02 February 2010

Valentine's Day Conspiracy, or Cupid Can Kiss My Shamrocks

Yesterday, Monday, 1 February 2010 I encountered the following:

  • an email from a charitable nonprofit with a Valentine's special - make a donation in your sweetie's name!
  • a postcard notifying me about a Valentine's weekend special performance at the Pittsburgh Symphony
  • on the homepage of I can has cheezburger, an ad for a Valentine's special run of the "Otters Holding Hands" t-shirt
  • The February issue of Better Homes & Gardens in my mailbox, featuring Valentine's ideas and heart-shaped cookies on the cover
  • a soap-of-the-month titled "Love Me"
  • a Valentine's special flyer and coupons at the salon where I got my hair cut
And this all before 5:00pm, and not including the billboards, bus ads and other advertising I saw around town.

I HATE Valentine's Day. There are so many good reasons to hate it that it's hard to know where to begin.

The first job I ever had (after babysitting) was at a Hallmark shop at the mall. I honed my hatred of V-Day there, but it had been bubbling under the surface for years.
The biggest, most obvious reason: Valentine's Day makes single people feel like absolute and total crap. Whether you're a lifelong spinster or recently dumped, the run-up to the day - and then, the day itself - is organized to make you feel as bad as possible for not having "that special someone" to lavish things upon (or to lavish things on you). Images of happy hetero couples abound. Sly adverts alluding to romance and sex pollute the air. There is no escaping it. All of it carries the message that life is grand when you've got that special someone, and by implication, life sucks and is empty and void of all meaning when you DON'T.

I was interested to discover that it's not just single-girl bitterness underneath my loathing of Valentine's Day. When 14 February rolls around and I find myself in a relationship, I'm just as uncomfortable and angst-ridden as when I'm single (though for some different reasons). 
I hate that there is a designated day to demonstrate your feelings for someone. It makes those feelings, and the demonstration thereof, obligatory. Mandatory. Inauthentic, forced, insincere. If you genuinely care about someone, you shouldn't really need a day to prompt you to show your love. You should do it daily, weekly, monthly.
I hate the materialist component. I think I hate this the most - that things become the way to show your love. That the thing proves, or equals, or in some way measures, your feelings. A cheap gift means you don't care enough. A single carnation isn't enough; it has to be two dozen red roses or nothing. The jewelry better be real diamonds.

I think Valentine's Day is terribly unfair to straight men, actually cruel and punitive. The demands and expectations women have of their partners strike me as appalling and almost unmeetable. Worse, the demands and expectations are often not clearly enunciated in the relationship, so the woman has one set of standards, and the man doesn't know what they are. How can anyone be satisfied this way? The griping and bitching and complaining women do pre-and-post-Valentine's Day makes me feel physically ill. The remarks of "if he knows what's good for him" or "if he expects to get any of this unless" or - oh gods! - "it's a test" - they make me feel awful. What a way to think of, or treat, another person! Your relationship shouldn't be a quid pro quo. If it is, you've got some problems to resolve.
The worst, I think, is the post-Valentine's bitching. The "he only got me this" or "he didn't even take me someplace expensive" or whatever sounds selfish, nasty and ungrateful. Disappointment is one thing, and this i can understand.  I am the girl, after all, whose then-boyfriend spent Valentine's Day on an overnight ski trip with his best female friend. Who had not been skiing since she was a child, but conceived of a sudden, inescapable urge to visit him in the north to go skiing. And could only come on the weekend of 14 February.

But to have done something, to have received flowers and gifts and been taken out to dinner and to STILL be dissatisfied - it's horrifying.

The pressure this puts on men is brutal.
There's also pressure on women, though, of course. Because to make "your man" happy, you probably need some slinky lingerie and a size-2 body with huge boobs. You need to come up with creatively coy and sexy behaviors and activities. And you need an expensive gift of some sort, to prove that you actually care about him.

It's hideous.

There's also the politics of it - this is a pretty resolutely hetero "holiday." It's also an artificial holiday, amplified by the greeting card industry (and probably the chocolatiers of America) to generate profit.

If you're in the very early stages of a relationship, or are about to begin one, then Valentine's Day can be giddy and fun and cute and happy (since, at that stage of a relationship, everything is giddy and fun and cute and happy). You can wear Smittens, and get extravagant flowers because you're moved to give them. You can be cutesy and cuddly and it's okay. Even I feel a bit of a longing for that - V-Day can be really useful in the early stages of a relationship. It can be a way to move into a relationship - the day offers a great excuse/opportunity to go from acquaintances to passionately in love (or whatever passes for that). Awkward about expressing your feelings? V-Day does it for you. and that's nice, or can be. for some people.

But the vast, vast majority of people are not in this situation. And they're being suckered by a massive consumerist culture, and adhering to some very ugly and outmoded gender expectations. People like me, who hate the holiday in any circumstances, are ruthlessly exposed to cliched advertising at every turn.

This year, as in many past years, I'm a singleton. So I get the added fun of having my nose rubbed in the fact that I am excluded from this fundamental joy of life. Our culture is - along with being ridiculously hetero - ridiculously interested in compulsory coupling. If you're not part of a pair, you're seriously left out. For women in particular, this exclusion is emphasized and brought home in any number of not-so-subtle ways. Women have their ways of responding, or coping; the joyous disregard, the going-out-with-the-girlfriends to drink cosmos and gossip. There's sinking into a morass of bitterness. There are odd, sad concepts, like the right-hand diamond ring.

And then there's my model: gritting my teeth and waiting for it to end, like a visit to the dentist. Like a very long - weeks-long - visit to the dentist.

No comments:

Post a Comment