Love, Inc

The intersections of emotion and capitalism.

Why We Love/Hate Valentine's Day

February 14th is the best/worst day of the year.

I love/hate Valentine's Day. In fact I love/hate romance. And here's the kicker: that's kind of the way we Americans are supposed to feel about it. According to Eva Illouz, modern romantic love represents an overrationalization of our emotions as well as a commodification of them. 

“Modern romantic consciousness has the rhetorical structure of irony because it is saturated with knowledge, but it is a disenchanted knowledge that prevents full belief and commitment. Thus if love is a modern religion…it is a religion that cannot produce belief, faith or commitment.”

Take roses. We are going to send a LOT of roses this year. About 196 million of them to be exact and they're going to be a lot more expensive this week than any other (yes, that's price gouging but when it comes to love you're not supposed to look for a bargain) Overall the romantic among us will spend about $134 on Valentine's Day. That will add up to a whopping $18.6 BILLION spent on Valentine's Day this year.

Find a Therapist

Search for a mental health professional near you.

Still the cynics among us might be winning.  Only about 54% of Americans will celebrate Valentine's Day (down from 60% last year). In other words, about half of us are no longer playing Romance Roulette with our wallets.Of course it's possible that we Americans are learning to express our emotions without consumption since about 2/3 of men and 1/3 of women surveyed by the National Retail Federation said they'd rather have sex on Valentine's Day than get a gift.

But somehow I doubt that Americans are suddenly learning to express their deepest and most intimate feelings without buying something. After all, ever since Valentine’s Days cards were first mass-produced in 1847 we Americans have been saying “I love you” with stuff we can buy in a store. Instead, I think the very modern and overly saccharine idea that love is about two people surrounded by hearts and flowers is being confronted with the postmodern truth that a minority of Americans is married and many of the ones who are won’t be in the not so distant future. In fact, 53% of women say they’d leave their partner if they don’t get a gift for Valentine’s Day. So much for the unconditional love part of the romantic fantasy.

Instead of consuming Valentine's Day, less romantic Americans are celebrating Singles Awareness Day (SAD) or even International Quirkyalone Day, a celebration of all kinds of love. The Singles Awareness Day website suggests fighting the "huge push by retailers for us to buy all of their candy, flowers and greeting cards" by “sending yourself flowers.”

Fight the over rationalization and commercialization of love by…buying stuff and going out? Of course what choice do we have but to fight the buying frenzy of Valentine’s Day with a buying frenzy against Valentine’s Day? Unless we just want to stay home and have sex. And as the International Quirkyalone Day website points out, you really don’t have to be in a couple to do that. 

Laurie Essig, Ph.D., is a professor of sociology and women and gender studies at Middlebury College.

more...

Subscribe to Love, Inc

Current Issue

Dreams of Glory

Daydreaming: How the best ideas emerge from the ether.