It’s time to stop making Valentine’s Day so stressful

Caroline Kuntzman, Staff Writer

Valentine’s Day is a highly commercialized holiday. It certainly is not unique in this regard, as Christmas and Thanksgiving are the biggest holidays for consumer spending in the United States. However, the consumerism surrounding Valentine’s Day is still significant. In 2021, the average American spent $164.76 per person, with the country as a whole spending $21.8 billion. This is without getting into intangible costs surrounding Valentine’s Day, such as the pressure single people may feel to have a partner or the pressure people in relationships may have to interact with their significant other in a certain way. Between social pressures and deep commercialization, Valentine’s Day is now about much more than love.

The precursor to Valentine’s Day dates back to the Romans. Called the Festival of Lupercalia, its focus was not on love but rather on female fertility. Priests would sacrifice a goat and a dog and then bring a piece of the animals’ skins into contact with the women, believing that this would help them have children. The Festival of Lupercalia was outlawed by the Roman Empire later on following the empire’s conversion to Christianity and Valentine’s Day replaced it, celebrated one day earlier than the original festival. The holiday received its name from Pope Gelasius, who referenced one or possibly several saints named Valentine. The exchange of Valentine’s Day cards began many years later in the 1500s, and exchanges of small gifts began in the 1700s.

What the history of Valentine’s Day shows is that its meaning and traditions are not constant. They have evolved over time, and so it should not necessarily be treated as a holiday with any one particular meaning or importance. Ultimately, its significance will be what general consensus decides it is. However, to say that Valentine’s Day is all about love ignores what the holiday has become.

The first mass-produced Valentine’s Day cards began circulating in the 1840s. Developed by Esther Howland, her work paired with Richard Cadbury’s development of the chocolate box, creating two modern Valentine’s Day gift staples.

The commercialization of Valentine’s Day is typical for American holidays, but what is unusual are the expectations surrounding sex. According to data collected in 2017, most Americans in relationships do want to have sex on Valentine’s Day. Only 14% of women and 6% of men say that this is not important to them. Psychology Today points towards marketing as a critical source of these expectations. Regardless of where these expectations stem from, the fact is that they can cause people with and without partners to feel as though they have to have sex on Valentine’s Day, which is unhealthy.

Another unique aspect of Valentine’s Day is that its messaging focuses exclusively on romantic love, cutting out a significant segment of the population. It is becoming increasingly common for American adults to be single, with this number jumping from 22% in 1950 to 50% in 2012. For single people—especially those wanting to be in a relationship—, Valentine’s Day can be difficult. 

However, perhaps the most striking aspect of the holiday is how people feel about their Valentine’s Day plans. According to the same 2017 source referenced previously, only 42% of women and 43% of men were “excited and happy” about their Valentine’s Day plans. This leaves a significant portion of the population not thrilled about their plans.

As it is currently celebrated, Valentine’s Day is a severely flawed holiday. It causes people—both in and out of relationships—to feel pressure, and can be isolating for others. It is a holiday associated with heavy spending, yet it does not seem to bring the joy one would hope it would.

Valentine’s Day needs to be reframed in a more positive manner that better acknowledges the realities of the 21st century. Instead of focusing so heavily on couples, it could be more inclusive of other types of love. Love of family. Love of friends. Love of self. It could acknowledge the holistic range of relationships people enjoy, instead of focusing so heavily on romantic ones. It could shift away from marketing a specific image of what Valentine’s Day should look like, and instead be about individuals doing what makes them happy. Moreover, open dialogue about expectations for Valentine’s Day should be encouraged. For people in relationships especially, talking with their partners about how they want to spend Valentine’s Day could help make the day less stressful and prevent unnecessary spending on gifts or extravagant dates neither necessarily want. As a whole, Valentine’s Day is due for an overhaul of what its focus is.