Maybe It's Just Me, But...

Musings of a mildly mad multi-disciplinarian

Who Is Valentine's Day Really For, Anyway?

Is Valentine's Day redundant for happy couples?

After my last, brief post on Valentine's Day, I read this article in The Wall Street Journal about giving Valentine's Day presents in your "work spouse" as well as your romantic partner. I bristled at this, because I've always been of the opinion that Valentine's Day cards and gifts should only be given in celebration of romantic love, not to your parents, your friends, or your children—and definitely not your work wife or husband. Call me a curmudgeon, but I feel that it waters down the romantic focus of the holiday to use it to celebrate all types of relationships and love, not just romantic ones. We have other holidays to recognize many of the other people in our lives and how we relate to them; let's save February 14 for romantic love.

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Then a friend (a particularly exasperating one, but that's another story) asked me, "why do married (or seriously committed) couples celebrate Valentine's Day then—they have anniversaries, right?" After all, unlike Valentine's Day, a couple's anniversary is about only them, a day to celebrate their love and the life they share, which makes February 14 just another day to buy flowers, candy, and cards. So if Valentine's Day is really about romantic love, but is superfluous to people in committed relationships (who have anniversaries), then who is it for? (Apologies to all the English teachers out there—I'll be sure to say 20 "for whoms" before I finish.)

Maybe Valentine's Day is really for two groups of people:

  1. People who are dating but not in a committed relationship yet: Valentine's Day gives them a chance to go all-out for a day when they otherwise may feel uncomfortable. It provides a prefabricated day on which people can get mushy with each other, test the waters, see if the relationship is at that ponit yet. If it is, great, but if it's not, it can just be chalked up to February 14 madness ("what was I thinking?").
  2. People who are crushing on someone: Again, Valentine's Day gives them a once-a-year chance to express their feelings with less discomfort. If you feel awkward telling your secret crush how you feel, and you think it would be awkward to tell that person, or give him or her a gift or a card, on any average day, you can do it on Valentine's Day and it won't seem so out of place.

So if I'm right, not only is Valentine's Day meant for romantic relationships, it is also more specifically meant for new or hopeful romantic relationships—ones that can benefit from the "free shot" that the day provides.

Seeing that, though, maybe committed relationships can benefit from Valentine's Day, especially if the romance has faded. Valentine's Day would be redundant if anniversaries served the same purpose, but many anniversaries—like many committed relationships—have diminished to such an extent that they are just formalities, an excuse to get cards or visits from kids. In those cases, Valentine's Day can serve a different purpose, one of rekindling dying embers, reminding the longtime couple why they were drawn to each other in the first place.

So ironically, Valentine's Day may mean the least to couples who seem to exemplify its message, and may be more important to couples (or hopefuls) who want—or need—to hear it.

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You can follow me on Twitter and also at the Economics and Ethics blog and The Comics Professor blog.

Mark D. White is the chair of the Department of Philosophy at the College of Staten Island/CUNY.

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