Herd Instinct

By Poison Ivy,

Valentine’s Day, February 14th, has come and gone. Ah, but President’s Day is around the corner. Time to plan a festive meal with a red, white, and blue theme. Make a dessert with strawberries, white frosting, and blueberries. Maybe buy an actual flag, too. There isn’t much else to do on President’s Day except shop the big sales at the stores, but that’s the point, isn’t it? Commerce. I’m okay with that. I’ve never heard of anybody getting sad on President’s Day.

It’s a far different story with Valentine’s Day. It has been hyped to such a degree that now people have strongly unrealistic expectations that actively make them unhappy. They hope for lavish gestures from lovers, gestures pushed by ads in all media. If they don’t have sweethearts, then they are actively sad on Valentine’s Day. Worse, in advance of the day, people who aren’t in a romantic relationship get all miserable just because they aren’t—while supposedly, the rest of the world is miraculously happy on February 14th. I was surprised at the sighs and misery from people not looking forward to being alone on the 14th. One person actually expressed the hope that she would not be in tears on the day.

I’m gung ho on romance, but this is ridiculous. We’ve become a nation with constant quasi-holidays, fully half of which are propped up and pushed by commercial interests. Valentine’s Day was inspired by a saint, but has no religious rites associated with it. The customs we follow regarding St. Valentine are all commercially inspired. I doubt seriously that St. Valentine gave anybody a heart-shaped box of chocolates. Ever. He didn’t send greeting cards or flowers. But many multimillion dollar industries now depend on pressuring us to buy such items to celebrate this spurious holiday.

I’m not against red M&Ms, although teddy bears with red hearts on them don’t appeal to me. What I deplore is the sense of inadequacy over-hyping these secular holidays produces. Even as I write this, stores are clearing their aisles of Valentine’s Day flowers, candy, and all sorts of red-heart-themed items. I wish they could also clear the dark thoughts too many people suffer on Valentine’s Day if they don’t have a sweetheart. That’s the negative consequence of all these holidays. We have to do as the herd does, or we feel left out. On February 14th, not having a date, not receiving a romance-oriented present, or not being part of a couple often leaves people sad. They question all the life decisions that led them to this moment of singledom.

The irony is, we’re becoming a nation of singles. Marriage has declined, and the number of single people is fast approaching 50 percent. The Washington Post’s recent article about being single, “Some People Never Find the Love of their Lives. And Live to Tell About It” cites this fascinating statistic from the Pew Research Center: Only 51 percent of the adult population is married today, compared to 72 percent in 1960. Being single is more popular than ever. Living alone and liking it is more common than ever. Given this new reality, why should we care if February 14th comes and goes without the gift of a heart-shaped diamond pendant or a dozen scentless hybrid roses?

Somewhere, at any time of day, someone is having a good time. We don’t all have to go with the herd and insist our good time coincides with that of everybody else, or must be celebrated in exactly the same manner.