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The Problem With Valentine’s Day Romance

When we think about Valentine’s Day, the concept of sustainability is not what one usually conjures in one’s head. The other day, I passed by a couple playing tonsil hockey in the middle of the day on the commercial business level of my office building. Snuggled deeply into a comfy couch in front of a gas fireplace cozily encased in brick, they mashed each other’s faces happily without a care in the world. Ah, love! It’s what makes the world go round. This image is what we think of for V-day.

It also makes marketers go ape sh!t when Valentine’s Day season comes to a head. As one person whined, one cannot open the circulars of a newspaper without being assaulted by messages that one should be enjoying a waterfall of bling, chocolates, champagne, and romantic getaways, or else there is something wrong. Specifically, that something wrong is with you. It makes single people want to trash the paper. It’s enough to cause those initiating or maintaining committed relationships of all kinds to groan in either frustration or anxiety concerning the overwhelming social pressures and expectations of how you mark, celebrate, or otherwise define the importance of your main squeeze.

While some might say you shouldn’t do this to spoil your sweetie’s romantic moment, I actually got quite a laugh from this Youtube video for Hahn beer:

The Problem With Valentine’s Day Romance

The problem with Valentine’s Day lies in the default attachment we have to its meaning.  If you were educated in the United States, most of you can recall making or purchasing Valentine’s Day cards for every child in your class. Regardless of your closeness or distance from the other children, you were asked to write something sweet, or simply sign your name. You were NOT to exclude anyone, and to do so took conscientious effort along with a clear understanding of consequences if you boycotted the delivery of your cards to any child in that classroom.

Is there a distinct possibility that the trauma [ok, I’m being a bit dramatic here!], or at least our first experiences with Valentine’s Day carry forward as adults, some of whom have never learned to veer away from that default attachment, nor create their own meaning? Not that statistics tell you the entire picture, but one unofficial statistic states:

…1.1 billion boxed chocolates will be sold throughout the U.S. More than 58 million pounds of chocolate candy will be sold during Valentine’s week. Consumers are expected to purchase more than $345 million in chocolate candy during Valentine’s week [Wiki Answers]

And from the same site, 52% of American men propose to their wives on Valentine’s Day [notice the stat does not include how many of those proposals are refused].

Would it be fair to say that in general, Americans still have a sentimental attachment to the meaning of Valentine’s Day, defined by someone else, and carrying forward into their present feelings? And do sentimental feelings make for better romantic attachments?

Beware: It’s A Setup, Folks

The joy of being a relationship counselor and advisor is the opportunity to observe couples of all kinds over the course of various stages of their relationship. It’s a privilege to watch my clients fall in love, make a commitment, declare their love to the world through marriage or life partnership, make babies [or in some case, make businesses and projects!], and beautify the world. My job also earns me the right to hear men and women declare with resentment:

                  He’s not the person I dated!

                  She’s not the person I met. 

The problem with Valentine’s Day romance — and romance cultivated during the dating phase in general — is that it isn’t easily sustainable. The reality of sustainable romantic relationships depends highly on the comfort of the two individuals to be completely themselves, comfortable in their own skin, even if that skin is hanging a bit low. It means that if you love using Groupons to save money, you could use it on a first date. [Ed Note: The Today Show put a thumbs down on this behavior because it supposedly made women feel they weren’t valuable enough for men to spend money. Read what this Canadian finance blogger had to say on the issue]. It means that if you don’t want to be called a slob two month’s later, you might want to wear that favorite T-shirt a little earlier in the “get to know” phase than after you ask him/her to move in with you [advice: do not wear the T-shirt with the married couple on it that says, “Game over”]. It suggests that you present a congruent self to the other person, and not a self that has spit and polish on it.

The problem with Valentine’s Day romance is this: it’s a f*cking setup. The wine, the chocolates, the love poetry, the expensive dinner, and the outrageously expensive -for-what-it-is greeting card containing someone else’s mentally ill ravings about love set up your main squeeze (and yourself!) for unsustainable expectations about what you’ll receive in return — an eternity of never-ending, crazy-a$$ed bliss. Or some mind-blowing sex. Or, in a perfect world, both. 

