Valentine’s Day doesn’t need to be about splurging on gifts you can’t really afford or feeling single and lonely. If you do it right, it can be liberating, says Charlotte Muru-Lanning.
Hating on Valentine’s Day is an activity enjoyed by many. As a country of people who seem nearly allergic to romance, we’re particularly good at shunning the day of love in Aotearoa, but this disdain isn’t unique to just us. All over the world, people just cannot stand the 1525-year-old celebration.
The vitriol hurled at Valentine’s Day, compared with other celebrations (I’m looking at you Christmas and Guy Fawkes), seems somewhat excessive.
That’s not to say there isn’t a dark side to Valentine’s Day, which was highlighted when this week, lawmakers in New York City and Chicago eased pandemic restrictions to allow for indoor dining in time for the big day – in spite of warnings from health officials. What better way to celebrate love than by potentially giving Covid-19 to your waiter, right?
This was all in the name of profit – which is where, understandably, much of the cynicism around the day stems from. It’s consistently denounced as a marketing ploy, a celebration created solely to get more people hovering their paywave cards over Eftpos machines. And that’s not an entirely unfair criticism. In New Zealand, we spend around 9% more on Valentine’s day than an ordinary day, and 378% more on flowers on the day than the week beforehand.
The other element of Valentine’s Day that people aren’t keen on is the focus on romantic love – a concept the world does seems unhealthily obsessed with. A whole lot of angst surrounding the day is focused on how it either excludes people who are single or places undue pressure on those who are in relationships.
Don’t hate on V Day because of these assumptions though. You don’t need to spend money to celebrate Valentine’s Day. You don’t need to be in a romantic relationship to celebrate Valentine’s Day. You don’t need to tie the value of your relationship to how much your partner spent on a gift.
Often, the emotions and rituals typically associated with Valentine’s Day are belittled. Feelings like love and sentimentality or buying things that you don’t “need” conflict with being rational.
Earlier this week, I stumbled across an advertisement for an “anti-Valentine’s” event at Auckland museum MOTAT that summed up the distaste for these emotions perfectly.
“…escape the cheese and sentimental $#@% with an Anti-Valentine’s night out of light-hearted fun and entertainment at MOTAT.”
Canadian academic Deborah Knight has written about why we seem so intent on condemning sentimentality. She describes how tender emotions, like those associated with Valentine’s Day, are framed as “cheap” or “indulgent”. They’re mocked and avoided because they reflect the illogical and feminine side of human nature that in a patriarchal society is often repressed.
All the rituals associated with the day are attached to the very uncool idea of being sentimental, sweet and sincere about love. Allowing yourself to dive into this is liberating and, in my opinion, political. Being cynical all the time is also quite boring.
It’s hard to believe, but romantic love has always been important in Aotearoa. For Māori, romantic relationships were (and often still are) wider than two individuals and vital to maintaining culture and lands or forming bonds with other iwi. Iconic love stories like those of Mahinaarangi and Tuurongo or Hinemoa and Tūtānekai have been passed from generation to generation. Manaakitanga and aroha are central concepts in te ao Māori. Ranginui Walker remarked that race relations in Aotearoa are worked out in the bedrooms of the nation. Romantic love has connected Māori and tauiwi for centuries now.
In a world that is so unsettling, might it not be the perfect time to affirm these kinds of emotions that are truly ongoing and universal?
You may be thinking; it’s a bit late now, all the restaurants are booked out, all the flowers at the florist are sold out, I’ve got $10 to last me till pay day on Wednesday, so there’s no way I can afford an expensive present. Or even just – I’m single.
None of these things are barriers to celebrating Valentine’s Day. The beautiful thing about Valentine’s Day is that unlike a lot of other more prescriptive annual celebrations, it’s incredibly flexible. While films and advertisers might have told us otherwise, Valentine’s Day doesn’t have to be a day for dramatic grand gestures featuring diamond bracelets and white tablecloth dinners. It’s a lot more enjoyable if you instead set it aside as a day for sweetness and tenderness. It’s about “e iti noa ana nā te aroha” – a small thing given with love.
Pick some flowers for family members you don’t see enough, write a note to a friend in a kitschy card, make a dinner out of things that are entirely pink, put some sparkly heart-shaped earrings on, splurge on Fancy Feast for your cat, bake a cake to share (or not), put together a Spotify playlist for your partner. Don’t feel like doing anything today? Kei te pai. Any day can be Valentine’s Day. Celebrate it tomorrow. Celebrate it whenever you want. It certainly has its faults, but amid the routine of everyday life, Valentine’s Day is a much-needed reminder to celebrate the sweet things that make your heart flutter. Just like any relationship, it’s worth loving, in spite of its faults.