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Against Valentine’s Day

By Amanda Marcotte
Saturday, February 13, 2010 19:59 EDT
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I don’t know how to feel about this article by Tracy Quan giving cheeky Valentine’s Day advice to people in a variety of romantic entanglements that indicate that said people are immoral bastards. (With the exception of a sex worker who needs to make her client believe she’d love to spend the day with him, but of course would rather not. Sure, it’s lying, but men who pay women to pretend they enjoy fucking them cannot expect honesty from said women. Also, I don’t really care if you’re dating your boss. Stupid doesn’t equal evil.) My general feeling about giving advice to sleazeballs, cheaters, players, and liars is that said people don’t deserve advice that might improve their lives. They deserve every inch of the fallout from the situations they create, you know? On the other hand, I thought the advice was actually pretty good and Tracy is funny. So, conflicted.

But what this all does for me is just really reinforce how much I’ve come to hate Valentine’s Day. The article is perfect for Valentine’s Day because it encapsulates that ugly, mercenary approach to romance that is widely celebrated in our culture, even though we totally pretend that’s not what we’re doing. Tracy’s just honest about it. For instance:

Some of you gals simply refuse to end a romance before Valentine’s Day because you can’t say no to a present—and a few can truthfully state that their early-March breakup was purely a coincidence. But after you’ve just received that expensive bottle of perfume or the La Perla undergarment set (which you’re now free to wear with your next romantic conquest), is it really possible to call it a day without making your Valentine feel exploited?

In other words, how to exploit people while playing it off like that’s not what you’re doing.

Now, I realize that most of us actually don’t feel that way at all, and we believe in twu wuv with all our hearts, and don’t think it’s a material enterprise in the center of it. One of the most popular Bible verses around—embroidered endlessly, hung in kitchens nationwide, touching even to those of us who sneer at its corniness—is Corinthians 13:4. “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.” I’m sure that verse has been read aloud at many a boastful, proud, expensive-as-fuck wedding. Hell, I know it; I’ve heard it. And no one seems to pick up on the irony. The fact of the matter is we’re encouraged to be boastful, proud, flashy, and envious when it comes to love, in no small part because it makes a lot of people—florists, diamond dealers, fashion designers, even chocolate makers—a whole fuck ton of money. And we buy into it, because flashy displays of money spent to demonstrate love make us feel validated, which is a basic human need.

And I probably wouldn’t hate Valentine’s Day if it was effective at making people feel validated, but in my long experience with the holiday, the ugly truth is that Valentine’s Day rarely works out how we want it to. On the contrary—both Valentine’s Day and the wedding-industrial complex work to make people feel insecure and competitive. Flowers get sent to a woman in her office; every other women who doesn’t get flowers feels bad. Or maybe everyone gets flowers this year, but the woman with the biggest bouquet “wins”. Single people are made to feel like losers. Coupled people worry that their gestures of love aren’t good enough. Gestures that fit the stereotypical romantic gestures—flowers, chocolate, jewelry—feel generic and impersonal. But highly personalized gestures fail in the task of showing off to others how loved you are. At its core, Valentine’s Day is some dark shit. (And yes, I realize that a lot of people are going to leave comments explaining how they and theirs have figured out the perfect way to enjoy the holiday, and bully for you. But you’re one of the lucky ones, which you know on some level, which is why you’re bragging—which ironically puts you into the same vicious cycle I describe here.)

I’m all for holidays, presents, and gestures of affection, I really am. I love Christmas, for instance. And birthdays. But these occasions don’t carry the same weight. The intent behind the presents is usually not much more than, “Look! I got you something! Hope you like it!” (Though due to heavy amounts of advertising around the holidays, the Valentine’s Day thinking—where men especially are expected to make a gift of something gaudy and useless that their wives can display to others as proof that they’re loved—is starting to infect Christmas, too.) It’s very hard not to get sucked in to the cultural pressure to analyze Valentine’s Day gestures for deeper meaning, especially in a culture that loves reading the tea leaves of romance. No good comes of this. So, I have decided to stop honoring Valentine’s Day. I don’t go out to dinner with my boyfriend, or cook a special one at home. We don’t exchange gifts. It’s incredibly relaxing not to have that pressure to prove something to ourselves and to others. It’s nice to let go of the guilt of making others feel bad if they don’t have someone, or their someone didn’t get them as cool a gift. I highly recommend it. Bonus points if you can get other conscientious objectors to join you in doing something that is neither celebrating Valentine’s Day nor pointedly not celebrating it. Perhaps if we all ignore it, it will finally go away.

Update: I like the idea that Jane Austen would agree with me.

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
 
 
 
 
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