Thursday, February 14, 2008

Valentine's Day

First of all, a happy Valentine's Day to those of you out there reading this--especially to those who care to have a happy one.

When I take a poll of my students to see what they think about Valentine's Day in my classes, they either say that they love it, or that "it sucks." And I wonder why the emotions are so strong about it. There is almost no one who feel in the middle about the subject and I don't think that the lines are drawn between those who have dates and those who don't; I think it goes much deeper than that. But for whatever reason, I can't find myself to feel passionate about it either way. I am hoping that readers here will offer their opinions and experiences to help shed light on the myriad of angles of this strange holiday.

I've come to the conclusion in recent days that I don't know exactly what to think about Valentine's Day. I can't find any convincing evidence that the day is based in a pagan holiday, like many of our meaningful holidays are. There's a sort of a conundrum in my mind that I can't find my way to resolve regarding Valentine's Day. It is an internal fight between a holiday that seems to have a great potential for fun, and a holiday that plasters our world with crappy, disposable gifts that are supposed to somehow relate the idea of Love. Let me explain.

The Negative Side

Obviously, this falls into the realm of rampant consumerism that I would rather my children weren't a part of. If I don't want them to buy into the consumer hype, I don't feel like I can participate. So this rules out buying any kind of presents that are specific to Valentines Day. Not that I find them to be great gifts in the first place, but those rows and rows of pink and red that adorn every grocery store are made to be temporary. They fall into the realm of "planned obsolescence," that is, products made to break or otherwise be temporary. Therefore, you essentially throw your money away on stuffed bears holding hearts singing lame songs about love, or boxes of sub-par chocolates, or daisies dyed red.

Not only is the consumerism side of things repulsive because they plan on taking our money for sub-par products that don't serve as proper emissaries of our love, but the whole thing reeks of obligation.

Many of the girls in the classes that I teach (I suppose for this and many other purposes, I treat them as a very unscientific data-collection group) say of their boyfriends, "He'd better get me something." And I don't know about you other husbands and boyfriends out there, but I rarely feel like I'm being loving or giving if I feel like I'm being measured by my performance. I should stress that this is not the majority of the voices that I heard, but the sentiment is not at all uncommon.

This is stressed by the convenience with which someone can buy Valentines Day presents. They are strewn about the fronts of super markets and WalMarts; they are sold on street corners; stores set up outdoor drive-up stands for chocolates and flowers. So let me ask you, if it's the thought that counts, how much thought goes into driving by a store on the way home from work and asking the boy in the drive through flower stand what they have left for under twenty bucks? Or, for that matter, picking up a gaudy red package of chocolate at the WalMart?

If it's an expectation or an obligation, and the products at large are being peddled, I can't be more repulsed by the idea of Valentines Day. But there are other sides to it, as well.

Positive Sides

To look at the positive side, I really go back in my mind towards my childhood, when I wasn't so aware of consumerism and there were no expectations placed on me to perform.

I used to love V-Day in school. We would decorate boxes and bring those stupid packs of cards for everyone in class. There was an excitement and exuberance in getting a card (though obligatory) from the girl that you liked. It was a fun activity and a nice break from the normal activities of school.

My parents used to get us little presents for Valentines Day, too. Not much, of course, but it was always welcome. I remember one time getting a gift certificate for Tower Records. But the best of all was a pocket-knife. It was a big step for a boy, getting a pocket knife. And I'll never know why Valentines Day was chosen for this, or if it was a thoughtful relationship or not. But whatever the gift, my parents never gave us stuffed heart-bears, and the present was always exciting.

The Ambiguity

With my role as husband, I don't know exactly where I currently stand on this strange holiday. I love my wife and look for ways to show it every day. I don't think that a day associated with a remote saint and a greeting card company is really the best opportunity for it. I know that my first couple V-Days with a girlfriend or a wife I labored under the notion that they were going to be really special. I expected to be let into some kind of super exclusive club of have Valentines Day Daters who were going to understand the true meaning of the holiday.

And it's no knock on my wife that this didn't end up being the case. Sure, we had fun. But really, the day didn't end up being all that, well, special. The distinction between something like a birthday or an anniversary is that those are days with a specific history to us. We can talk about our wedding day. Or where we were that time three years ago. Or about our past birthdays. Or whatever. I feel like we're celebrating something.

With Valentines Day, we're surrounded by other people at restaurants. The menu is limited (usually a "special Valentines Day Menu") so they can get people in and out as fast as possible. And really, it feels like it just emphasizes how often we don't go out on a special date. We've had better times going out to eat on the 15th or the weekend before, or whatever. So while I'm thrilled to show my wife my love and I'm happy to take her out on a date whenever I can, I don't see that as the best night to do it.

I've read statistics that state that this is the number one day to get engaged. Well, that's cool, I guess. Then in subsequent V-Day's, they'd have a special event that they are commemorating. But, then again, this falls into the whole expectation thing. I wouldn't want to "pop the question" on a day that she so thoroughly saw it coming. But then again, surprising my wife is one of the severe challenges of my life.

The Conundrum

So where does that leave me? I want to introduce this holiday to my kids before the media does. They are still too young to pronounce it, so I'm jumping on it soon enough. I think that I'll try and find a small, non-Valentines Day, present to give them. I'll tell them about how we love each other every day, but today is often the day that people feel like telling each other that. Why? Well, I don't have a good answer.

As for my wife, honestly, if pay-day were today instead of tomorrow, maybe I'd be out trolling the stores. She has made it abundantly clear that she doesn't want anything. I do look for chances to get her things that nurture our relationship. So much of our time and money is spent on nurturing our family--which is a wonderful choice--that I like to take opportunities for us to nurture the just us part of the family. I just don't know if this is the day to do it.


The only real suggestion that I have is that you and your partner communicate openly and clearly about your expectations for the day. You should be open and honest. And if your wife or girlfriend or boyfriend or whoever really wants something, you should probably take that into consideration--it may be a bigger part of their traditions and belief system that you recognize. And if you plan on not getting them something, maybe you should be clear about the whys of that decision. It might be helpful to pick another day near this one or during another time of year that you can make a special and meaningful day without all the societal baggage.

So, I ask you, how do you celebrate Valentines Day? Is there a way that you've cut out the consumerism and expectations, or do you just put up with it for today? Or, do you ignore the day? Or, do you have a new tradition to introduce or a special way to make the day meaningful for our kids? I'm asking because I don't have a clear answer myself.


Wynnie said...

Valentine's Day is for my husband. We stay home and have a quiet dinner as a family - to commemorate our first V-day together when he didn't make reservations so we had McDonald's by candlelight in his dorm. I get him small presents, something that he'll enjoy but that is a treat - wine, chocolate, etc.

In March, we'll celebrate White Day. He buys me flowers and we have a nice dinner out, sometimes even without the kids. I love getting flowers, more so when they are potted so I can make a vain attempt at keeping them alive.

I try to steer away from the consumer aspects, but I do get the kids the little animals - in part because they enjoy them right now. RC gave out little gifts at school because she asked to. I don't know how to shield them from all of it so I hope to teach moderation.

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Huckdoll said...

I totally agree on the communication part - girls get WAY to worked up and WAY too let down on this day.

Personally, I'm not big on the day - I prefer romance sporadically throughout the year.

One of the bloggers I read called Valentine's Day, "legal prostitution," and I like that - sounds about right.

Great post.