Valentine’s Day has come in for a lot of abuse in recent years. It is overly commercialized—CVS puts out those heart-shaped boxes of chocolates the first week in January; parents are pressured to buy Snoopy cards for a whole classroom full of second-graders; restaurants jack up their prices, even as their food gets worse.
Valentine’s Day is also overly sexualized—surpassed only by Halloween as the day normal women are supposed to dress like prostitutes. Victoria’s Secret spends months preparing for the event. In pop culture, the message of fantasy fulfillment on Valentine’s Day is relentlessly flogged, sometimes literally: the Fifty Shades franchise hopes to further mainstream bondage and sadomasochism this Valentine’s Day with the release of the movie, Fifty Shades Darker. Cosmopolitan magazine even helpfully offers suggestions for “12 Things You Should Know Before Trying S&M for the First Time—If Fifty Shades Darker Has You Inspired.”
And, of course, Valentine’s Day is sexist—men are expected to buy flowers for women and women are supposed to smile demurely and accept these offerings. The day’s retro rituals drive feminists around the bend; many protest by attending performances of Eve Ensler’s tired, pseudo-rebellious performance piece, The Vagina Monologues.
But Valentine’s Day may also be our last best hope for introducing young people to something resembling actual romance. According to a recent survey, almost half of millennials actually hop into bed with people they’re interested in before they go on a real date. And a third use that experience to decide whether or not it’s even worth going on a real date. And yet, none of this is making them particularly happy. According to the survey, which was conducted by Match.com and included 5,500 millennials, 57 percent of young adults say they feel lonely, and 22 percent say that modern technology has made it harder for them to find love.
They’re probably right. The many dating apps out there promise to help us find people we wouldn’t otherwise meet, or claim they will help us sort through all of those eligible bachelors and bachelorettes with some kind of mechanical efficiency. But it doesn’t seem to work that way.
Instead, what many people find is that technology has presented them with the paradox of choice: it has opened up a world of people they would never encounter, but just like searching online for a white t-shirt or the perfect shampoo, the sheer quantity of choices becomes overwhelming. And once we make a choice, we are always faced with regrets. You know all those people who keep looking at Zillow after they buy a house? They’re the same people who stay on Match after they’ve found a significant other.
Which brings us back to Valentine’s Day. If it turns out that we can celebrate one holiday where people are actually expected to meet up in person and go out on a real date that involves eating dinner or going to a movie or taking a walk in the park before they hop into bed together, then we should embrace it. If there’s one holiday where we’re actually expected to have face-to-face contact and real conversation with someone else—if only for the sake of appearances—then we should celebrate it to the fullest extent.
Even if the food is too expensive and the flowers are the cheap kind from the convenience store, even if the chocolates are stale because they were put on the shelves in January, even if we have to endure months of Victoria’s Secret advertisements, even if it means that Eve Ensler is going to go to every college campus in the country in protest, we should be shouting from the rooftops: “Happy Valentine’s Day!”