Valentine’s Day is an old holiday but that doesn’t make its modern incarnation any more profound. It is now just a coercive exercise in gift giving. And the business community has really stepped up. Everything is more expensive and every place is more crowded. Valentine’s Day is, above all, a pain for all of us who are not interested in celebrating it.
But I understand the argument in favor of it. “While Valentine’s Day may have the philosophical depth of the greeting cards people buy in its honor, it’s great for the economy!” I used to go along with this reasoning for all holidays. But in the modern world, I’m not sure that’s a good thing.
Dictated gift-giving usually represents the purchasing of garbage. Most people know the experience of getting useless gifts on Christmas. That’s even more true of Valentine’s Day except that the expectations are more rigid. But that only means that people know they will get things they don’t want ahead of time.
Among the people who involve themselves in Valentine’s Day, there just isn’t much need. By and large, people have what they want — at least that’s true of the people who find themselves going to expensive restaurants today. Valentine’s Day is the second busiest day of the year at restaurants — only Mother’s Day is busier.
Capitalism and Forced Consumption
This is a problem with capitalism. It doesn’t matter how much people consume, the nature of capitalism is to always push people to consume more. There is no end. People are never sated because consuming does not fulfill any need.
And we are well past the point where we should know that our consuming habits are hurting us. Whether it is global warming or global trash, capitalism does us no favor in pushing us to consume in the name of profits for people who don’t need them.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not against gift giving and restaurant going. Indeed, there are few things as wonderful as coming upon some little item and thinking, “My friend would love that!” I had that experience once with the complete New Yorker on disc for a friend of mine who loved the magazine. Delighting the people you love is great.
But these opportunities are rare and never come about in the brief period of time you are looking to fulfill some obligation for Valentine’s Day or Christmas. And so people get boring or awful gifts.
What people really want is some acknowledgment of their importance in our lives. And a quick trip to the store doesn’t really indicate that.
I remember a scene in The Four Seasons (1981) where Carol Burnett complains that Alan Alda doesn’t bring her flowers when she’s feeling down. He responds that he does bring her flowers. But she says he only does it when it makes him feel better — it is never done for her.
What We Get for Valentine’s Day
I suppose that some people take events like Valentine’s Day as a reminder to show their love. But in the vast majority of cases, people participate to avoid pain. They know that they are supposed to celebrate it, so they do. Even if their romantic partners don’t care about it, they look bad to others.
Romantic love is a myth anyway. It’s just infatuation and it dies quickly. So Valentine’s Day perpetuates a childish myth.
And what do we get in return? Overcrowded restaurants with harried servers and subpar food. Unwanted candy, flowers, and jewelry for her; unwanted candy, wallets, and aftershave for him. Environmental degradation. And disappointment all around.
Unhappy Valentine’s Day!