I feel compelled to comment on Valentine’s Day, but I find myself having great difficulty writing about it. I do not object to the acknowledgment of our loved ones and reminding them of how special they are to us. But I find that for many people, it has become the source of rigid expectations, judgment, and anxiety. And to this, I do object.
For those wanting some background history, Valentine’s Day started off as a pagan Roman festival designed to bring about purification, health, and fertility. Lupercalia (as it was called) involved animal sacrifices and some slapping of women with blood-stained strips of goat hide in a belief that this increased their fecundity (Freud would have a field day!). Likewise, there was sprinkling of this sacrificial blood on the crop fields in the belief that this would yield a larger harvest. There was also an interesting lottery that would take place which paired off the eligible singles as sexual partners for the next year, hoping this would end in marriage. When the Catholic church came around, it saw fit to change this festival to a more tame one. And so they convinced the converts that it was to be a remembrance of Saint Valentine, a martyr who displayed the ideal of agape (Christian love). Human beings, having the sexual nature that they do, brought this back to a celebration of romantic love and pursuit of a lover or partner.
Capitalism has done a wonderful job of promoting the “gifts” standard such that Valentine’s Day generates about $15 billion dollars in US retail sales. It ranks first for fresh flower sales, second for the sale of greeting cards, and third for chocolate sales. And along with this, many people feel obligated to participate by both judging others and being judged based on complying with these “standards.” If you find yourself thinking that a Valentine’s Day gift means that a person loves you, or the opposite – if you do not receive a gift, it means they don’t really love you – then you are participating in this harsh capitalist game. In fact, I believe that the obligation some feel to give gifts, or go out for dinner, etc., actually takes away from the significance of any such gift. I prefer my partner surprise me on a random day to tell me (truthfully and without coercion) that he loves me, rather than have him do it because he is being told that he should. Likewise, in the matter of sex, there is unduly pressure for couples to “make love” and have it go exactly as planned. But for many couples, this creates more anxiety than amorous desire. Although I believe that everyone should be having a satisfying and active sex life, it should be the result of readiness in the relationship, and not from an artificial and arbitrary expectation.
So do you find yourself suffering from considerable anxiety to “perform”, “put out”, “deliver”, or “come through” just because it’s Valentine’s Day? Are you spending more money than you can realistically afford? How do you define yourself and your relationship with your partner? Do you find yourself concerned more with having all the details of the day exactly follow a predetermined plan such that you risk upsetting your partner? I think it would be more genuine and create a lot less anxiety if we went back to the time of cutting out hearts on red construction paper and writing a small note inside. A small, personal gesture is often more intimate and more genuine than something more extravagant and commercial.
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