Valentine’s Day: The Pressures of Shopping for Romance

Jerri-Lynn here. This post discusses a phenomenon I abhor: the Hallmarking of holidays, reducing what should be an occasion for joy and celebration to a mere commercial exchange.  Note here that this UK-based author discusses what one might call the American Way of Holidays – I here filch Jessica Mitford’s usage of “American” from her The American Way of Death. A usage, which, actually, doesn’t apply to that most American of holidays, Thanksgiving.  The notion of the perfect Thanksgiving gift has never really caught on. Instead, the holiday’s pleasures arise from joining with friends and family to share a meal.

Make sure you read to the end of this post, where the author concludes: “So perhaps the best option for Valentine’s Day is to forget about spending money on expensive gifts and make it about how you spend time as a couple instead.”

With that message in mind, Happy Valentine’s Day!

By Cathrine Jansson-Boyd, Reader in Consumer Psychology, Anglia Ruskin University. Originally published at The Conversation

For many couples, Valentine’s Day is crunch time. Research has shown that romantic relationships are more likely to end on or around February 14 compared to almost any other time of the year. This may be why almost £1 billion is expected to be spentin the UK over the next few days on the traditional fare of cards, chocolates and jewellery.

Many of those items will be bought as genuine gestures of affection, or for the more economically minded, as proof that they are invested in the relationship. But the fact that the date has become so commercialised can also be a real turnoff. For while some consider it a cherished day of romantic bliss, to others, February 14 inspires feelings of loathing and revulsion.

And if you do choose to partake in the annual celebration, deciding on the right Valentine’s Day gift can be confusing. What does a box of chocolates signify? How many roses does it take to genuinely reflect the appropriate level of devotion?

Rather than feeling that they want to buy something lovely for the person they love, people may feel obliged simply to spend, such is the weight of tradition and expectation.

For many, particularly men, according to research, a subsequent coping mechanism is a shopping style which has been labelled “grab and go”. This is when a person enters a store, picks something up, and is ready to pay in as little as 30 seconds.

Meanwhile, it has been claimed that women are more likely to have escalating expectations, especially in their 20s, about what they should receive as a Valentine’s gift.

Some who had been in a relatively long-term relationship expected the level of lavishness to increase from year to year. And it is not uncommon for heterosexual women to consider it to be the man’s role to plan and create the perfect day.

For many, that perfection can only be achieved if it comes with the smell of a dozen red roses. Flowers are a big money spinner on Valentine’s Day and in 2019, £261 million was spent on bouquets in the UK. But research indicates that the chances of receiving a bunch of blooms depend on how the other person views the state of the relationship.

You are apparently more likely to buy flowers if you perceive that your personal needs, such as feeling loved, are being fulfilled. If you are strongly passionate about someone, you’ll probably give flowers in combination with a range of other gifts. Those who said they were “satisfied” with their romantic relationship were the least inclined to buy flowers for their partners.

Can’t Buy Me Love

To ease the pressure, then, it is always worth considering a more personal and low-key approach – something that the object of your affection will genuinely appreciate and enjoy. Extravagance isn’t always appreciated, for example, as giving branded goods is often received as a commercial gift rather than a message of love.

If you opt to play it safe with a gift card, go for a broad approach. Research shows that tokens for a specific shop or product are less appreciated and often end up unused.

But of course, expressions of love and affection need not be about spending money at all. One survey of 3,000 couples found that those who spent the most on engagement rings and weddings were the quickest to break up.

An alternative approach would be to embrace research that suggests that true happiness comes from spending time with the people you love and sharing experiences together. So perhaps the best option for Valentine’s Day is to forget about spending money on expensive gifts and make it about how you spend time as a couple instead. Try to do something that creates a fond memory – in a way that a wilting bunch of flowers never will.

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  1. marieann

    now this is probably a result of being married for 55 years but….this is Valentine’s Day?….who knew…. not me apparently. I shall have to wish the man happy valentines day when he returns from his walk

  2. Jack

    All we do for V-day is exchange cards along with a gift of chocolate (not Valentine chocolate but something we already eat and like, drink a bottle of champagne, cook a nice dinner, and watch the same movie (Sense and Sensibility). Its a tradition we have practiced for years. And we love it and each other.

  3. meadows

    50 years with my spouse and never a fear of not fufilling some arbitrary Hallmark Holiday… spontaneous flowers? Heck yes! And never any fear of getting VD! (uhh… y’know, Valentines Day)

  4. Samuel Conner

    To show you really care, this St. Valentine’s day, give N95s. And if that isn’t enough, splurge on a qualitative fit test setup and may sure that your beloved is protected.

    Rather than dead cut flowers, perhaps give living potted plants like Cardinal Flower and Red Bee Balm.

