So, yesterday was Valentine’s Day. As I see it, there are a few options for how to spend this day, based on your romantic situation:
1. If you’re in a fairly committed relationship, you can embrace it. Yes, it’s a capitalistic holiday which embodies the system at its worst (I’ll get to that in a minute), but it is important to reaffirm your love of one another. Amanda points out that striking the prefect balance on Valentine’s Day is difficult, even for the couples for whom the holiday was created (or so they say):
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.
If you choose to participate, be sincere. And please, don’t rub it in the faces of single people.
2. You can hate it. As Brian over at Gawker writes, this is definitely worse than couples who embrace it. Why?
Yes, Valentine’s Day is a despicable propagation of the hetero-normative monogamy fallacy that plagues the world, telling everyone that they have a “soul mate” and one special person to complete them and anyone who isn’t in such a relationship is a worthless piece of shit who doesn’t deserve to be loved and probably dresses bad and needs more time in the gym.
However, the reaction to these sentiments is just as knee-jerk and trite. Hating Valentine’s Day is a sad fucking cliché. On the outside its says, “I hate the corporate structure that built this shitty holiday” and “I’m doing fine on my own, thank you,” but what it says on the inside is, “I am so sick of not having the validation of someone in my life that I need to rebel against this thing or I am going to wither away like a dried toe nail clipping in the garbage.” These people think that they are going to do something to change the couple-centric world that we live in, but all that they’re doing is giving credence to it. It’s like scowling at the concept but sneaking handfuls of chalky conversation hearts while all their fellow black-wearers go to change The Smiths record.
Sorry for the long quotation, but he says it so well. It’s like that age-old advice our parents gave us about bullies at school – acknowledging them only gives them power. This mantra can be applied to pretty much any oppressive institution in society, and capitalism (and its holidays) churns on thanks to a consistent stream of consumers who buy into its existence. In being anti-Valentines, you’re simply acknowledging its presence. Also, you end up buying more crap.
3. You can ignore it. Treat it like any other day of the year. (More on this in a bit).
4. You can use it as an excuse to be kind to those close to you. For me, this involved a fun evening out with my best friend and a long phone call to the parents (in which my dad promised he’d always be my Valentine. Swoon.) Nothing wrong with baking cookies, drinking wine, and checking out a movie. As one of my friends says, “Cute is fun.” So be cute, have fun, done.
As I mentioned, I spent the day with my roommate. We went out to Silver Spring for dinner and a movie. That movie was Valentine’s Day. Reviews abound, so I’ll be quick in saying that the movie did a good job of affirming my categorization of possible ways to spend the day. There are characters in full-on Valentine’s fervor: proposals, packed prix-fixe restaurants, massive amounts of money spent of floral arrangements, expensive lingerie, and the like. There are also a few characters filling the anti-Valentine’s role: Jessica Biel’s character throws a particularly depressing anti-Valentines party, complete with a heart pinata ready for pulverization. Jamie Foxx plays into scenario three, choosing to ignore the day. Taylor Swift lost several points in my book for being a horrible actress. Overall, the movie was unmemorable – not that I expected anything more given the reviews. Still, though, I was heartened by the final message of the movie: that the day should serve as a reminder of who and what is important in our lives (#4).
Director Gary Marshall (of Pretty Woman fame) was clearly attempting to make an American version of Love Actually, and in that pursuit he failed miserably. He also didn’t fare well in terms of perpetuating particularly progressive or feminist values (“Valentine’s Day stumps for teen abstinence and marrying your best friend, and warns that career women may end up alone.”) And yet, the movie has some highlights. Two prominent characters are in a homosexual relationship. Anne Hathaway’s character is an empowered, sexualized woman who calls out men on the double standard they are imposing on her for taking control of her sexual expression. And, as mentioned before, one leaves the theater with the distinct feeling that one does not need to be in a monogamous heterosexual relationship to be happy, on this day or any other.
Final reflection, as emphasized by the plethora of chocolate-pounding women on screen and in ads last week: Valentine’s Day is harder on women than men. Even with the message expressed in this movie, the majority of images and messages in popular culture distinctly demonize single women, professing that we must be unhappy and unfulfilled. (Because of this, you should either find a husband, or, for god’s sake, go buy some chocolate and anti-Valentine’s gear!!) Unfortunately, this inundation can take a toll on even the most enlightened feminist, making choice #3 (ignore the day) a bit harder. The best remedy for that sucky feeling? #4. Time with those close to you is the best possible reminder that no gaudy gift – rose, thong, bear, jewelry, or otherwise – can replace friendship, something that many forced monogamous relationships lack. If this is the real purpose of Valentine’s Day (and I remain unconvinced that the majority of society believes that), then each day should be Valentine’s Day. Be excellent to each other. The end.