Here’s an exercise in imagination: picture what it would be like if all the holidays we celebrate during the year were exams. You have your no-brainers, like the Fourth of July, which would be akin to time-traveling back to that second-grade spelling bee you failed, but armed with your adult knowledge and vocabulary. There’s Christmas, which can take a hell of a lot out of you but is still manageable, like taking a test in college you diligently prepared for, but completely hung-over and on five hours of sleep. Then there’s Valentine’s Day. In terms of pressure and stress, Valentine’s Day is like being a liberal arts major thrown into the MCAT and told to score at least a 40… or else all the puppies and kittens in the entire world die. Along with your family, for good measure, of course.
Okay. Maybe we’re exaggerating. After all, we personally don’t know what it’s like to have the fate of the world’s cuteness riding on our backs. Hyperbole notwithstanding, Valentine’s Day can be more headache (or heartache) than anything else. If you’re single, you somehow have to survive the one day of the year that seems like it was designed to highlight that fact, and you have do it with a fake smile plastered on your face to boot. Before you start wiping your forehead in relief, don’t think that you’re exempt from the pressure if you do happen to have a significant other on this special day – anyone’s who’s ever survived V-Day with a beau knows just how much of a toll expectations can take, if not their own then those of their significant other.
Somehow (and by somehow, we mean through the process of commercialization), Valentine’s Day has become less about celebrating the genuine romantic affection you might feel for another person and more about conforming to the expectations that have come to be associated with the holiday. Chocolates and roses and greeting cards and diamond-encrusted jewelry – instead of being tokens of affections that people exchange genuinely, they’ve become requirements, the bare minimum. You’d be hard-pressed to get them to admit it, but we’d wager that most, if not all, of the people in relationships you know are expecting dinner, flowers, chocolates and then some from their beaus. If not those exact items, then at least some version thereof. This sets the bar, and every consecutive year becomes a benchmark that they have to surpass, forced to top themselves in a never-ending uphill battle against expectations. This is not their fault. There are sinister forces at work here, and they go by the names of Jared and Kay and Kevin. Their partners-in-crime? Hallmark, Mars, Incorporated and the countless other companies that have an all-consuming interest in making sure that dropping obscene amounts of money becomes a requirement and not an option on this holiest of commercial days.
Besides being completely unoriginal (because who really wants to have a cut-and-paste Valentine’s Day?), commercialized Valentine’s Day experiences like the ones described above threaten to make us forget the unique natures of our romantic relationships. Valentine’s Day should be about appreciating the person and relationship that we are lucky enough to enjoy in our lives, and not anybody else’s. So why do we insist on celebrating Valentine’s Day in a way that everybody and their mama will be celebrating? Maybe this year we should focus less on chocolates and teddy bears and more on coming up with ways to genuinely celebrate that special person in our lives, in a way that’s as special as they are to us. This could be anything from recreating the first time we met our significant others, to having a marathon of the movies that we both love to acknowledging them by cooking them their favorite meal. The point is, we should take back Valentine’s Day from the clutches of the corporations that hold it hostage and make our own traditions. The day will take on a whole new, perhaps even better, meaning once we do.