No one loves cliché romantic gestures more than I do, so while I’ll never be against the Valentine’s Day tradition of buying that special someone a box of chocolates or an overpriced teddy bear, I take issue with the underlying notions surrounding the holiday.
My issues with Valentine’s Day stems from an overarching problem with the commercialization of love in modern society. The holiday reinforces the already deeply ingrained idea that expressions of love are only as meaningful as their dollar equivalent.
Social media only encourages unrealistic expectations. It inflates Valentine’s Day to its extremes, turning the day into a competition for likes and retweets instead of a sincere appreciation for the special people in our lives. This not only creates immense pressure for those already in relationships to appear picture-perfect, but also isolates single people, as evidenced by the 370,569 Tinder downloads in the first 13 days of the month in 2017. While more and more people are rejecting the romance centered traditions of Valentine’s Day in favor of activities celebrating friends and family, the holiday’s emphasis on spending.
According to the annual survey released by the National Retail Federation and Prosper Insights & Analytics, total spending on Valentine’s Day this year was expected to reach $19.6 billion, up from $18.2 billion last year. The numbers are the second-highest in the survey’s 15-year history, topped only by the record of $19.7 billion seen in 2016. Additionally, as business author Martha White pointed out in Time, both men and women who are in relationships want their partners to drop an average of $240 on the holiday, yet men say they plan to spend $98, and women just $71. This only exemplifies how we set expectations that, though we wouldn’t meet ourselves, supposedly prove how much a partner cares.
Valentine’s Day has become more of a duty rather than a valid expression of love or affection. Angeline Close Scheinbaum, an associate professor of marketing at the University of Texas at Austin, found that when surveyed, 63 percent of males and 31 percent of females feel obligated to give a gift to their partner for this holiday. Additionally, a 1994 study of 105 men found that though they primarily associated a feeling of love or friendship with Valentine’s Day, a sense of obligation was a close second.
There is the idea that love has to be performative, that one’s relationship exists not only for the benefit of those involved, but equally so for its audience. That is where Valentine’s Day crosses from a well-meaning holiday based on love into a competition for elaborate displays of affection that need to be topped again and again. It’s the national day of unmet expectations, centering around money and only made worse by carefully crafted images of our relationships online.