Roar writer Charmaine Tan discusses the darker and often overlooked aspects of Valentine’s Day.
As Valentine’s Day approaches, many begin to flock to confectioneries, florists and jewellery stores; they make reservations at restaurants, plan movie nights, or simply look forward to spending the day together with their significant others. Love is still in the air, despite Covid restrictions and their efforts to foil all plans of a romantic getaway. 76% of the Brits still intend to celebrate this special day.
The origin of Valentine’s Day remains heavily disputed today. Some argue that it is derived from Lupercalia, an ancient Roman Festival with fertility and supposedly matchmaking rituals, though the latter was never really proven. Dissenters suggest an alternative explanation that dates back to the 200s A.D. when Roman Emperor Claudius II forbade men to marry in order to keep his army strong and numerous. Finding it unfair, a man named Valentine performed marriages in secret for the star-crossed lovers. He was later found out and sentenced to death in 270 A.D.
The second explanation seems to be a lot more relevant to the Valentine’s Day we know of today. Not that it matters anyway. Nowadays, we indulge only in the commercial aspects of this special day. We splurge to show our love, as well as for the ‘gram. We celebrate it to distinguish ourselves from the lonely singles who celebrate Galentine’s Day (13 Feb) or Single Awareness Day (15 Feb). But is it really worth it?
Commercialisation of Valentine’s Day
Valentine’s Day first became commercialised in the late 1840s, when the supply of paper skyrocketed, resulting in lower printing prices. Esther Howland is said to have been the “pioneer maker of valentines,” as she mass produced cards for this occasion.
Last year in the United States, an average person spent a record high of US$196.31 (approx. £143) on Valentine’s Day gifts, totalling to a national expenditure of US$27.4 billion (approx. £20billion). Restaurants and shops also take advantage of this day to come up with Valentine’s Day menus and sales, tempting the inner spendthrifts within us.
In order to earn more profits, companies then came up with the idea of anti-Valentine’s merchandise. Together with the fictitious Galentine’s Day (13 Feb) and Singles Awareness Day (SAD) (15 Feb), anti-Valentiners are also encouraged to spend on gifts for themselves or for friends, under the guise of promoting “self-care” and singlehood.
It seems like a whole commercial ploy, if you ask me. Whilst SAD is officially recognised, there is no reason for Galentine’s Day to exist, yet it is still celebrated across the world. Girls buy gifts for each other and celebrate their friendships. Don’t get me wrong: I think it’s a sweet gesture. Nonetheless, I don’t see any anti-Christmas and anti-Easter trends on the rise. So why is there a need for single pringles to find ways to rebel against February 14?
Perpetuation of loneliness
If anything, having special days to celebrate singlehood only highlights the fact that one is single. Although intended to promote solidarity among singles to eliminate feelings of loneliness one might experience on Valentine’s Day, celebrating your singleness simply isn’t going to help. You should be loving yourself every day anyway. At this rate, 13 and 15 February seem like pity responses to Valentine’s Day for those who don’t manage to find love before then.
This is proven by the surge in online dating activity seen every February. Singles resort to Tinder and the like as Valentine’s Day approaches, in an attempt to find someone to celebrate the day with. This just goes to show that instead of indulging in Galentine’s or SAD, many would much prefer to be celebrating on February 14. The anti-Valentine’s efforts haven’t really been useful in telling people it is okay to be single. If anything, it has only increased desperation.
A source of stress
That being said, Valentine’s Day isn’t necessarily oh-so perfect for those who have overcome the first hurdle of finding love. Unless you’re one of those anti-Valentine’s couples, it’s likely that your partner expects you to surprise them.
So you start worrying – about how to create the perfect evening, which flowers to buy, how much to spend, whether your partner will like it. If this is your first Valentine’s, you probably want to make a good impression. No pressure. If it isn’t, then you probably already have a baseline expectation to meet. You need to be original, creative, and not disappoint. Talk about stressful.
Compared to ancient Rome, we adopt a much more materialistic view of Valentine’s Day today. It is centred around the idea of gifts and spending to show love. Whilst it may be sweet to have a day totally devoted to your significant other, in reality you should already be doing that every single day, no matter how busy you are. Valentine’s Day shouldn’t be a one-day affair. Maybe I’m just a salty single, or the Grinch who stole Valentine’s, but I strongly urge you not to buy into the hype of this over-commercialised occasion.