A few weeks ago, I announced our Valentine’s Day plans to my boyfriend: we were going to throw a party. I love Valentine’s parties. They’re a fun way to make sure all are loved and not alone in the world, while providing an opportunity to wear red. Dave shook his head in disagreement. He had other ideas: he was going to cook me a romantic dinner. There would be candles and three fabulous courses, complete with the scary exotic vegetables that he loves. (Radicchio, anyone?) To cement his argument, Dave declared that Valentine’s Day parties are for single people—that’s the point. And we’re not single.
Oh, how short is the male memory. Last Feb. 14th, Dave and I spent the evening as strangers at an off-campus Valentine’s Day party. Over mixed drinks of various shades of pink and red, we chatted. He apparently didn’t consider me an option that evening because I seemed “too classy” (read: too sober). Instead, he had eyes only for various other, less attractive women, whom he must have seen as “less classy.” Some consider Valentine’s Day to be our anniversary (awww…), though due to the bartender, the host and various other “not classy” women who might have been distracting him that evening, this date is up for debate. Dave became not-single not because of a heroic act of his will, but because of Valentine’s Day.
Like Dave, there are many others who are equally unappreciative of the Candy Heart Holiday, though usually with better logic. Valentine’s Day has been criticized for turning what should be daily expressions of love into commodified love, where feelings are replaced by cute teddy bears. It is also criticized for encouraging people to express their love on a designated day in a designated way (usually involving flowers), instead of consistently through language in long-term, caring relationships. These are true. The holiday is also condemned as a commercial fiesta, a tool of the business world to increase sales of flowers and chocolate for a random 24-hour period. This, too, is true. In fact, I have already extended the Hallmark Holiday into a full month of consumer spending by showering Dave with Valentine’s stuffed animals and ample Valentine’s candy since mid-January.
Such feelings of resistance have spurred the creation of the Anti-Valentine’s Day movement, which is characterized best by Anti-Valentine’s Day bashes featuring dead flowers, black everything and deformed hearts. Some take the extra step and add deformed teddy bears with loving messages like “Screw You” and “Romance is Dead,” alongside stuffed black body bags. The movement is strongest in New York City, though Boston has its fans as well. This year the Bukowski Tavern—named after Charles Bukowski, that poetic champion of healthy relationships—is hosting its annual “F—k Valentine’s Day” night, which bans such Valentine’s standbys as hearts, chocolate, sappy music, displays of affection and any other signs of healthy relations.
Unfortunately for the single and bitter, Anti-Valentine’s ideals are relatively difficult to impose on a society steeped in Valentine’s spirit from childhood. Think back to your rosy youth. Valentine’s Day is a mandatory holiday in elementary school, where small hands spend the evening hours of the 13th filling out 18-24 tacky cartoon cards with individualized verses of poetry, such as: “Happy V-Day. Sam.” (It makes you want to go look for the U-boats.) To cement this genuine exchange of emotion, Sam has to pass out one card to everyone in his class, even the kids he doesn’t like.
By the time high school rolls around, student groups have realized that they can cash in on Valentine’s Day and make some dough off of unexpressed high school angst. The frenzied flower-selling activity in the hallways—“Buy a Rose for Community Service!”—spurs frantic discussion among the cliques. Should you send one to your secret crush with a cryptic message? A real message? Should it arrive during math or English? Do you think you even have a chance? Thus student groups increase their budgets—and often their ubiquitous social “slush funds”—with the cash cow that is Valentine’s Day. It is the American way, the model on which corporate Valentine’s Day is based, a model many unhappy souls would like to demolish.
Though we all like a good cause, there are some things worth fighting over (such as avoiding war with Iraq), and other things not worth the energy. Valentine’s Day is one of the latter. On the 14th, realizing the sugar-coated materialism that drives the holiday is more important than destroying it. It is the holiday of cheap plastic figurines filled with low-quality candy, on which I will spend a romantic evening with my sweetie at a homemade meal, followed by a Valentine’s party. More importantly, it is the holiday that provides us with Feb. 15th, the day that my favorite food, candy hearts, go on sale for twenty-five cents a pack. Last year I bought eleven packs, all of which were gone by March. Like the green candy hearts say, Happy Valentine’s Day.
Arianne R. Cohen ’03 is a women’s studies concentrator in Leverett House. When it’s not Valentine’s Day, her column appears on alternate Mondays.
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