Up through my mid-20s, I'd spent every Valentine's Day single. Relationships never seemed to last through that cycle, and nor did I ever mind. Though, I secretly wondered if I was missing out on appreciating some aspect of the gaudy holiday. (Spoiler alert: I wasn't.) And while familial love, friendship, self-appreciation and other lame ways to celebrate serve as alternatives to coupledom, they don't measure up to the truth of the holiday. Let's not kid ourselves: Valentine's Day is the day of traditional monogamous romantic relationships.
As a millennial, countless thinkpieces theorize and render statistics on how I may feel about Feb. 14. Most reports conclude that millennials are tricky targets for marketing, meaning the same shitty campaigns of the past couple decades don't work anymore and an ailing middle class has forced more creative expressions of appreciation. Hikes and other low-cost outdoor experiences are apparently popular (according to Huffington Post and other media outlets) while jewelry sales are generally plummeting.
Still, generations of Valentine's Day culture has a way of seeping into the mind and expectations remain heavy. I liken this to the same desperate need to validate every minute, unexceptional detail of our average lives via social media. Lunch, a walk in the park, your pet, how upsetting Trump's latest tweet was, so on and so forth, have become the spectacle of daily digital noise that has entranced us all. So, while dating has been reduced to swiping left, right, or "woofing," we still are faced with a steady influx of both ironic and non-ironic hashtags, memes and couple selfies, with folks out having as forceful a good time as they appeared to be, or with their dinners supposedly tasting as good as they looked in a picture.
As with all aspects of life, social media has practically sentenced a positive public image upon every citizen with a smartphone, making Valentine's Day a prime opportunity to share your romantic success or lack thereof. Have millennials endangered the divisive holiday like they have so many other staples of the market, or are we just seeing the same old attitudes cast in a new, digitized, socially networked light? I gather that it's both too early to tell, and that the nature of the holiday is merely shifting, not disappearing.
On one hand, we have more ad campaigns geared towards singles with cheesy tongue-in-cheek humor, akin to how Singles Awareness Day is SAD—get it? A singles-inclusive take on Valentine's Day, while boring, possibly boosted sales to an all-time high in 2016, with search results shifting from "what to buy for my [husband/wife/etc]" to "friend." On the other hand, the staples that make up the holiday's aesthetic—jewelry and absurd or wasteful romance-themed memorabilia—may be more at risk with marriage itself dropping to an all-time low.
Stats and economic forecasts aside, what does Valentine's Day mean to me? My dear friend, misanthropic radio satirist Ronn Spencer, calls it just another "Mandatory Fun" day, which resonates with the mandatory fun we all need to exhibit through our online profiles. To be coupled on this day can now be broadcast to the reaches of your friend or follower list. Bigger stakes seem to be held, and the results are irritating enough to send people offline for the holiday, complete with a slew of online guides on how to navigate the internet during February. Perhaps bigger stakes are held with online relationship statuses, as the Facebook Data Science team reports predictable progressions in relationships forming and breaking apart by mere data collection from activity logs. One must wonder what such data looks like come mid-February.
At last, though, I am now coupled during February, and I've found the holiday underwhelming. While my partner and I have made efforts to celebrate, we've both come to the conclusion that celebrating our love on a designated day of the year falls short of encapsulating the joy of being together. At the end of the day, one day isn't that special and hardly comprises of what makes up the good, bad or ugly of a relationship. Like most real-life things, relationships are both a process and a spectrum. The essence of my relationship can be made up of many random, singular moments; other, unexpected days of beauty that don't happen to fall on Feb. 14, and that usually involve zero to little spending. This makes planning for an obligatory momentous celebration of my love for my significant other all the more a nuisance and chore.
Yet, every year, we are all faced with the barrage of plastic red, pink and gold garbage spewing from corporate hallmarks. The imposed importance of romance on Valentine's Day permeates everything, no matter how you try to ignore it.
And that's fine. I've learned to appreciate the profane displays of insincere branding and tacky demonstrations of love. The holiday instead shines in its moments of capitalist glory and kitschy ephemera: gas station teddy bears with straw balloon hearts, street vendors aggressively pushing plastic roses adorned with flashing LEDs, teen slasher flicks themed for the occasion, chocolate-induced weight gain and chalky candy hearts emblazoned with topical love notes such as "BAE" and "TXT ME" that make everything feel so inescapably now. Bravo to all the orgiastic V-Day raves, kitschy office parties and day-after candy sale discount hunters who are just trying to make the best of a bad situation. Enjoy it. Heart reacts only.