On Love: A Deep-Dive into Valentine’s Day

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Photo by Kaitlyn Ketchell

What do you think of Valentine’s Day?

It’s February now, which means that right around the corner is what’s potentially the most controversial holiday of the entire year. Yes, Valentine’s Day. It seems to be a day that people either adore or loathe (often depending on their relationship status, but we’ll get into that later). In this article, I’ll be taking a deep-dive into everything Valentine’s Day: history, traditions, reasons why it’s such a big source of contention, and more. So sit back, grab a box of those chalky candy hearts, and let’s reflect on Valentine’s Day. 

Now, to better understand Valentine’s Day, one must understand its history. Like many holidays, the origins of Valentine’s Day are not altogether clear. One story goes that Claudius II, emperor of Rome, outlawed marriage for some reason or another but Saint Valentine, objecting to the law, continued to perform marriages in secret. When Claudius II found out, he sentenced Valentine to death (how this is enough for someone to qualify as a saint, I’m not sure, but that doesn’t matter).

Another story goes that while Valentine was imprisoned, he sent letters to a girl he was in love with, one of them signed “From your Valentine” (sound familiar?). Are either of the stories true? Maybe. Like most legends, they might have roots in truth, but have been warped over time by exaggeration. Either way, there was at one point in time a man named Valentine who was later given sainthood by the Catholic Church. The Church then used Valentine to put a more Christian twist on the Roman festival of Lupercalia, which was celebrated in mid-February to honor the wolf who nursed Romulus and Remus. However, it took some time for the holiday to become widely celebrated. Some of the first popular celebrations of Valentine’s day began in the 17th century. Then in the 18th century, the exchange of notes/tokens of affection became a more common practice on the holiday. Finally, in the mid-1800s, companies began mass-producing Valentine’s Day cards. 

At this point, it becomes difficult to trace an exact history of the holiday (which is strange considering that more things were written down than ever before at this time), but at some point between 1850 and the present, someone decided “Hey! What if we made this holiday an absolute nightmare for everyone involved?” Just kidding, I don’t think anyone actually said that. But it’s clear that the holiday has grown far from what it started out as. What was originally supposed to be a celebration of love has turned into, quite frankly, an obnoxious money-spending festival.

Apparently, the average customer will spend anywhere between $100-200 on Valentine’s Day, which (in case you think that number seems high) includes everything from chocolates and candy to flowers and romantic candle-lit dinners. That’s messed up. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with spending money to treat the person you love, but that much money? Every year? It seems excessive to me, especially considering how many of the things people are buying for Valentine’s Day are mass-produced and, well, predictable. If you’re in a relationship, it’s expected that you get some sort of Valentine’s Day gift for your significant other, which almost takes some of the meaning out of the gift. It’s like saying “Hey, I feel pressured by society to get you an object to show that I love you instead of showing that I genuinely care by reminding you of my love every day and not just when it’s expected of me.” I am of the opinion that if you really want to show someone how much you appreciate them, you shouldn’t just tell them on special occasions like Valentine’s Day and other holidays. Also, surprise gifts are objectively superior in every way. 

Oh, and another thing I hate about Valentine’s Day spending? On average, men are likely to spend twice as much money as women. Hmm… I wonder why… that’s so bizarre… it’s almost like… men are expected to “treat their girl”… but women are never expected to “treat their man”… (if you can’t tell, I’m being very sarcastic right now) Anyway, I personally find it sexist that men are expected to buy women flowers, chocolates, etc. and take her out on a nice fancy date, but are women expected or even encouraged to do the same? When’s the last time you saw Valentine’s merchandise targeted toward men? Exactly. Almost all of it is created and sold with the intention of it being bought by a man and given to a woman.  

But enough about that. Let’s get into some real controversy. In my experience, it seems like a person’s opinion on Valentine’s Day is often based upon their relationship status. Single people often dislike Valentine’s Day because it serves as a reminder that they aren’t in a relationship, and in today’s society, people (unfortunately) tend to place their entire self-worth on their relationship status. Also, I think that many single people, especially those who have never been in a relationship before but want to be, resent Valentine’s Day because it makes them feel like they’re missing out, whereas people in relationships tend to look more favorably on Valentine’s Day.

However, it would be a lie to generalize and say that all single people hate Valentine’s Day and all people in relationships love it. There are plenty of single people that see Valentine’s as an opportunity to get cheap chocolate, indulge in some self-love, and remind their friends and family that they care for them. There are plenty of people in relationships that look with distaste on Valentine’s Day, thinking that it’s more about materialism than celebrating love. I find myself caught between both parties; simultaneously enjoying Valentine’s Day as a celebration of love but also loathing it as a holiday dedicated more to making money than anything else. 

I think one of my biggest problems with Valentine’s Day and the reason I’m so torn about how I feel regarding the holiday stems from the way it celebrates love. In our society, romantic love is held as the “highest” form of love, almost as if there were some love-pyramid out there in which romantic love is at the top, above other types of love like platonic and familial love. And speaking of different types of love, I find it strange that the English language only has one word for love. Greek is the most well-known language when it comes to different words of love, with various sources including anywhere from 7 to 9 different words, but there are plenty of other languages that have multiple words for love. Sanskrit has the most words for love out of any language, with roughly 96 different words for love, Tamil has around 50, Arabic has 11, and even languages like Japanese, Spanish, and American Sign Language have two or three words (or signs) for love. 

And yet in English, there is only one word: love. In order to differentiate between types of love, other words are required. I believe that because of the lack of words for love, the word “love” in the English language has become mostly associated with romantic love, and because love is associated with romance, romantic love has become the most important type of love in our society. Other types of love like the love between friends or the love between family members are valued less and surrounded by more taboos than romantic love. It can be considered strange to say “I love you” to your friends or to give them physical affection that is usually a must with romantic love. Teenagers feel pressured to be in romantic relationships in order to feel “complete” or “whole”, even though they aren’t actually happy in a relationship. 

It’s because of the way our society values romantic love at the expense of other types of love, especially on Valentine’s Day, that I have such a problem with the holiday. The theory of Valentine’s Day, a day set aside to celebrate love, is very appealing to me, and I think that it has a lot of potential. However, I think the holiday is flawed and has much room for improvement. If Valentine’s Day were a holiday to celebrate all types of love, not just romantic love, I could fully support it. If Valentine’s Day placed less emphasis on materialistic things and more on finding genuine ways to remind someone you appreciate them, I could fully support it. But unfortunately, that’s not what Valentine’s Day is. Yet. Maybe over time, it will grow into a better version of itself. We’ll have to see.