I’ve never really celebrated Valentine’s Day.
As a rule, I’m cynical about commercialized Western rituals, so the hype around Valentine’s Day never seemed warranted. What’s wrong with your relationship that you need a designated day every year to show that it matters? Does it really merit all the stress to plan the perfect date or find the perfect gift?
Then again, after three long years of destabilization following COVID-19, maybe there is value in these types of rituals. Shouldn’t we jump at any excuse to celebrate love?
With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, I conducted a highly scientific survey via my Instagram story. I asked those in my network how they rate Valentine’s Day, and it generated some fascinating conversations. I also contacted two love experts: Jason Tuazon-McCheyne, marriage celebrant and founder of The Equality Project Australia, and Rae Szereszewski, a certified sex educator and dating coach.
The problems with Valentine’s Day
The majority of respondents to my poll (both partnered and single) dubbed Valentine’s Day overrated. Many felt that the holiday is simply unnecessary and diminishes the importance of honoring one’s relationship year-round.
“It’s not even on [my and my husband’s] calendar,” Tuazon-McCheyne said. “We’ve been together 25 years and haven’t celebrated it once. We don’t need a day to celebrate what we have or have an excuse to buy each other a gift or card.“
Another issue that frequently came up in response to my survey was the pressure of high expectations. “You build it up in your head that it’s going to be an epic night, and you’re always disappointed because it never turns out the way you envisioned it,” said Carly Basian, a leadership expert and one of my happily married friends.
Part of the pressure comes from the intense commercialization of Valentine’s Day. The National Retail Federation estimates that Americans will spend around $26 billion on Valentine’s Day this year, with an average spend of $192.80 per person who intends to celebrate.
At a time when many are struggling financially, this added expense can generate a lot of stress which can be actively harmful to your relationship.
Valentine’s Day can also generate pressure to perform sexually, Szereszewski noted. “Framing [sex] as something that has to happen isn’t in line with consent or our understanding of how pleasure works in the body,” she said. Those in relationships, especially women, may feel they can’t say no on Valentine’s Day, which takes away their agency.
The case for a low-stakes Valentine’s Day
To my surprise, the few pro-Valentine’s Day votes on my poll came from friends I perceive as largely nontraditional. Naturally, I wanted to understand what they valued about this day.
For Sienna Lightfoot, a student who recently moved to the same city as her long-distance partner, Valentine’s Day is an opportunity to make up for the lost time and to show love to platonic friends.
She highlighted, however, that her version of Valentine’s Day is decidedly noncapitalist. “The essence of the day itself is really special [to me],” she said. “My Valentine’s Day is a celebration of all kinds of love, whether romantic or platonic. You can’t put a price tag on that.”
Even Tuazon-McCheyne acknowledged that Valentine’s Day can be a useful reminder that celebrating love is valuable, especially in newer relationships. After all, expressions of romance and affection don’t materialize out of thin air. Relationships require conscious effort, and if Valentine’s Day presents a good reminder, that can be positive.
“For many couples, Valentine’s Day makes it easy to be romantic,” Szereszewski agreed. She highlighted communication as key to keeping things stress-free, though. “As long as both partners have a mutual understanding of what Valentine’s Day means to one another, and they set clear expectations for the day, it can be a positive ritual,” she said.
For others, the key is not to take Valentine’s Day too seriously and instead to treat it as a chance to do something enjoyable and heartfelt with those you love.
Celebrate love without pressure
At least in my social sphere, many feel that there’s a lot wrong with Valentine’s Day. Even those who think it’s worth celebrating cautioned against getting lost in the commercialization of it.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a ritual that celebrates one of the most wonderful things a human gets to experience in their life. “Use it as an excuse to do something tender for a friend or lover,” visual artist Florence Low suggested.
Szereszewski noted that there’s no need to exclude single people, either. “Use Valentine’s Day to celebrate love and romance in important friendships,” she said. “Everyone deserves romance! If you’re single, get it from your friends.”
But then again, Tuazon-McCheyne asks, why wait? “Spend time fostering and nurturing your relationships when you need to. Celebrate what you have. If you need to do something — do it tonight!”