Monday, 13 February 2012

Things I hate about Valentine's Day

I might possibly have chosen a deliberately misleading title to get the attention (and initial sympathy) of all you haters... ;)

I like Valentine's day, or at least I like the idea of taking a day out to celebrate romance. I'm quite a romantic person (ironically, since I'm in the habit of dating girls who aren't and thus my love-life is a barren wasteland whose only landmarks are impact craters). But there are three things that *really* get on my proverbials in the first half of February, with respect to V-day. (I should probably add at this point that I'm single and have been for almost 3 years. All reasonable offers accepted >.>)

First off, I'll agree with the haters this far: the racks of pink and red, fluffy, heart-patterned tat in EVERY SHOP EVERYWHERE get tedious. This year - and quite possibly every year, though I don't remember noticing last year - Tesco put out a display of 'sexy' lingerie in their clothes section, which is a deeply depressing thing. Who (on either side of the gender divide) is going to want supermarket-quality clothing to be involved in a gift that celebrates their love?

That's the obvious, non-controversial one out of the way. Hopefully we're all agreed thus far. On to the arguments!

The second thing that really bugs me is the term 'singles awareness day'. Not only does it sound stomach-turningly bitter (and this from a guy who likes to suck lemons), it also completely misses the point. True, it misses the point to the exact extent that the targeted marketing and tat shops do in stuffing Valentine's down our throats, and as a reaction to that it's fair enough.

But since there's never been a formal definition of what Valentine's is about celebrating, it's up to you how you take it. And if it's up to you, then there's no good reason to take it as targeted on making you feel miserable. You might just as easily take it as having no relevance to you at all (assuming you're single - try this while in a relationship at your peril, depending on your other half), or even as celebrating something you don't personally have right now but have every chance of getting at some point and should thus feel glad exists in the world.

Yeah, have I mentioned I'm an optimist, and a near-terminally-annoying one at that? ;)

My point is this: if you're feeling bad because of Valentine's day, it's because you're putting a meaning on it that's making you feel bad. Society is constantly pushing us to feel bad about everything - the way we eat, the way we exercise (or don't), our money or lack thereof, the people we do or don't like - and we manage most of the time. Valentine's day is just a slightly more focussed version of that (and given how bad the capitalist establishment seems to think I should feel about being single normally, V-day just doesn't seem that much worse than any other day).

This is all turning a bit self-empowerment-ish, so I'll move on to the final issue, the one that really drives me up the wall. This is the argument, often presented by otherwise intelligent, reasonable people, that we shouldn't celebrate Valentine's Day because 'you should celebrate your other half every day'. There is SO much wrong with this argument.

Let's begin with the most obvious point, shall we? If this argument is sound, then it must go for any day that celebrates important loved ones. So, for example, mother's day and father's day. I mean, you should surely be as happy that your parents exist - since they, y'know, made you - as you are about your other half, right?

Well, OK, maybe you had crappy parents, and you don't want to celebrate them (in which case I very much doubt you're celebrating mother's and father's day anyway). There is a break in the analogy here, because if you're romantically attached to someone you hate, you have the option of ditching them, whereas you can't change the fact of who gave birth to you.

Let's make it a bit simpler then. There's a day every year where you celebrate being alive - your birthday. Now, surely, if there's one thing you should celebrate everyday, it's being alive. Therefore, you shouldn't celebrate your birthday because you should be celebrating being alive every day. Get ready to eat a lot of cake and wear a lot of party hats!

(Before we move on, it's worth pointing out that the same goes for Christians in respect of Christmas and Easter - why aren't we celebrating the birth and ascension of THE MESSIAH every day? - and for members of other religions on their more important holy days).

As often happens, when you push the argument to extremes, the problem starts to be obvious. Let's stick with birthdays for a bit. Imagine if you did celebrate your birth every day. How much washing up would all those parties generate? Never mind the fact that everyone else would be at their own birthday parties, so you'd be partying alone. Or you could share a party with a bunch of other people, but everyone knows shared birthday parties suck.

(meta-ironic aside: my parents met because their birthdays are only a few days apart and there was some sort of combined 21st party while they were at university).

The point I'm making here is that there's a difference - and a big one - between 'celebrating' and merely 'feeling happy about, cherishing and not neglecting' something.

To whit, the OED definition: "publicly acknowledge (a significant or happy day or event) with a social gathering or enjoyable activity".

To celebrate your lover everyday, you would have to do something Valentines-y every day. At the same time, you've also got to fit in your daily birthday party, daily phone call and card to each of your parents, religious celebrations and everything else as well. Bizarrely, you've probably got to celebrate a Valentines and a wedding anniversary separately, every day. All that, and fitting in time to work to earn the money for all that partying, never mind the cooking and cleaning it will involve.

When people say you should celebrate being alive every day, they don't actually mean 'celebrate' at all. They mean 'feel good about'. And I'm with you that far - life is full of things to feel good about and there are far worse ways to spend time than counting your blessings. But that's not actually celebrating, and it doesn't eliminate or satisfy the reason for celebrating.

Simply put, we celebrate because it's fun. It's fun to party. Cake is tasty. So is booze. Twister (as anyone who's seen the photos of me on Facebook will attest) is hilarious. To those of us of a romantic bent, it's fun to spend a day being shamelessly romantic (though that doesn't give us the right to shove it down the throats of those less romantic, single or otherwise, and I apologise if, on either of the V-days in my quarter-century that I've actually been non-single, I ever did so).

So if you don't want to celebrate Valentine's day, because you're not into that kind of thing (and your partner doesn't object ;D), by all means, don't. Save the money. De-incentivise the corporations that load every high street with godawful plushies. Stay subdued and dignified in your happiness with your partner. But please don't throw around this tediously pious, self-righteous piece of drivel, particularly as part of an attempt to convince me and my fellow romantics that in celebrating V-day we are evil and engaging in psychological abuse (which is the connotation, if we look closely, of the 'singles awareness day' terminology).

You're quite welcome to ignore us. One day out of the year, we won't mind. We understand we're annoying. As far as the use of this argument goes, the feeling's mutual, and we're only going to ignore it anyway.

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