Valentine’s Day is the most contentious of cultural celebrations. Pancake Day receives few complaints, Saint Patrick’s Day is widely loved, and little objection can be made to Mother’s Day. Celebration seems to be engrained in our cultural consciousness; we want to celebrate anything and everything, so why is Valentine’s Day so controversial?
Perhaps Valentine’s Day as it is generally understood is simply outdated. The idea of chivalric courtship, of romance as pursuit, doesn’t translate well in a 21st century context. In light of the #MeToo movement, the most well intentioned box of chocolates from a ‘secret admirer’ can take on far more sinister connotations. Our understanding of love has been primarily shaped by romantic comedies, novels, and songs; often these art forms romanticise pursuit and persistence. They say never take no for an answer, make the object of your affection ‘yours’.
Courtship is no longer cute, but cringey at its best and creepy at its worst.
Valentine’s Day has been inextricably tied up with this understanding. Over the past decade, we have struggled to unlearn these ideas about love and romance, and maybe the rejection of Valentine’s Day is part of this cultural shift. Many people have been made uncomfortable by unsolicited and unreciprocated displays of feeling; courtship is no longer cute, but cringey at its best and creepy at its worst.
Creepiness aside, perhaps it is the commercial aspect of Valentine’s Day that makes it so contentious. Putting a price tag on your affection is a jarring contradiction to the sentiment of the day, and ultimately makes it stressful, joyless, and very unromantic. The mad scramble to find something personal among the supermarket shelves is one that leaves you with little faith in love. Often, it results in a mid-range card, some mid-range chocolates and the dawning realisation that your affection is profoundly mid-range itself.
We should end the Valentine’s Day debate and treat it as an excuse to do nice things for the people we love.
Although Valentine’s Day invites a great deal of cynicism, it can be appreciated as another excuse for celebration. Arguably, that is all the modern holiday is. Christmas, for example, is celebrated by many different people of many different religions. It has come to be an occasion for friends and family to gather together and express their appreciation of one another. Perhaps we should end the Valentine’s Day debate and treat it as an excuse to do nice things for the people we love, embracing our own interpretations of what this means. When detached from its cultural associations, Valentine’s Day is simply about expressing affection. What could be more cute than that?
Last modified: 9th February 2020