Sunday is that "holiday" that women tend to swoon over and men dread: Valentine's Day. Now, I have always been single on February 14th and this year will be no exception. I tend to put up a front of cynicism, referring to the date as "Single's Awareness Day (SAD)," or, more recently learned from a friend, "Bitter Single's Awareness Day (B-SAD)." Really, this is just a way to hide that I'm a hopeless romantic and lonely.
I think the modern reason for Valentine's Day is nice. It is a day for us to show that special person in our life what they mean to us, and thanks to mass marketing it is a date that everyone can remember (unlike, say, an anniversary). Few people know it started as a three day feast c. 197 called Lupercalia. Ancient Roman men would run around naked and whip women on the ass with goat-skin or dog-skin whips. This was thought to improve the women's fertility. Apocryphal stories of martyrs named Valentine dying on February 14 in c. 289 & 496, combined with stories that at least one of these men secretly performed marriage ceremonies for soldiers who were banned from marrying, gave way to the romantic history of the holiday. This would be further perpetuated by Chaucer, marriage courts in Paris, and Shakespeare in Hamlet, eventually getting us to fat, diaper-clad, winged babies shooting people with arrows, and heart-shaped, lace-trimmed boxes of candy.
Unfortunately now Valentine's Day has become horridly commercialized and an exceptionally high-pressure holiday. If you are single, it is practically a 6-week long reminder of your status, for once Christmas is over the stores explode with pink and red hearts. If you are in a relationship, the pressure is on for the best gift, the best day. This is especially true for guys. It has become the standard in society for men to have to go all-out on February 14th. If marketing is to be believed -- and unfortunately it does tend to shape sociological thought -- hetero men are expected to 1) purchase that expensive piece of overpriced jewelry that is now magically on sale, 2) get another unique gift, such as a custom teddy bear for about $80, 3) order flowers, which are coincidentally marked up between Feb. 1 & 15, 4) make the perfect dinner plans, and 5) give their female partner an amazing sexual experience. Oh, and don't forget the chocolates.
No pressure, guys.
Women, for their part, are expected to... um... look pretty? I have yet to see a commercial geared towards women and what a woman should get her man for Valentine's Day. I haven't even seen a lingerie commercial directed towards women, although I have seen them directed at guys (the gift for both of you). When did this become the day when men had to show women their affection, but not the other way around? Granted, most all of the women I know in marriages or relationships are good about doing something for their significant others. But we must be honest, there isn't the societal pressure on us that there is on guys. In fact, all this advertising has conditioned women to expect lavish gifts and attention from men.
Granted, I'm single, but I would honestly be happy for a quiet evening with an inamorata, just the two of us. The schedules most Americans keep preclude us from quality time. Is this something we're really going to achieve with a reservation at a crowded restaurant, where they want to turn the tables as quickly as possible to maximize the number of patrons on a special night? When did doing something together that both enjoy become so underrated?
My fellow ladies, I hope you'll stop and really appreciate your man and not put outrageous societal expectations on him. And men, I'm sorry this day has become so materialistic. Believe it or not, creativity goes a long way. That line, "it's the thought that counts?" Well, it really does.
So to my friends in relationships, congratulations. May you honestly enjoy your time together. And to all my single friends, it's almost February 15th.