Ah yes, that time of year again … Sandwiched between the mid-winter January blues and the early-spring optimism that comes with festivals such as Easter or Passover, St Valentine’s Day is the perfect antidote to keeping the spirits going. Okay, so Valentine’s Day was not created for that reason. While there are various interpretations from where St Valentine’s Day originated, the day as we now know it, is a day to celebrate all things relating to romance and to love.
For me, and with the risk of sounding like a curmudgeon, I view the day with a tinge of cynicism. Don’t get me wrong, I would, of course, not pass up the offer of a romantic meal cooked for me or candle-lit dinner out (perhaps at a Michelin star restaurant …?! On reflection, maybe I am setting my expectations a little too high) but I do feel that St Valentine’s Day is viewed by businesses as another money-making scheme to boost their profits in the traditionally poorer trading months of January and February. And the figures seem to show it: last year, in the UK, £620m was spent on cards and gifts, with the average spend a heart-stopping £60. When compared with Easter, where the comparable spend was £41, St Valentine’s Day is a commercial bonanza.
I ask myself: why do people go gaga for St Valentine’s Day? Surely, there are countless other days to demonstrate your love and commitment for your significant other? And why devote just one day a year to do this? Why not declare your love every day, in words and actions, free of charge? And when you strip it down, and take away all the cards that are posted, flowers that are given, chocolates that are presented, dinners that are paid for, and wine that is consumed, what is, ultimately, so special about St Valentine’s Day?
Being a woman, and having clearly stated my own reservations about the day, I wanted to explore the opposite gender’s perspective and so I canvassed opinions and thoughts from four male friends. Matthew, Lewis and Mike are in a relationship, while David is currently not (I’ve changed all their names in order to spare their blushes!).
While they all agreed that little was special about the day per se, with various words and phrases being banded about including ‘gimmicky’, ‘over-commercialised’, and ‘hype’, they all viewed the day, whether at different stages of a relationship or not, as presenting them with romantic opportunities. For those who are in a relationship, the opportunities varied from using the day to express love and commitment for their partner, to helping root a blossoming relationship, and ‘to up the romance’. David wondered if he could use the day to empower him to ask someone out. He didn’t mention any names so, sadly, no gossip there …
While these opportunities were reeled off, two key thoughts kept recurring: the inherent impersonal nature of the day, and the pressure to do something.
If it is such an impersonal, anxiety-inducing day, why bother jumping on the over-commercialised, hyped-up, manufactured love bandwagon that is St Valentine’s Day?
Yes, we all agree that it is impersonal, and couples may ‘go to a restaurant, alongside 30 or 40 [others] in that one room’, but everyone knows the score and all just play along. With that being the case, it can actually make the day a little more light-hearted. When David was in a relationship, he said he used it as an ‘anniversary lite’. What with all the hype in the run-up to the day, he said it was easy to remember and easy to organise. He contrasted the frivolity of St Valentine’s Day with other significant dates, such as anniversaries, where he felt the pressure to propose increased each year. For St Valentine’s Day, all other couples were doing the same, and he found it less stressful, with fewer expectations imposed, for that very reason.
What was interesting, however, was that while all agreed on the impersonal nature of the day, their responses to the feeling of pressure hugely differed. For Mike, he conceded that in the early days of his relationship, he may ‘have bought a rose for him or baked muffins’, he now, after five years with his partner, takes a far more blunt approach: ‘Frankly, Valentine’s Day means nothing to me’. I hope his partner feels the same … !
But for Matthew and Lewis, this pressure, welcomed or not, was keenly felt, with the onus being on the ‘males to take the lead’.
And the pressure is not solely emotional but financial as well, with David and Matthew conceding that most St Valentine’s Day bills were paid for by them. Eating out is seen as the traditional way to mark the day, and with the hike in prices of various Valentine’s ‘deals’ restaurants have on offer (deals being the operative word), it does add to the financial pressure.
So where is this pressure coming from? In part, from their other halves, with Lewis remarking: ‘if I didn’t get her a card, she would be miffed’. But also, from wider society: colleagues, advertisements, social media — the waving of the St Valentine’s flag is hard to miss in the weeks leading up to the day. And while Matthew, David and Lewis admitted there is an element of self-imposed pressure, there has to be a genesis for this … perhaps a sense that their partner would feel a little put out if nothing was done to mark the day? Is there some subliminal messaging that we women transmit to men about the need to recognise the day? I don’t know, but Mike saw it as potentially being ‘more important to women, in general, than to men’ and added, ‘I don’t see my gay friends really giving a s**t about the day at all’.
For David, currently single, and with the pressure off for the time being, what about his feelings? He remains ever the romantic optimist: he doesn’t mind the pressure to do something or pay, and is looking forward to sharing the day again with someone special. And, should the opportunity to ask a woman out present itself around St Valentine’s Day, he says he would invite her out to dinner.
For all four, the day has been used, and still is used by some, as an opportunity to demonstrate their feelings for partners. That is the positive side of St Valentine’s Day. It may be that for Mike, who is the least enthused by it, he no longer feels the need to be reminded of his commitment to his partner: ‘I don’t need a day to do that — I try to do that all the time’, he says. For David though, he sees it as an impetus to get back on the dating scene.
Pressure or no pressure, impersonal or personal, come what may, St Valentine’s Day is marked and noted by couples and singles alike. So while there is nothing intrinsically special about the day itself, it provides people with options and opportunities to display love and affection. Maybe, I should have a re-think on my sentiments and perhaps take a leaf out of David’s book and embrace the romance of the day a little more … .