The Second Annual Valentine’s Day Rant

Is it my cranky imagination or does Valentine’s Day become more of a big deal every year? All of the second-tier holidays seem to have gotten elevated in the last decade: St. Patrick’s Day, President’s Day, Columbus Day, and so on. This may be due to a sagging consumer economy that runs on holiday-based spending; namely, of course, Christmas, but Halloween works just as well.


I’m a 40-something married woman but my attitude toward Valentine’s Day basically matches that of your typical, 4th grade boy:  it makes me want to vomit.

Pre-Valentine’s, I’m reminded that although I occasionally enjoy listening to some local sports talk shows, I’m not their intended demographic. Every ad is about pleasing your “lady” and avoiding being in the “doghouse” by buying her something suitably expensive and/or cute. Occasionally cute and expensive are combined, as in a recent promotion for a teddy bear that could be wearing a diamond necklace.

Suddenly, grown women are expected to coo over teddy bears. Suddenly, every inadequately wealthy or insufficiently romantic man who doesn’t buy enough for his lady is Andy Capp, and his lady the bathrobed harridan who awaits him angrily at the door with a rolling pin in hand. 

Valentine’s Day is among the tackiest and most tasteless of holidays. So is New Year’s Eve, which is also a heavily couple-focused holiday, feted largely with overpriced, mediocre prix-fixe meals, cheap dresses with halfhearted pretensions to class, and open bars with rail drinks.

Valentine’s Day trades in the most insipid clichés of middlebrow romance. If you took the promotions seriously, it’s all about hothouse roses, lobster dinners, cheap champagne, teddy bears, domestic chocolates, and tacky, poorly-made lingerie.

About this day, I’m a proud, unrepentant snob. The minute Build a Bear factors into my love life in any way, I’m packing it in. I had a friend growing up who was so indelibly marked by the Valentine’s mise en scene of true love that every time she tried to share a romantic or erotic fantasy with us, it ended up being all about lobster tails getting dipped in butter. There was never any sex, or, really, any man involved.

Valentine’s is a diabolically cynical example of how there is nothing that can’t be turned into a commodity, that can’t be appropriated for profit. Your feelings, passion, and heart are there for the taking. All the histories document how Big Floral and Big Chocolate appropriated the holiday to capture their market share of love from the card companies in the early 1900s. Your heart, for a day, is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Whitman’s Sampler, and you will do its contrived bidding, or get called an insensitive lout.

As marketed, the day is emotionally proprietary and a celebration of smug exclusivity. It’s about who “the one” is. And, it’s romantically comparative by the lowest metric imaginable—who gets the best gift or, in more recent coinage, whose man does the “sweetest, nicest thing” for his girl. It trusses up ideas of romance, relationships and sexuality that we might otherwise have outgrown by now—to wit, males buy things for females, and by buying these things prove that they love them, and then they don’t buy their ladies nice things it’s because they don’t love them enough, and you, as a female, should pout about that juvenilely when it happens, until your male buys you something worthy to restore your warm feelings.

Now that I think about it, the elementary Valentine’s Day of my youth was much more philosophically appealing. The 4th grade Valentine’s Day was scrupulously democratic, even socialist. The teacher made clear that you had to share the love. You had to bring valentines for everyone in the class, and woebetide if your parent or teacher discovered otherwise, that you were conspiring to hurt someone’s feelings.

In its own way, those hastily-decorated brown bags by which we collected all of our valentines conveyed the loftier idea of universal, unselfish love, or agape. Everyone got a valentine, everyone was worthy, the default was to share the love.  Of course, we were being “forced” to include everyone, and there was always that one kid—and I probably was that one kid for other kids—that we dreaded giving a valentine to.

But of all the social compulsions imaginable, surely the least offensive is that we extend an affectionate courtesy even to those we don’t care for; that we act loving, even when we don’t feel loving.

Interestingly, in its earliest days in America, Valentine’s Day implied a similarly encompassing social obligation, that you sent valentines to colleagues, relatives, friends as well as romantic interests.

The meaning of the day changed, such that there is now only one Valentine. I’m Yours… Be Mine… Those cards that you punched out the night before school and carelessly-distributed to everyone in your class are for just one person now. By adulthood, we have outgrown the tender illusion of that grade school valentines bag, that love and affection in this world would be equally and generously dispersed.

Those who are suffering heartache, unrequited love, a defunct, “I See Dead People” marriage, or are at the moment unhappily single, can feel rotten about themselves, if they took Valentine’s Day seriously--which I sincerely hope they do not. 

Trusting your instincts is lazy: Poker pro Liv Boeree on Big Think Edge

International poker champion Liv Boeree teaches decision-making for Big Think Edge.

Big Think Edge
  • Learn to make decisions with the clarity of a World Series Poker Champion.
  • Liv Boeree teaches analytical thinking for Big Think Edge.
  • Subscribe to Big Think Edge before we launch on March 30 to get 20% off monthly and annual memberships.
Keep reading Show less

Scientists reactive cells from 28,000-year-old woolly mammoth

"I was so moved when I saw the cells stir," said 90-year-old study co-author Akira Iritani. "I'd been hoping for this for 20 years."

Yamagata et al.
Surprising Science
  • The team managed to stimulate nucleus-like structures to perform some biological processes, but not cell division.
  • Unless better technology and DNA samples emerge in the future, it's unlikely that scientists will be able to clone a woolly mammoth.
  • Still, studying the DNA of woolly mammoths provides valuable insights into the genetic adaptations that allowed them to survive in unique environments.
Keep reading Show less

Here's when machines will take your job, as predicted by A.I. gurus

An MIT study predicts when artificial intelligence will take over for humans in different occupations.

Photo credit: YOSHIKAZU TSUNO / AFP / Getty Images
Surprising Science

While technology develops at exponential speed, transforming how we go about our everyday tasks and extending our lives, it also offers much to worry about. In particular, many top minds think that automation will cost humans their employment, with up to 47% of all jobs gone in the next 25 years. And chances are, this number could be even higher and the massive job loss will come earlier.

Keep reading Show less

Horseshoe crabs are captured for their blue blood. That practice will soon be over.

The blood of horseshoe crabs is harvested on a massive scale in order to retrieve a cell critical to medical research. However, recent innovations might make this practice obsolete.

An Atlantic horseshoe crab in an aquarium. Photo: Domdomegg via Wikimedia Commons.
Surprising Science
  • Horseshoe crabs' blue blood is so valuable that a quart of it can be sold for $15,000.
  • This is because it contains a molecule that is crucial to the medical research community.
  • Today, however, new innovations have resulted in a synthetic substitute that may end the practice of farming horseshoe crabs for their blood.
Keep reading Show less