Is Valentine’s Day Too Powerful To Ignore?

My inbox has been filled with emails with “romantic” in the subject line—lots of deals on dinners for two, flower delivery, wine tastings, and couples massages. Then there are all the things I need to be doing to look my best for the big day: blowouts, manicures, massages, etc. Ugh. It’s Valentine’s Day again. I hate V-day, OK? There, I said it. Remember when Rocky told Adrian, about Thanksgiving, “To me, it’s just Thursday.”? Ditto that for me and V-day, whether I’m in a relationship or not. If a man is going to do nice things and/or spend money on me, I’d prefer that he choose to do so of his own free will, not because society is forcing him to. Let’s face it, how many men out there, sans pressure from their significant others (or their Ms. Right Now) would just blow the day off altogether? I’m certainly not saying men shouldn’t romance their sweethearts, but to make them collectively do so one day per year feels, well, artificial somehow.

Romance should never be forced; if it is, does it even qualify as romance? I’m sure there are plenty of men who don’t loathe V-day, but do they enjoy the build-up and pressure of having to come up with the perfect gift or date? I once worked with a woman who saw nothing wrong with openly criticizing the type and color of flowers her husband bought her. If the bouquet was sub-par (meaning it had more than one color flower or any daisies in it, god forbid!) she chastised him. I was dumbfounded. I’m all for voicing what you want, but part of me was thinking, “Damn, you should be grateful you got flowers at all.” Is criticizing the gift you get really in the spirit of V-day, or love for that matter?

But this points to the bigger issue: that V-day is, like weddings, really just for women. You rarely see women agonizing over what to give their man for V-day, perhaps because they already know what he wants. But then doesn’t that put us in the “doling out sexual favors as ‘treats’ for good behavior and/or expensive gifts” territory? (Shudder.) I say it’s time to take the pressure off. Expect romance, yes, but expect it to be unexpected. One of the best Februarys I had with a boyfriend was when we chose to ignore Valentine’s day altogether, doing fun romantic stuff when we felt like it, not when we were told to.

V-day, meanwhile, should be expanded to include family and friends. Making it a general celebration of love—kind of like Thanksgiving is a general day to give thanks—rather than focusing on romantic love, would be a huge relief to loads of people. And people who don’t happen to be in a romantic relationship that day wouldn’t feel so, well, lousy. They wouldn’t worry about what their doorman is thinking when they come home from work on V-day and then stay in the rest of the evening, alone, because they’re just too damn tired. They wouldn’t feel the need to send themselves flowers at work. And they perhaps wouldn’t go out to dinner with a good friend who hates the day as much as they do. Disclaimer: The above statements are not in any way meant to imply that I am speaking from experience. Well, OK, I’ll own up to doing the last one.

I love having dinner with my girlfriends, but on V-day, it feels like a consolation prize. It has that “you’re trying way too hard to show the world you don’t care” vibe. It seems, to me anyway, like a pity party. There’s a scene in the first “Sex and the City” movie where Carrie and Miranda, both painfully single due to being left at the altar and cheated on, respectively, have a disastrous V-day dinner that ends in tears and Carrie storming out. Melodramatic, yes. Highly enjoyable for those of us who always hated selfish, whiny Carrie? Check. But that scene also made me think of all the times I had dinner on “the day” with a girlfriend, or platonic male friend, and left feeling full of food yet empty, just wanting midnight to strike so it wouldn’t be the 14th anymore. Interesting that you never see two male pals out at dinner on V-day. Single men don’t seem to have the same need for consolation on this day, and that says a lot about gender and our culture right there, no?

The last couple of years I’ve been increasingly seeing invitations from various social and meet-up groups for “anti-Valentine’s” parties where large groups of singles meet and mingle, drink and dance, or do some other fun non-traditional Valentine’s activity. Great idea, I say. If you happen to be single that year, it’s a chance to have fun and subvert the day. And since you’re with a large group of others who feel the same way, you avoid the weird spotlight of the out-with-a-friend-in-a-restaurant-full-of-couples syndrome.

Not to say that you should feel guilty if you happen to have a fantastic, pre-planned Valentine’s evening with the one you love. But in a role-rebooted world, the last thing we need is to make those who aren’t cozied up over wine and a candlelit meal on February 14th feel like second-class citizens, objects of pity or weirdos. Can’t we all just spread the love without spreading the guilt and self-criticism? One note to the men in relationships: Before trying out the “ignore V-day” experiment, be sure to get buy-in from your significant other first.

Michelle Rabil is a freelance writer, public relations consultant, traveler off the beaten path and avid amateur photographer living in Manhattan. When she isn’t writing for Fortune 500 clients and some of the largest public relations firms in the country, she prefers to be in, on or under the Caribbean Sea. She has also written for Reuters, Psychology Today, Huffington Post and Salon.

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