Is Valentine’s Day really something to celebrate? The question never really used to crop up in my life because of a bizarre and prolonged curse that resulted in me always being single in February.
There were many years in which February neatly lined up with a break between relationships, and for all that time my reaction to Valentine’s Day was the standard single person reaction: eye-rolling, mock-charging cynicism at those in relationships.
For me, Valentine’s Day was an exercise in defiance against the world – filled with drunken hedonism, all-night parties and having fun with my single friends. We would expound on the shortcomings of being tied down and the uselessness of men.
Then the curse broke and I raced towards my first non-single Valentine’s Day with slight excitement that I could participate in the love-fest but completely unprepared for how seriously some people take it. I woke up to a treasure hunt through the flat with presents and reasons why I was loved along the way. It made me feel incredibly valued, but also guilty: my little box of chocolates looked a little sheepish.
As with all traditional events, you never know how other people feel about them until you’ve been through the first awkward one together. Some will love them; some don’t see the point and one of you will always make more effort than the other. It applies to Christmas, it applies to birthdays. In fact Valentine’s Day is a little like marriage in that regard. Some people really don’t believe in it, but they have to weigh up whether it is worth sticking to their principles and refusing to partake in it if that will just be interpreted as a lack of love by a partner who buys into the system.
“Anything that is mass produced cannot be a fair or worthy way to celebrate or commemorate true love between people.”
Part of me (If I’m honest, the overwhelming majority of me) thinks that Valentine’s Day is a vacuous, commercial and tacky event. It is driven by crass economics, not cupid. Restaurants can sell more if they theme accordingly, chocolate manufacturers and trinket vendors will be handsomely rewarded for taking the thought and the effort out of “making someone feel special.” We’ll all throw money at them in gratitude because we’re too lazy to invent all the symbolism from scratch.
The whole industry that has grown up around Valentine’s Day is all style and no substance. Without putting too hipster a point on it, anything that is mass-produced cannot be a fair or worthy way to celebrate or commemorate true love between people. Really loving someone means understanding their idiosyncrasies, their sense of humour, their tastes and preferences. It’s about specifics and particulars, not picking out a greeting card that has been given to countless other people around the country.
It should mean being able to know exactly what will make your partner feel loved and appreciated, and I have no doubt in my mind that that is not the same for everyone. For me it would certainly be more about how someone behaved than how much they spent on flowers. I almost feel like if you’re not going to go to all the effort of doing something really meaningful, then you shouldn’t bother with Valentine’s Day at all.
Why should the middle of February be a particularly good time for outpourings of love between two people anyway? They will have far more significant dates and milestones in the calendar of their relationship. An anniversary is surely a better time to celebrate your love?
But the gesture is well-intentioned. Perhaps too few of us remember to create our own personal, special days for each other because we’re too busy. It’s all well and good to lament how generic Valentine’s Day has become, but making an academic debate out of it probably misses the point. It really is just about the gesture.
While it’s impossible to love someone you don’t know very well, you can still like them a lot. February 14th could just fall too soon to know if you love someone, but there’s no harm in letting them know you think you might one day. After all, Valentine’s Day was initially conceived as a festival of courting. So perhaps it’s better suited to falling in love than actually being in love.
In serious relationships the gestures and the dates and the ways of demonstrating your love should relate to the specifics of your relationship and the characters in it. But until you get to that point, there’s no harm in a safe, heart-shaped chocolate to help you get your point across. And try not to take it personally if the size of his chocolate heart doesn’t quite match the size of yours.