Look at Life: Valentine's Cynicism

12th February 2016

The Most Romantic Day of the Year? Or a cynical opportunity for retailers to offload the rubbish they couldn’t sell at Christmas?

By Jennifer Lipman

Tell someone that your anniversary falls in mid-February, and their inevitable comment is this: “a Valentine’s Day wedding. How romantic…’

Except it’s not. There’s nothing romantic about a festival that takes place at the chilliest point of the year, that requires gratuitous spending on tat and compels you to publicly declare your adulation for another human in the manner of a character in a Richard Curtis film. Nor about a celebration that exists
largely as an opportunity for retailers to offload the rubbish they couldn’t sell at Christmas.

When we set our mid-February wedding date it was entirely down to external factors: family commitments, work and such. The proximity to the Most Romantic Day of The Year didn’t cross my mind. And, if anything, it’s an albatross. Hotels naturally rack up their prices, so there goes the anniversary minibreak, and you can’t find a normal card anywhere.

I might be biased, of course, so let’s review the case against Valentine’s Day. There are the soppy love songs played on repeat for weeks in the run-up (like Christmas tunes, but worse because the payoff doesn’t involve time off work), along with the crimson-hued decorations in shops so that you feel like you’re browsing inside a giant candyfloss puff, and the tiresome one-upmanship from true believers being whisked off to Paris.

There’s the pretence that, by selecting a random day in February to give teddies trussed up with kisses, we are in some way communing with a Christian martyr. Because, obviously, even if the story is true, nothing says respect for religious sacrifice like a heart-shaped box of chocs.
Then there’s the fact it occurs in February, widely known as the dreariest month. In January you’re glowing after Christmas, and by March spring is in the air. But in February, darkness reigns, and it’s so cold the only sensible thing to do is to hibernate with a boxset. Nobody wants February to be about putting on a slinky dress. (Shrove Tuesday, also around then, makes far more sense, being, it’s the only day of the year when it is socially acceptable to eat dessert for dinner).

That said, I’d probably still be a Grinch about Valentine’s even if it fell in July. Not least because of how expensive the whole shebang can be. J Lo might have sung Love Don’t Cost A Thing, but Valentine’s is all about laying out to prove your feelings.

I’d give the world to my other half, but do I really need to splash out on a tacky card just to tell him? And then you’re expected to spend still more on the present (because a home-made voucher just smacks of having forgotten) or raid the joint account for a special (read, sub-par) menu at a restaurant crammed full of diners doing the exact same thing? Alternatively you can stay in, but then you have to contend with the forced jollity of being formal in your own home, when clearly you’d rather be in pyjamas because it’s a work night.

Or you can agree to a Valentine’s Day amnesty. The problem with this comes if you’re in a new relationship – ‘he doesn’t want to celebrate. He’s clearly dumping me’ – or if one partner chooses to ignore it, and the other doesn’t.

But what I hate most is that it’s so public. Our anniversary is personal, but Valentine’s Day is all about proving your contentment to others. It’s about a Facebook status showing off the roses you were sent, or a casual comment to colleagues about your fabulous plans. It’s about reassuring yourself that being in a relationship is superior to being single (even when it’s not) and reminding the world you’re a ‘we’ not an ‘I’.

If you’re single, it’s about proving to the world that you are Doing Okay. But even if you are, saying so is just an invitation for people to assume you’re merely trying to convince yourself of this. Contented singledom is a concept the media and advertisers simply cannot get their heads round; the message from 1 February onwards is that life is not worth living without a plus-one. For weeks you’re bombarded with marketing about deals for two ‘to get you in the mood’, when your V-Day will more likely involve frenzied Tinder-swiping or a boozy night with a similarly unencumbered friend.

Do I sound like a spoilsport? Yes? That’s what forced fun, and the Hollywoodisation of romance does to a person. Red roses as a surprise can be romantic; a fancy dinner can be something to enjoy. I’m not heartless; on occasion I’ve looked deep into my beloved’s eyes or brought him a present ‘just because’. But there’s a world of difference in doing it because you want to and because the calendar compels you to.

There is, though, one benefit to having married around Valentine’s Day. “Let’s boycott it; we can’t do both that and an anniversary in the same week,” we agreed when we tied the knot. And we’ve never looked back.

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