color to an otherwise bleak winter landscape.

Fairy tales will have you believing love is about finding happiness with another person. That love is solely about how we feel toward someone or something. It is that, but it’s also deeper. Love is an act. Love is in our feelings manifested into deeds.

I was reminded of this last month when my friend’s mom died of cancer. No one prepares you to care for a dying loved one. Her circumstances took me back to my mother’s death in 2005, after she battled a long illness. It took me back to the moment my sister and I stood beside my mom’s hospital bed. Alarms sounding. Nurses whizzing by. In the midst of the trauma, I calmly told my mom — the most beautiful soul I’ve ever known — to go get her rest. That we loved her. Tell our dad we said hello. We stood, breaking, holding her hand as she died.

That’s love, too — mixed with duty, sacrifice and pain.

My enjoyment of Valentine’s Day stems from my mother, who wrote sweet messages in our greeting cards and bought us gifts. She taught me to take note of life’s important moments and helped me understand its breadth. Back before technology and social media controlled our existence, our lives revolved around each other, not phones, tablets and games.

Today, photos and videos are king. We lose time searching for just the right angle and the best grin to elicit the most engagement. Moments mark photo ops, not holidays or life whizzing past us.

Love might be eternal, but life is fleeting. People are under the mistaken impression they have all the time in the world. So they half listen and turn back to their phones and ignore those who matter most. They miss life happening. In these difficult times when so many people are struggling with their mental health, we need to be present for the people in our lives. We need to exude love, and we need to let people know they truly matter to us.

Americans will spend billions this Valentine’s Day showcasing fairytale versions of their lives on social media. But it’s the simple everyday acts of love that enrich us.

Black Iowa News has a shiny new website at This article was originally published in Little Village Central Iowa issue 011.