Have the long-stemmed red roses wilted yet? Did he bring you a heart-shaped box of candy, even though you’re always on a diet because you think your behind is too big? Are you now the proud owner of a random piece of expensive jewelry and no place to wear it? What about all those “seasonal” items? The red, pink, and white M&Ms? The special red-foil-wrapped chocolates? The grocery store layer cakes? Was dinner out enjoyable, or a mob scene because everyone else was eating out on Valentine’s Day, too?
Isn’t it about time we examined this compulsion to let commercial “holidays” rule our lives? Why have we swallowed whole a Sunday ad circular and taken it as our guide to behavior? Would we be any the less if we did nothing on Valentine’s Day, and did something personal the week before? Flowers, candy, greeting cards, and expensive jewelry are all available every day of the year. When we follow a herd mentality in celebrating Valentine’s Day with ritual gifts dreamed up by commerce, we’re crossing off a social obligation, or we’re “getting into the spirit of things.” But we’re not being romantic.
I don’t expect anyone to go back in time to an era when Valentine’s Day was just another saint’s day in the religious calendar, but considering the amount of stress people put themselves under, and the expense some go to, it’s worth examining what makes a romantic national holiday. The answer of course is: nothing. You can’t manufacture romance out of a sense of obligation, or out of newspaper ads. You can make Valentine’s Day easier for unimaginative people by creating ways for them to express their feelings without expressing their feelings. The entire greeting card business is based on this idea.
So why has a simple card or a bouquet of flowers turned into an entire day out, a weekend getaway, dinner at a fancy restaurant, or the gift of a piece of diamond jewelry? Is this just another manifestation of Americans’ drive to excess? Ramped-up expectations where every year has to be a bigger deal than the year before? Perhaps. If you end up feeling let down or tapped out despite all the expensive show, then maybe it’s time to change your idea of what a perfect Valentine’s Day should be.
The flip side of compulsive consumer excess on Valentine’s Day is the reality that we have millions of people who do not have a romantic sweetheart. By making this big public show on February 14th, we shut out our widowed parents, our single cousins, our divorced coworkers, and a host of others. I like the elementary school approach to Valentine’s Day the best: Everybody gets a Valentine’s card, and everybody gets a cupcake.
If your pricey Valentine’s Day roses (notorious for wilting fast) have already begun to hang their heads, and the calories from that box of candy or lavish dinner out are weighing on your mind, why not talk to your honey about what the two of you can do to include others in Valentine’s Day in the future? How you could make the day special for the people you know, or even for people you don’t know? Now that would be romantic, the two of you dedicating Valentine’s Day to showing love to other people, together.