Faye Rozario, Staff Writer
Love is in the air. And the store fronts. And your e-mail inbox. And on social media. Yes, love —the chocolate-dipped strawberry and plastic heart kind— is quite literally everywhere . If you don’t have a special someone to celebrate with this year, the overwhelming romantic propaganda is most likely nothing more than an insufferable reminder of your single status. It becomes more bearable, however, when recognizing that Valentine’s Day campaigns aren’t reminding you to love, but rather to spend.
The historical background of this holiday stems from the legend of St. Valentine, which was popularized in the 15th century. In one version of the tale, Roman Emperor Claudius II banned all marriage for young men, convinced that soldiers without wives would perform better at war. Valentine, a priest and evident hopeless romantic, proceeded to defy the law and marry couples in secret. Other alterations of the story presume that Valentine himself was in love. They stipulate that while imprisoned just before his death, he sent a letter to his beloved, signed “from your Valentine.” Despite their slight differences, all variants of the legend end in Valentine’s martyrdom. Obviously our modern interpretation of the holiday falls short of this legacy; what is an overpriced gift or Instagram post in comparison to a man who quite literally died for love?
The commercialization of Valentine’s Day has distorted the holiday’s true meaning, and directed much of society’s attention to material displays of affection. Heightened consumerism surrounding this day creates a certain expectation for both gift-giving and receiving, one that has to do largely with dollar amounts and little to do with personal sentiment. According to a survey done by the National Retail Federation and Prosper Insights & Analytics, the average American consumer will be spending $165 for this Valentine’s Day. This is a $32 decrease from the 2020 survey findings, as a result of the pandemic. The observation of market trends shows that in the week before Valentine’s Day, the sparkling wine, chocolate, and flower industries all experience extreme profit spikes that contribute significantly to their annual revenue. And these figures are only increasing with each passing year.
The data speaks for itself; consumerism has overridden the spirit of Valentine’s Day and made it into another beast entirely. There is no doubt that the consistent increase in average spending surrounding the holiday has to do with the superficial culture that has been built up around it. Social, entertainment, and advertisement media have all conditioned us to believe that Valentine’s Day is an occasion for extravagant — and expensive — grand gestures from a person to their significant other. The nature of capitalism is to target the insecurities of the masses and manipulate them for their own profit. For someone who is in a relationship, that means being pressured into spending more for your partner. For someone who is single, it means resenting being excluded from the commercial Valentine’s buzz to the point where you hope not to miss out next year.
The exaggerated hype surrounding Valentine’s Day works to exacerbate the feeling of loneliness and inadequacy that most single people experience during this time of year. It implies that if a box of chocolates and a bouquet of flowers aren’t involved in your plans for the day, you don’t know love. This is wholly untrue. Valentine’s Day, as we know it in this day in age, is merely a cog working within the capitalist machine to conflate organic human relationships —romantic, platonic, and familial— with consumerism.
It is not any fault of your own if you are unable to play into the money-burning culture of this holiday, whether it be due to your financial or romantic circumstances. Though there is mounting pressure from a variety of outlets to give and receive love in dollars, there is no set rule or timeline that legitimately constrains you to this narrative. So, for all the cynic singles in particular who are scorning Valentine’s Day this year, just remember: one step forward on your own is two steps backwards for capitalism.