    Does that idea strike you as absurd, for the birds?

    Exactly! Both plants attract hummingbirds, as well as butterflies and other pollinators.

    To repurpose an ancient simile, flower gifts like this communicate that “our love is like a blossoming tree in which birds come to make their nests.”

    Paradoxically, even if your love for the other is not like that and you’d rather be quit of that person, plant gifts like this are still useful. Plant a hummingbird garden for your unbeloved and there’s a reasonable chance that she will start spending more time with the birds — who can resist hummingbirds? — and less with you.

    1. Larry Carlson

      Monarda (bee balm) is definitely the gift that keeps on giving! After controlling its spread in a perennial bed, you’ll definitely believe it’s a member of the mint family.

  5. JohnA

    When I used to commute to London, it was always amusing to see women get on the train or tube on 14 February with a big bunch of flowers. They were either rather pleased, or desperately self-consciously embarrassed.

    1. Samuel Conner

      For those unattached and concerned to not be perceived to be expressing interest in others unattached, it’s a day to be extremely conscious of ‘with whom I am communicating today?” It may be best to not say or do anything at all. Anything not absolutely essential can be put back until the 15th.

      Fewer misunderstandings that way.

      1. Samuel Conner

        > It may be best to not say or do anything at all

        I think I was unconsciously channeling Gandalf to Pippin, before their audience with Denethor.

  6. doug

    Spouse and I go to the store together sometime before today, and pick out cards for each other. Read them to each other, and then put them back on the shelf.

    1. Brian Beijer

      Ha! That’s a great idea!

      I’m lucky that my wife is Swedish. Every Swede I know sees Valentine’s Day for the capitalist scam that it is.
      Our first V-Day together, she got very upset with me for acknowledging the day in any way. She told me that I could buy her flowers any other day as a surprise, but to never do anything for her on Valentine’s Day. Flash forward to today, thirteen years later, and I can’t figure out why I see these damn heart balloons in every store in Gothenburg. I guess the capitalists will never give up, but I know they’ll never win over my wife. It makes me love her even more.

      1. Irrational

        I would be deeply offended if my husband felt that he needed the prompting of some ridiculously commercialized holiday to buy me flowers rather than doing it spontaneously. I am Danish ;-)

  7. Tom Stone

    The two best long term relationships I have had were with women born February 13th and February 15th.
    I learned from my Sister to make sure the two days were celebrated in a distinct manner with the only overlap being affection.

  8. Lina

    Valentine’s day is nonsense. My partner buys some for my daughter and I but I always say don’t! Valentine’s day roses don’t mean I love you. So I’ve received flower seed packets and potted plants in the he past (today I got a small ivy plant).

    How about the nonsense of gift exchange in school? I spent too much money (and even more time assembling the bags) for my daughter to give out 18 gifts to her class….

  9. Mary Wehrheim

    To keep up profits through the expansion of markets, the corporations engage in a multimedia effort to get us addicted to the dopamine rush that comes from being gifted or buying some new thing and to channel that compulsion to whatever they are selling. This is done through emotional appeals to status seeking and guilt. Gift = expression of love. it starts as early as childhood with St Amazon’s day (aka Christmas). Buy the grand kids more stuff even if their rooms may already be full of toys and books. It is expected. But profitable holidays are not just limited to the sale of gifts but includes food, drink, costumes and decorations. The only unexploited holiday left on the liturgical calendar being the very ignored Pentecost Sunday. Nothing. No holy ghost cupcakes, cards, or drink specials.

  10. Bazarov

    I will say this: Flowers are underrated. My spouse and I never do anything for Valentine’s Day, but this year has been tough, so I surprised him with a bouquet of long stemmed roses.

    They’re awesome to have in the house. The arrangement imparts an ineffable, majestic beauty that has transformed our mundane surroundings. Even as they decay, they imbue our home with a frail beauty that’s no less wonderful.

  11. ckimball

    There are people who enjoy this holiday without cynicism. That it has become a Hallmark holiday is not a new revelation. When I was young,maybe in my late forties or early fifties,
    I told my mother it was just a Hallmark holiday. That was after she’d sent to me cards for
    Valentines. Now I wish I had responded with a card for her instead of my priggish snobbish
    attitude. Why denigrate any effort to express affection,appreciation and love. Spring is
    arriving. After the challenging winter, I see green chutes of the crocus are beginning to push through and know that once again we will see the beauty of new life in all color and form including love. It’s a celebration.
    One more thing, “And it is not uncommon for heterosexual women to consider it to be the man’s role to plan and create the perfect day.” I do not appreciate the heterosexual designation pigeon hole. I am sick of the labeling and containment of pseudo science
    which distracts from the human nature of a person. Please stop telling people what to do.

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