I’ll let you in on a secret: I hate Valentine’s Day.
But then, I despise all commercial holidays that have morphed from being about family, love, and friendship into a way to separate you from your hard earned money.
Valentine’s Day has ceased being a way to send a simple, sincere message of affection to friends and those close to your heart, and turned into a day where we feel obliged to shower loved ones with over-priced flowers, candies, stuffed animals, jewelry, fancy dinners and expensive electronics.
In the USA there is nothing remotely religious about the day named after a Saint. Our worshiping is done in the Temple of Amazon, where we honor Saint ProFlowers, Saint Godiva and Saint Echo Dot, as we meaninglessly toss consumer goods at one another in the name of love.
It’s true that Hallmark and FTD didn’t invent the day, but they sure helped move the prostitution along. Americans actually began exchanging hand-made Valentine’s greetings in the mid-1700s. Then, in 1848, a woman named Ester A. Howland used lace, ribbons and colorful pictures to make the first commercial mass produced Valentine cards. We let it build from there.
Up until the 1970s, and the advent of Credit-Cards-For-All, Americans mostly managed to keep the holiday low key. Elementary school children gave each other kitschy cards with bad puns that were printed on whisper-thin stock, and stuck inside envelopes that wouldn’t seal, while their teachers doled out handfuls of rock-hard heart-shaped candies that tasted like chalk and had things like ‘You’re The One’ or ‘Be Mine’ printed in red ink on the front. A greeting card with a Whitman Sampler was common for people who were dating, and a bunch of flowers and a box of See’s Candy for the wife were how the day was celebrated when I was a child. Back then a dozen long-stemmed roses was an extravagance few men made in the part of the San Fernando Valley where I grew up.
Valentine’s Day as a consumer event kicked in to high gear right about the time we were letting ourselves get manipulated in earnest by listening to the commercials that told us Christmas isn’t really Christmas until you’ve melted the plastic and spent more than you make to bombard your family with things they don’t need. It’s a siren song too many still listen to today – even after the crash of 2008.
The push for ‘cheap credit’ coincided with the relentless marketing of cheap electronics that the American market was increasingly awash in.
People weren’t done paying off their lay-a-aways from Christmas when television commercials, magazines and newspapers began to dun them into feeling obliged to lay out ever more cash to prove their luuuuurv.
Most of the ads from the 70s had the charming habit of pitching their wares via a ‘womanly chore’: Don’t know what to get the little lady? Give her a watch so she can time your 3 minute eggs. Or, if you can’t prove your love through jewelry do it with a Crock-pot!! Chef Joe Dimaggio says she can cook your dinner while she’s at that job you don’t want her to have!!
The ads may be slightly less sexist today, but the message is the same: Buy, buy, buy!!
Let’s face it – far too many people treat Valentine’s day like a competition. It’s not about love or affection. It’s about who has the biggest flower arrangement at work, or if you got the fancy Sherry’s Berries this year. That’s a shame, too, because it sucks the fun out of giving or receiving tokens of affection if you feel compelled to do it.
When it comes to Valentine’s Day tithing heterosexual men get the shortest end of that stick.
Let’s take a look at what the average man is expected to do for the average girlfriend or wife:
You’ll need to fork over at least $25 for a dozen long stem roses – tax and delivery not included, guys! A fun card is going to run you at least another $5.
Now the question is do you spring for a box of chocolates? ($18) A teddy bear with a heart sewn on its chest? ($15) Or some fun balloons? ($10) Maybe you steal all 3 for the low, low price of $30!
Chocolates and flowers are just the warm up for the main event of the romantic dinner, when prices have been jacked up for the evening and it’s standing room only in the waiting area. It’s so damned romantic to go to a crowded restaurant, only to be rushed through dinner so they can turn the table for the next poor fellow being coerced into buying a dinner he can’t afford because he’s been told he’s not a good partner unless he does so.
A guy can easily dish out $150 before the big reveal of the *actual* gift during the flaming-triple-chocolate desert. Maybe it’s a day at the spa, a cashmere sweater, a Fitbit, or an iPhone. Perhaps it will be some costume jewelry with a heart, or some high end baubles, if he’s feeling really pressured. There are endless ways you can shell out money to make a show at proving your love – and make no mistake that men are expected to be creative and excessive with this annual mini-dowry.
Speaking of proving your love and excess: Let us pause briefly for a moment of silence, and remember the brave men who choose *this* night to pop the question. Woe be to the man who doesn’t have the engagement ring baked into a chocolate soufflé, and presented during the middle of a flash-mob dance scene in restaurant, while it’s flawlessly filmed, so it can go ‘organically’ viral on Facebook.
People defend Valentines Day, and the colossal waste of money associated with it, by saying it’s nice to have a day that’s special and romantic. Agreed. But, what’s so special about February 14th that we’re manipulated into Pavlovian shopping and consuming?
Don’t feel obligated to set money on fire just because it’s half way through February, and the restaurant, flower, and jewelry industries are guilt tripping you into running up your credit card balance in the name of romance. Screw that.
My husband doesn’t love me any less if I don’t get appallingly over-priced flowers, or we’re not bum-rushed with the check in a frantic restaurant on the coldest week of the year.
Don’t get me wrong: My husband and I love romance – as long as we’re celebrating our love on our terms, and not letting retailers define how and when that happens. We refuse to be manipulated into spending money on a day that has no real meaning to our relationship.
You can make your own Valentine’s Day on ANY day you want, you know. (I hear flowers and candy are dirt cheap on February 15th)
When you do decide to honor the person in your life that you hold most dear? Do it to strengthen your bond, and not someone else’s bottom line.