Rethinking Valentine’s Day

Happy Valentine's Day From Florida. US, 2013.

A common criticism of Valentine’s Day is that it was invented by a greeting card company. Even though I sympathize with that genre of criticism, I also find it contrived. Yes, Valentine’s Day is highly clichéd, and a vehicle for all sorts of crass interests. Still, it’s a rare occasion to publicly reflect on love and the significance of romantic relationships.

Most ideas about love are infantile. We’re obsessed with sex, specifically socially-sanctioned ways of accessing it, like marriage. Media often conflate “finding that special someone” with solving all of our problems. Love is always physical, making it prey to shallow prejudices like homophobia, and expectations for happiness that are impossible to satisfy. This deprives us of affection that can be found elsewhere. Sex is a part, but not the only part.

American romantic comedies tend to typify the problem. We’re obsessed with being loved, and wondering when someone will find us worth loving. Happiness is always found in a soulmate. Are we really worth it? What’s so great about us that someone should dedicate their lives to us? We need to move away from the idea of falling in love.

There’s an economic metaphor embedded in this kind of thinking, that makes me uncomfortable. It’s the proximity of self-worth, to having market value, as though we’re commodities, that troubles me. The superficiality is a dead giveaway. The idea of being lovable has little to do with strength of character, or moral worth. It’s more about packaging.

If we’re going to say that Valentine’s Day is meaningless, this is why. Commercial interests give us the fantasy because it sells, not because it makes us happier, more fulfilled people. It’s the height of irresponsibility, really. But, that’s what ideology is all about. In the absence of God, redemption comes through romantic relationships. If only that were the case.


Photograph courtesy of Kim Seng. Published under a Creative Commons license.

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