As a perpetually single girl, I tend to turn into Bridget Jones come Valentine’s Day. I eat the entire contents of my fridge, drink several glasses of wine, and wait patiently for Colin Firth to knock on my door and declare his undying love. We all take part in this annual pity-fest, but why? I’m very happily single for the other 364 days in the year.
As cynical as it sounds, Valentine’s Day is a commercial construct. It is a billion-dollar industry. People in relationships buy each other expensive gifts, and single people buy themselves expensive ice-cream. Box-office rom-coms and pink, fluffy, cuddly, sickly merchandise, all boost sales of big companies. And we are there with our contactless credit cards at the ready, buying hopelessly into the fantasy that we will receive a Valentine’s card, fall madly in love, and live happily ever after.
THE REAL STORY SEEMS TO HAVE BEEN IRRETRIEVABLY LOST UNDER A PILE OF CHEESY CARDS AND EXPENSIVE CHOCOLATE
There is almost no correlation between the history of Valentine’s day and the culture surrounding it today. Valentine’s day is superficial- not dedicated to love but to the economic gain of big retailers.
Let’s journey back to ancient Rome, February 14th Pre-Christian Era. A woman is woken up, not to breakfast in bed and a rose, but by her naked husband, grasping the skin of a goat or dog, and spanking her repeatedly on the buttocks. This romantic gesture was thought to increase fertility, yet it doesn’t quite scream true-love, does it? We then take a trip to Circa AD 289, during the life-time of St. Valentine himself. A priest, imprisoned for secretly marrying couples under the anti-marriage totalitarian reign of Emperor Claudius. Valentine supposedly passed a note to his love through the prison bars on the 14th of February on the walk to his execution. It read, ‘from your Valentine’. While this story is plausible, it is highly unlikely, and historians struggle to sift out the facts from the myth.
And anyway, it bares very little resemblance to the Valentine’s day we know today. The real story seems to have been irretrievably lost under a pile of cheesy cards and expensive chocolate. In 1913 the commercialisation of Valentine’s Day began, as Hallmark produced their first Valentine’s day cards. The industry then quickly took off. In the mid-80’s the chocolate, flowers, and jewellery industries got involved, and by 2009 the US made approximately £9.2 billion in Valentine’s Day retail. So basically, Valentine’s Day is an opportunity for the big fat companies to get bigger and fatter, by making single people bigger and fatter when they stock up on the 15th of February reduced to clear heart-shaped chocolates.
Don’t take someone for granted 364 days of the year and suddenly decide to buy overpriced chocolates
In fact, the Valentine’s heart shape itself has no historical significance or, obviously, resemblance to the actual beating organ in our chests. Instead of a symbol of love and emotion, it is arguably a symbol of capitalist dominance, a tool of advertising. Plus, Valentine’s day can cause emotional damage. Couples are conditioned to expect the ‘perfect’ Valentine’s Day, no less romantic than Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan embracing on the top of the Empire State Building. These expectations are rarely met, putting relationships under strain.
And, as I am all too aware, Valentine’s makes single people feel excluded and abnormal. For instance, in schools Valentine’s day cards are encouraged, an exciting prospect – until you are the only kid in the class who doesn’t get one. This breeds low self-confidence and enforces the stereotype that we can never be truly happy until we find ‘the one’. A total myth.
So why do we have to buy expensive gifts to show our love for someone? And why is the celebration of love restricted to one day a year? Telling someone you love them, and showing them every day how much you care is worth a thousand roses (unless they are Roses chocolates).
Don’t take someone for granted 364 days of the year and suddenly decide to buy overpriced chocolates, write a few words on a card, and post a smug Instagram on Valentine’s Day. I’m not saying don’t treat your loved one on Valentine’s Day, please spoil them! While it is a capitalist holiday, there’s nothing wrong with appreciating your loved ones. Just recognise how commercial it is, and don’t feel pressured to be a ‘perfect couple’ or find the ‘perfect man’- we all know that there is no such thing.
So, this February 14th I will show my appreciation for my beautiful friends, family and two dogs (the real loves of my life) and be single and proud. Let’s stop feeling sorry for our single selves and start spreading the love, on Valentine’s Day and every other day of the year.