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20th February 2015

50 Shades of Consumerist Nonsense: Valentine’s Day

Following on from our Valentine’s Special last week, Lauren Wills describes the overindulgence that Valentine’s Day brings

Social media on Valentine’s Day contains a strange combination of ‘perfect couples’ publicising their love for each other and sarcastic singles posting statuses of how they’ll be crying into a tub of Ben & Jerry’s all day (often with #foreveralone added on the end.) This year, ‘50 Shades of Grey’ reviews will undoubtedly be thrown into the mix. People’s relationship statuses are intensified on Valentine’s Day, and I think it’s fair to say emotions run wild and free whether it be from loneliness, happiness or jealousy.

I don’t want to be that girl who writes an anti-Valentine’s manifesto, but I do think there are problems with modern interpretations of Valentine’s day including both the pressing need to spend large amounts of money and a lack of sensitivity to individuals who are not just single and lonely, but for example, have social anxiety disorder which deteriorates on such occasions. Research from the Australian psychology researcher Peter McEvoy argues that February 14th can trigger ‘severe anxiety in a significant number of people,’ highlighting the potential negative consequences of our interpretation of Valentine’s Day.

I’m not trying to say that people should conceal the fact that they’re happy or fail to say positive things about their respective partners on social media. If Valentine’s Day encourages couples to spend well-needed time together, then surely it’s a positive thing. (Ideally, however, we wouldn’t need a date on the calendar to dictate that to us.) I just think that non-stop, unnecessary bragging shows a lack of sensitivity towards others.

Another social pressure which has emerged from this celebration is the need for people not only to spam Facebook with Shakespearian paragraphs confessing their love for each other, but to be seen to be going out and spending lots of money.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m always up for being wined and dined by my boyfriend, but February 14th is definitely the day I’d least likely want to go out. This is just my personal preference – I find it cringeworthy to be around so many couples who most likely are people-watching or Instagramming. Consumerism has lured us in again with the intensification of something else to celebrate which can only be enjoyed properly by spending. It’s happened with Easter, Halloween, Mother’s Day – the list goes on.

Despite all these holidays starting as celebrations not involving large amounts of money but more so personally recognising and appreciating life, religion and other people, as the Frugalwood’s blog states, “Heart strings are connected to the purse strings.” If celebrating Valentine’s Day is genuinely about intimacy, why do we need to spend so much money? It’s become Christmas two months later with the need to lavish expensive gifts on each other.

To clarify, all of this boils down to people’s intentions. I am not suggesting that no-one buys their partner flowers or chocolates, nor am I encouraging a social media ban on Valentine’s Day. I just think it’s important, whether single, in a relationship or married, to pose the question of why we’re doing what we’re doing and posting what we’re posting. Gary Chapman argues that there are 5 love languages: words of affirmation, acts of service, receiving gifts, quality time and physical touch. He argues that identifying what both one alone and others appreciate is key to a functioning relationship.

Thus if it makes people happy to stay at home on Valentine’s Day, consumerism should not make it a social norm to have to go out for an expensive meal. Likewise if people are more outgoing in nature and enjoy being in busy, social atmospheres then let that be the reason for going out and spending time together.

I personally think that what people really want is happiness and intimacy. We can try and achieve this by buying gifts and location tagging ourselves at posh restaurants, but at the end of the day we’re being tricked by consumerism and a desire for popularity. Each to their own on their relationship preferences – I just wish Valentine’s Day was more about genuineness rather than social pressure and money.


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