Valentine's Day is part of the problem, not part of the solution.
100 million years ago, when I was in high school, I baked a cake for my high school boyfriend on Valentine's Day. The cake being too small in diameter, or my writing being too large, I had to shorten the cake's missive to "Happy V-D." As well as a matter of making words fit on an expanse of icing, this was a bawdy joke between teenagers; no one in the situation was (even remotely) battling an STD. My boyfriend pronounced the cake "awesome," and returned the romantic gesture with dinner out, possibly at the mall, and a gift card to Tower Records. It was the perfect February 14th outing for individuals who had not yet graduated, listened to tapes, and still lived with their parents. Months later, maybe a full year, we broke up.
But that's not why Valentine's Day is for suckers. This is:
After you graduate from high school and stop doing funny things like writing inappropriate messages on cakes on a whim, even baking cakes at all, the world begins to envelop you with insipid inanities, things that don't actually matter masquerading as things that do. You have obligations. People -- people you are dating, or married to, or have found yourself in the situation of owing -- get mad at you when you fail to fulfill those obligations, even if you didn't know of the obligations, exactly, or chose to pretend they didn't exist. People nag, punish, and make things miserable. So you go about the obligations as a matter of course, buying the Hallmark cards or flowers or chocolates or Mylar balloons or kisses from Kay, making the dinner date at the restaurant that will be packed with others attempting to fulfill their obligations so that you are ensured a meal and service more mediocre than usual not to mention the atmospheric pleasure of being surrounded by a bunch of mushy-faced PDAers desperate to prove something. If all goes well you'll head to one of your places afterward stuffed on too-rich food and attempt to fulfill the carnal obligation that may to some degree be the root of all the aforementioned obligations -- but generally you're so exhausted by the multiplicity of obligations, you're likely to simply fall into bed and thank God tomorrow's another day. The next morning, you'll awake with a cold pang of guilt in your stomach, which may be attributable to subpar foie gras, or might be the impending dissolution of your relationship over your substandard performance this Valentine's Day.
For what? So some marketers could make money? So Hallmark can stay in business another year? So the fraudulent story of St. Valentine continues to weave its dark, tortured spirit into your relationship? So your beloved doesn't weep, because without that box of heart-shaped chocolates he or she would be completely in the dark as to the reality of your love? Tip: Give a heart-shaped box of chocolates on Halloween, because then your loved one will appreciate it. Plus it will be way on sale at that point.
Also suckers: People who say Valentine's Day makes them feel bad, because it reminds them that they're single. Oh, no. If you don't wake up every damn day knowing you're not dating someone (or that you are), you've got other problems besides the existence of a manufactured holiday that reminds you of your personal tragic reality. Which isn't so tragic -- you can do whatever you want today, can't you? Some other suckers have to run to Duane Reade right now.
If we all could join hands across the Internet and say, no, we actually don't need this Hallmark card with a message better said directly between two humans on whatever day they please, nor this cheesy rose-petal strewn hotel room rented for one night of forced romance, nor, even, this new cherry red convertible decorated with a big red bow (OK, we'll take the car, but only on the 15th) on this particular day, we could do the world a huge service. For one, I could get a reservation somewhere decent tonight. And we could all help the economy, and ourselves, by spending our hard-earned cash on something that won't be eaten, die, or be thrown away by week's end.
You're not a sucker if you love someone and want to tell them so. You're a sucker if you only do it on Valentine's Day.
Jen, while I agree with you that Valentine's Day shouldn't be the only day to tell you someone you love that you love them, that doesn't mean the whole holiday should be gotten rid of. Talk about throwing the be-winged baby holding a bow and arrow out with the bathwater!
When I was in sixth grade, I got the girl (erm, hadn't yet figured some things out) I was "dating" (what does this mean in sixth grade?) a little, and I mean little, box of what I remember being Russell Stover but were probably some way cheaper Walgreen's brand of chocolates. I didn't get much allowance at the time and wasn't really that into the relationship (shockingly) so I figured she should be happy with just about any little gift I got her. She wasn't. We actually "broke up" that day, so offended was she by this paltry package (beginning a life-long series of disappointments in that arena, perhaps) and my complete unwillingness to apologize for it. She broke up with me because my Valentine's Day gift was too small. So, yes, Jen, that aspect of the holiday, that consumerism for consumerism's sake, is definitely a dumb thing for suckers and should be rethought.
But you know what was kinda fun about that whole sixth grade V-Day scramble? The comparing of what people got and what people did and how things went. That sort of Event day that makes the otherwise dreary mundanity of slogging through this gray old world collectively exciting. Who doesn't love a holiday?? And Valentine's Day is a holiday just like any other. Admit it, you rabid anti-Valentine's advocates: Even you find yourselves asking your coupled friends what they're doing for the special day, or have wondered yourselves what you and your partner might do. That's the fun of it — hearing the stories, the whispered plans, all that. A friend recently told me that he got his boyfriend tickets to the next Madonna stadium tour and that it was a surprise to be unveiled today. (Hope I haven't just spoiled it!) Isn't that fun? And can't we all, weirdly, share in the excitement of everyone doing big, goofy, romantic things for each other on the same day of the year? Sure, not everyone participates in Valentine's Day, maybe it feels a little cruel and exclusive sometimes, but it can be fun for everyone.
Which brings me to your second point about people who spend all their time complaining about the holiday. I'd agree with you, Jen, that sometimes they are suckers, but you know what? The hating of Valentine's Day, or at least the rebelling against it, has become its own kind of activity and that's kind of fun too! It's a collective anti-holiday that's somehow become its own holiday. And one doesn't even need to spend the day focusing on all the negativity of being miserable and alone and doomed to wither and die in some forgotten apartment, only to be found months later under a pile of unused Time Out New Yorks some day. Single folk can enjoy the holiday by going out with friends, or having friends over, or even just doing some weird thing by yourself that only you like doing. (No, not that. Well, yes, that, but not all night, sheesh.) Maybe you'd really like ordering cheese fries and getting Monte Carlo On Demand but none of your friends would. Well, who cares! As Donna Meagle would say, "Treat yo' self." That is a perfectly legitimate and fun way to enjoy Valentine's Day, while other people are enjoying it in their own ways.
Look, the world is a lonely and isolating place. It's rare that a town, or city, or nation, even, gets to bond together on one day to all do vaguely the same thing. So why try to strip us of that fun by branding us suckers? Love is wonderful! Whether that's love of a partner, of a friend, or of your damn self. Valentine's Day is a nice, albeit silly, day set aside for showy, performative demonstrations of that love. Show the world! Or show just your significant other! Or show yourself! It's Valentine's Day, so why the hell not?
-- Richard Lawson
Want to add to this story? Let us know in comments
or send an email to the authors at
jdoll at theatlantic dot com or rlawson at theatlantic dot com.
You can share ideas for stories on the Open Wire.