Have a sweet Valentine’s Day – without the stuff

Valentine's Day
CC BY 2.0 Brendan C

Town and Country is where Katherine Martinko and Margaret Badore compare their thoughts on green living. In this installment, they discuss skipping consumerism on Valentine’s Day.

Katherine: "You can buy me flowers any day of the year except Valentine's Day."

My mother always used to tell my father, “You can buy me flowers any day of the year except Valentine’s Day." As a kid, I didn’t understand why she was so adamantly opposed to receiving flowers on precisely the day when she was supposed to get flowers. Now that I’m grown up, however, I understand perfectly well what she was getting at.

Valentine’s Day has been taken over by excessive and absurd commercialism. As fellow TreeHugger writer Melissa posted last week, Americans are expected to spend a whopping $18.9 billion on Valentine’s Day this year alone, on everything from candy, cards, and flowers to jewelry and fancy dinners.

While I understand the importance of showing one’s love and appreciation for a partner, there is something deeply insulting about being told when and how to do it. Flowers presented on February 14th have less genuine and personal meaning, in my opinion, than a cheerful bouquet of spring flowers brought home by my husband mid-March or a potted tropical plant to brighten the house during the endless grey of January.

I think, too, that forking out generously for Valentine’s Day can breed a certain degree of complacency. There’s a sense that if one ‘does’ Valentine’s Day properly (as in, following the fluffy pink Hallmark standards), then there is less urgency to follow up throughout the rest of the year. But relationships don’t work that way. Both partners need regular and tangible demonstrations of love, in whatever form that may take. (Hint: A handwritten love letter always delights in ways that a Hallmark card can never beat.)

And so, I find myself echoing my mother’s words (yet again!), reminding my husband that I don’t want flowers on Valentine’s Day, but any other day of the year is just fine! Since he shares my aversion to how commercial the 'holiday of love' has become, we rebel against it together by not going out to a romantic restaurant for dinner. Instead we stay in, put the kids to bed, and cook an elegant, delicious meal that we then enjoy by candlelight. I’ve grown to love our tradition, not least of all the decadent chocolate pots de crème that make a mandatory appearance at the end of the meal.

Margaret: Don’t put a price tag on your love

There are an awful lot of things to spend money on that are supposed to say “I love you.” I’m not just talking about cards and candy and flowers on Valentine’s Day. I’m talking about big weddings, expensive engagement rings, anniversary gifts and parties, push presents, and vow renewal ceremonies. It’s all part of a process that attempts to commodify our relationships, and turn them into marketable goods and services. Writer Samhita Mukhopadhyay refers to it as “The Romantic-Industrial Complex.” This complex not only encourages the kind of over-consumption that’s terrible for the environment, but I don’t think it’s good for our relationships either.

There’s a sexist side to Valentine’s Day as well—hearts, flowers, pinks, reds—it’s all incredibly feminized. No matter how much men like chocolate, the vast majority of Valentine’s Day gifts are intended for men to purchase for women. Aside from being heteronormative, the historical implication is that a woman doesn’t have the economic power to buy these things for herself. But even sadder is the implication that a woman’s value can somehow be measured by how much gets spent on her.

That’s outdated, and I want none of it.

But it’s important to be on the same page as your partner, so it’s good to have an open dialogue about things like Valentine’s Day or anniversaries. Fortunately, my boyfriend and I had many conversations about consumption, materialism, and gifts long before our first Valentine’s Day rolled around. We both value experiences more than stuff. Like Katherine, we both know that having a strong relationship means working at it a little every day, not just showing up for the big occasions.

None of this is to say that I’m an unromantic person, or that material gifts are somehow wrong. Like Katherine and her husband, my boyfriend and I will likely make a homemade meal, although maybe not even on February 14. We’ll drink red wine and reminisce and I might even surprise him with cupcakes (shhh…don’t tell him). If my mother sends me chocolates, I’ll enjoy every last bite.

But I do think we need to think critically about what holidays we literally “buy into.” There shouldn’t be a “right” or “wrong” way to celebrate the love in our lives, as long as we remember it’s not measured by a price tag.

Have a sweet Valentine’s Day – without the stuff
In this installment of Town and Country, we talk about skipping consumerism on Valentine’s Day.

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