To my valentine, a plastic rose and a mass-produced card
Amber Lennox 14 February 2021
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of InQuire Media
Image courtesy of Joe Haupt on Flickr 'Vintage Valentine Day Postcard - Have A Heart, Circa 1916'
When I was 11 years old, I woke up early one morning and decided to curl my hair for school. I did this from time to time because I felt l like it, however, on this particular day, I forgot something that would prove to be fatal: I forgot it was Valentines! Cue the endless taunts about who I’d “dressed up for”… in my school uniform… which everyone else was also wearing.
In hindsight, I’ve no idea how I missed the date, given the sickening volume of red and pink in stores throughout the weeks running up to the day, which has only grown worse as the years have gone on. I’m not here to be a killjoy, but Valentine’s day has become a capitalist farce that needs to die a quick, quiet death, to allow us all to find truly authentic love and romance.
Valentine’s Day is actually steeped in history, however, this only highlights how truly confusing the day is. To begin with, it had nothing to do with romance whatsoever, in fact, it was a pagan fertility festival known as Lupercalia, before the Church came along and, as with so many other holidays, hijacked the festival, branding it St. Valentines Day. Still, the first real record of the day having anything to do with love and romance didn’t come along until Chaucer, coupled with the introduction of Cupid (who is, today, a hallmark of tackiness), we see that Valentine’s Day is a hybrid of secular, religious, and mythical beliefs masquerading as one inauthentic, big, red love heart.
The fact remains that, historically, Valentine’s is not so inauthentic. In fact, I’d argue that composing a poem to your one true love, whilst captured in the Tower of London, in the name of the day of love, is about as authentic as it gets. That's the story of the first valentine ever written by Charles Duke of Orleans in 1415. Perhaps I am a hopeless romantic, but to face possible death and yet feel compelled to declare your love for someone miles away, yet infinitely connected to you, is true love at its finest. (Turns out sending a valentine whilst in lockdown is actually not depressing but in keeping with romantic tradition.)
So where did it all go wrong? I’ve investigated and in my admittedly not-so-expert opinion, somewhere in the 1900s, we fell out of touch with love. With improved mass printing, ready-made cards were favoured over handwritten valentines and thus began our departure from personal and intimate gestures of love.
Today, the capitalisation on Valentine's day is almost immeasurable. In 2019 an estimated £855 million was spent for the day in the UK and, right now, there is a 24k gold rose on findmeagift.co.uk for almost £56, which speaks for itself. And let’s not forget all the adverts. Moon Pig. Funky Pigeon. Even Durex and Love Honey I can understand. But the Old Spice and Co-op Insurance Valentine adverts? Last I checked soap and insurance people are not exactly beacons of romance. Valentine’s has become a brand entirely unto itself. And that’s not love. Unless you count the love of taking money from people who have been misled into believing they need to find a unique last-minute gift in a sea of identical teddy bears.
Valentine's Day, in its contemporary form, is empty. Christmas, though likewise heavily commercialised, is a holiday most celebrators can attribute some genuine meaning to; the meaning of Christmas for many lies in spending it with loved ones. In other words, the meaning of Christmas is love, but in a way that feels open-ended; you get to decide what that means for you. Its yearly recurrence allows people to develop new personal and genuine meanings. The meaning of Valentine's Day is love. Always the same mandatory, romantic eros type-of-love. It's not about love, the thing itself, but the aesthetic of love— the kind of love that sells. The heart Cupid's arrow once penetrated has been bled dry, only its dry husk remains.
I should say, flowers and chocolate are still great, but don’t give them to someone just out of calendrical obligation. And they need not be for your romantic partner: clearly, the focus on romantic love angers the single populace more than anything. Maybe it's time to expand the meaning of Valentine's day, so that it may truly be a celebration of love as it was intended by the poets of yore. But love in all its forms: the love you have for your friends, family and hopefully yourself, too. So get someone, a lover or a friend, flowers because it’s been a rainy day and you’ve hated every second of it, but when you saw the sunflowers in the supermarket, they reminded you of that one person and, suddenly, the day isn’t so bad. Or buy them chocolates when you know that they had a bad day and you want to make them smile.
I’m not advocating the abolition of romance. No. This is a campaign for its revival. Let’s stop pandering to corporations on an arbitrary day of mandatory love and let’s create our own moments of magic with those we love. That’s what romance is all about! It’s personal, and unique, and impenetrable. It exists beyond the adverts, and beyond the deals, and the ready-made cards. Romance is something seated deeply in every individual’s soul, and if you’re lucky enough to find someone who inspires you to tap into that, then don’t sell it out for anything. Don’t give up the authenticity of it all by partaking in, and fuelling, the corporate nonsense.