Many centuries ago, a Catholic priest named Valentine was sentenced to death for illegally marrying young couples. While imprisoned, he fell in love with his jailer’s daughter and just before his Feb. 14 execution passed her a note that said “from your Valentine.”
This is the first—and possibly one of the last—times Valentine’s Day was romantic for anybody.
I kid—sort of. The tradition of giving our sweethearts little notes and cards is a lovely one. But as we all know Valentine’s Day is no longer a time to exchange romantic little greetings. It’s a nearly $19 billion industry.
Americans who celebrate Valentine’s Day now spend more than $140 per person on the holiday. Retailers expect American consumers to purchase nearly $5 billion worth of jewelry this year—along with scores of cards, roses, chocolates, and other heart-themed babbles.
For single people, this means you can’t buy a bottle of aspirin without first walking through a gauntlet of plastic roses, candy boxes, and teddy bears wearing scarlet bowties. Sure love is grand, but sometimes you just want to purchase your shampoo and coffee filters in peace.
But at least singles have the option of drawing down the shades and binge-watching The Americans when they get home. If you’re a new couple, you have a different problem. What do you do when you’re sorta kinda seeing someone on Feb. 14? Does the occasion call for a dozen roses or will a sweet text suffice? Getting it wrong can lead to some fairly awkward situations. Thanks for the engraved bracelet! Did you get my email? It has a picture of a dog wearing heart-shaped sunglasses!
Even many happy, long-term couples don’t get much enjoyment from Feb. 14. Valentine’s Day is so brazenly commercial that it feels less like a holiday and more like an obligation. To do: file taxes, get oil changed, shop for novelty underwear, have romantic dinner at expensive restaurant. Even if you like candlelit dinners at fancy bistros, there is something joyless about sucking down shrimp scampi in this particular context.
I do recall a time when Valentine’s Day was fun: childhood. Back then, we covered shoe boxes in tin foil and doilies. We got to put away our math books, push all the desks together and eat pink cupcakes dotted with red hots.
It was great—and for many adults Valentine’s Day still is. But if the holiday is a source of stress or loneliness, consider joining the growing number of Americans who are blowing it off. This year, the number of Americans who say they celebrate the holiday dropped to 55 percent, down from 63 percent in 2007. Some are participating in alternative holidays like Quirkyalone Day and Generosity Day, where participants volunteer or give money to charity instead of big-box stores.
And some are doing … whatever they want. Retailers and marketers are free to hawk their heart-shaped merchandise and enforced romance, but we don’t to have to buy it.
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