Valentine’s Day can be an uncomfortable time if you’re single and don’t want to be. It can be a challenge if you’re happily single but feeling pressured by all this focus on romance and coupleness. Not everyone wants, or can sustain long term relationships and not everyone is inclined towards the collective idea of romance. Dinner, flowers, chocolates, looking extra good and maybe getting laid if you do a decent enough job. Tears, rows, bitter disappointment and misery if it goes wrong.
Based on both observation and personal experience, Valentine’s Day is much more important in relationships that generally aren’t romantic. The focal points in the year – this, birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas – become times of really needing some sort of gesture from the other person. I see it most amongst women who are mothers to young children and who feel taken for granted. I honestly have no idea if men feel as pressured about these dates, and as in need of some obvious show of care and attention if they aren’t feeling it the rest of the time.
It’s not about spending money (or at least for me it isn’t). It’s the idea that the other person has taken the trouble, remembered, bothered, cared. When there aren’t many signs of that, the smallest gesture is worth a lot. It’s about needing some sign that you are loved. I’ve had birthdays that were forgotten, spent mother’s days alone doing the cooking, and many a Valentine’s day passed by ignored in my twenties. “We’ll go out and you can pick something’ is not much of an answer, if what you wanted was the other person to care enough to pick something for you.
I’m not doing much this year. There will be something – we might buy ourselves a box of chocolates to share, or go out for cake, and it being a Sunday, we’ll probably have a slow and snugly start to the day. Over the last five years of married life, Valentine’s Day and Christmas have become understated things. Birthdays we make more fuss about, and we always do something for our wedding anniversary. Usually these things are jointly planned.
The difference is that this relationship does not leave me looking around desperately for some signs of being cared for. That I am cared for is obvious, and woven in to every day. I hope I do as much of that in return. We have dates – again not big showy things, but time for us. When there is a constant exchange of care and attention in a relationship, big romantic gestures aren’t needed in the same way. And when there are big romantic gestures, they’re triggered by something other than it being the 14th of February and some sense of ‘ought to’.
Big romantic gestures can be used to offset a general absence of care and romance. There are people for whom the answer to the emotional side of a relationship is to throw money at it, and buy expensive gifts now and then. Big gestures can be used to keep a relationship viable, to assuage guilt, to compensate for things that are lacking. I’ve had some experience of that, too. It’s a no-brainer for me – I’d much rather have the day to day expressions of love, affection, care and consideration, where those things show up in the details of how you treat each other, than any of the alternatives. For me, romance is not about money spent, but about the person who will flirt with me across the table any day.
Of course we’re encouraged to focus on the big gestures, not least because at key points in the year we’re being sold the idea of romance, or mother’s day or what Christmas *should* look like. We are relentlessly sold these big dates as focal points, and told what we should be buying to properly express out relationships. I don’t think it helps in the slightest.