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I’m not celebrating Valentine’s Day this year, even though I'm in a happy relationship

The Independent logo The Independent 3 days ago Olivia Petter

Jennifer Garner standing in front of a mirror posing for the camera © Provided by The Independent Editor’s note: The opinions in this article are the author’s, as published by our content partner, and do not represent the views of MSN or Microsoft.

This year marks the second time in my life that I’ll be in a relationship on Valentine’s Day and I have absolutely no plans.

It’s not because I don’t want to spend time with my boyfriend (I probably will), but if I do, the reason won’t be that it’s 14 February and Tesco is covered in love heart bunting.

The thing is, I don’t think there’s anything romantic about Valentine’s Day whatsoever because when you strip away the schmaltz, all you’re really celebrating is...well... capitalism.

Figures from the National Retail Federation estimate that a record $20.7bn (£16.1bn) will be spent on Valentine’s Day this year, and that’s with fewer people acknowledging it.

Valentine’s spending is increasing in the UK too, with Worldpay data revealing that the amount of money people splash on presents for loved ones has risen by 13 per cent in the UK since 2017.

But it wasn’t always about money.

While accounts of the origins of Valentine’s Day vary, one popular theory is that the day was created in commemoration of a 3rd-century priest named Valentine of Terni. The story goes that he secretly married couples in spite of laws laid out by the Emperor that banned young men from marrying, something that was intended to keep them away from the home and on the battlefield.

© Getty He was beheaded for his defiance on 14 February, but the Catholic Church commended Valentine for uniting Christian couples, and so he was recognised as a Saint. His name and the day of his death subsequently became associated with courtly love.

Fast-forward centuries and it feels like Valentine’s Day has become less about spending time with loved ones and just about spending, period. In 1913 Hallmark Cards declared the day a national holiday. And things have pretty much spiralled from there, with the day now calling for lavish flowers and lingerie that takes 15 minutes to strap into.

But we’re being sold a lie, because, as Shakespeare writes in The Merchant of Venice, “all that glitters is not gold”, at least, not where love is concerned. And I’ve noticed this more than ever now that I’m in a relationship. Let me explain.

Music is not the food of love, but a sausage is

To many, restaurants become bastions of romance at this time of year. But their definition of a Valentine’s Day-appropriate meal is fundamentally flawed.

I don’t see the sexiness in seven-course set menus that will make you so bloated you want to fall asleep, nor do I understand why we’re encouraged to buy bottles of wine that cost as much as diamond earrings.

Also, why would I want to celebrate romance by ordering truffle celeriac rémoulades that look like mashed potato and soufflés that I have to wait an additional 20 minutes for? None of this appeals to me or my boyfriend, whose “active hatred” for Valentine’s Day, like mine, spans meals and menus.

And supermarkets are worse, lining their shelves with all things heart-shaped, from sweets and chocolates to steaks and even sausages, as evidenced by Marks and Spencer’s latest – and undeniably phallic – creation.

How exactly a “Love Sausage” is supposed to get you in the mood remains unclear. But such are the quirks of a day that has been commandeered by brands that prescribe the theory that anything is romantic if it looks like a heart.

The irony of all this is that to me, the most romantic meals are the unplanned ones that take place at home and cost very little.

It’s the extra piece toast your partner makes for you to grab on your way out of the house, the giant slab of chocolate you share while watching a film, or the pot of pasta you make together when you feel peckish at 3am.

But you won’t see these activities being promoted on the side of a bus because authenticity doesn’t have a marketing team. Sweetheart steaks, however, do.

Money can buy you love

We see this same approach tacked to the gift-giving rituals that are encouraged at this time of year, which, like the food, is often an expensive endeavour.

According to a recent survey by online marketplace, the public spent more than £1.5bn on Valentine’s Day gifts in 2017.

Whether you have £5 or £50 to spare, these expectations put obvious pressures on couples to spend money they may not have on one another.

Personally, I would wince if my boyfriend presented me with a gift on Valentine’s Day.

© Getty Kind as the intention may be, there is nothing sweet or sentimental about buying someone something just because they feel obliged to conform to a tradition that was, in essence, created by a greeting card company. Not to mention the fact that it strips away all spontaneity and can serve only to set you up for disappointment.

A friend of mine once bought their boyfriend an expensive wallet for Valentine’s Day, he was thrilled. Until he had to present the gift he’d bought, which was a poster of a meerkat. She didn’t even like meerkats.

According to a study of Facebook data carried out in 2010, Valentine’s Day is one of the most common times for couples to breakup. And it’s not hard to see why.

Don’t forget to post about your special night on Instagram #thisone

There are more than 16m posts on Instagram under #Valentine’sDay.

Now that I’m not single, you’d think I’d feel differently about the thousands of couple selfies flooding my social media feeds at this time of year with captions like “so lucky to have #thisone” and “love my bae #couplegoals”. I don’t. It still makes my skin crawl and elicits feelings of solidarity with single people for whom these posts feel like stock images of what romance should look like.

In addition, studies have shown that those who brag about their relationships on social media are more likely to have an anxious attachment style, meaning they actually feel insecure about their relationship and post as a way of reassuring themselves. See? Smoke and mirrors.

Psychologists have also written about how the influx of happy-snappy images on V-Day encourages people, single or otherwise, to draw destructive comparisons between their love lives and another person’s.

© Getty

It’s not much fun if you’re single either

When you’re single, all this pomp and pageantry can feel suffocating. Despite attempts to combat this via the influx of “singles nights” and the advent of “Galentine’s Day”, whereby single women are encouraged to go out on 13 February to celebrate one another, intense feelings of shame and pressure persist. Not to mention, they’re also deeply patronising.

I should know, I endured years of spending 14 February doing the rounds at singles dinner parties and anti-Valentine’s Day soirées, all of which conjure up memories of excess alcohol and bad decisions. Most of this was due to the fact that I would go into a party thinking I might find the love of my life, and then feeling terribly disappointed when this didn’t happen.

In an optimistic and ambitious move, I once organised a date via a dating app with a guy for Valentine’s Day. He suggested we meet at 9pm, so naturally I ate something beforehand, thinking this would be a drinks-only situation. He arrived (half an hour late) and immediately ordered a sea bass. I obviously lied and said I was starving too, so also ordered a sea bass when I’d eaten a lasagne only one hour previously. I then felt so bloated that I had to leave early because I could no longer sit down without unbuttoning my trousers. It was not the romantic evening I’d envisioned.

Now that I’m in a relationship, I probably won’t repeat any of my past dating escapades this time around. But that doesn’t mean I’m automatically going to succumb to the consumerist shackles that Valentine’s Day places on couples.

I might be new(ish) to this, but shouldn’t the things that you’re “supposed” to do on Valentine’s Day – be kind, generous and loving to your partner – happen all year round and not just because the calendar tells you so? Just a hunch.

Gallery: 37 Movies That'll Make You Feel Just Fine About Being Single On Valentine's Day (Refinery29)


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