When I hear couples tell me that all they did on Valentine’s Day was cook each other dinner, walk their dogs together, play VJ’s on Youtube, tuck the kids in for bed and go to sleep early whispering, “I love you”, I smile and turn my head away so I can weep with happiness in my hankerchief. These are the relationships that are gonna last because they are sustainable, and these people just plain like each other enough to put up with the considerable amount of life stress, the mundane, the ridiculous, and personal foibles they will encounter in each other. No one’s going to yell at the other, “I feel cheated because you’re NOTHING LIKE THE PERSON I MET X MANY MONTHS AGO!” No one is disappointed that the other did not leap about the room like a fool, throwing rose petals about the bedroom in ecstasy, because the random day of V-day came upon him, and he got the look from his wife that said, “You’d better do this or you’re not getting any.”

In case you’re wondering if I’m speaking for the bitter singles of the world, let me be clear here: I like my clients to be in love, to be well loved, and to be loving people. I like, and welcome, authentic romance. The world honestly could use more of it. If we romanced our planet a bit more, we would likely see the environment improve. What I do believe is Valentine’s Day has become a laughable holiday instead of the platform for a message it could be extending: make every day with the one you love like Valentine’s Day, and stop being animals horrible human beings to each other [sometimes animals are more humane than humans in their social dealings].

Make. Love. Sustain. Able.

Do you want to deconstruct Valentine’s Day, and yank it victoriously away from the marketers and the capitalists? Here’s a dorky little catch phrase I created, just for my readers.

1. Make. Create something for that special someone! When time is more precious than money, what you give of your time making something says volumes about your care for another person. If what you make is something you do for your work, that’s even better. Your main squeeze will know this is something you might not be perfect at, and it’s the lack of perfection shared that is so sublime. It’s a promise of what is to come.

2. Love. If I have to list what goes into the category of love, I can’t help you [at least, not in a blog post. Call my office. Please. And have your insurance ready.].

3. Sustain. Whatever you choose to do with your love object, make it something you could see yourself enjoying together for a long time. Do you enjoy music? Enjoy some together. Have a culinary bent? Ask for time to collaborate in the kitchen. Wear aprons, and nothing else [turn up the heat first]. Get out those spatulas.  Last time I checked, people will eat 2-3 meals a day for the rest of their days. These are sustainable activities.

4. Able. Select something you are able to pull off, is within your means, while remaining something that you won’t have to “top” the next year. Showing someone you care isn’t a competition. If it is (i.e. there are several people vying for your love object’s attention, my heart goes out to you, I hope s/he chooses wisely). The word “able” connotes action and ability. When two people are able, they are doing something active, not passive.

Our neural pathways remember actions far longer than objects or words. While words are important, our actions seal the deal. When the going gets tough, couples remember how each handled tough moments. Your ability to “hold” in a difficult moment, or to act wisely when all chaos breaks loose, has more value. Even if a relationship ends, the value you deposited in the other person’s love bank can live on in ways that you and I cannot account on a ledger.

While I know some people will roll their eyes and say I’m a killjoy when it comes to Valentine’s Day, there’s more than a few ways to deconstruct the commercialism and the pressure in order for V-day to be about celebrating love in all its permutations. While fluffy *love* may be highly-overated, let’s make sure the real thing is always in high demand. In fact, you can be a part of changing the face of Valentine’s Day by celebrating its real meaning the other 364-1/4 days of the year.

By Imei Hsu

Imei Hsu is a mental health counselor, active retired RN, AIP Coach and PN1-NC, writer, triathlete and arts promoter in the Seattle area and through online services. With 30+ years in healthcare (22+ years in mental health), Imei has a commitment to helping people discover insight into their health, relationships, and connecting. She is the owner of Seattle Direct Counseling and the blog, a presenter and speaker on a variety of psychological topics, and a positive force on the Internet. She launched her personal project, My Allergy Advocate, in 2018. Imei is a two-time Ironman Finisher (Mont-Tremblant 2016, Ironman Canada 2018); she also finished her first ultramarathon in 2017 and has gone on to race the 100K distance while preparing for 100 Mile trail races and a backyard ultra. You can find her running everywhere and eating all the thingz, watching movies, camping under the stars, and cooking real food.