“Happy Valentine’s Day!”
“Thanks… I hate it!”
The streets are littered with love-drunk couples with their hands entwined (or grasping a freshly-cut rose bouquet) and the air smells cloyingly sweet of hopeful romance and cheap chocolate. It is the defining day for couples to show their affection to one another, watch cheesy rom-coms and top their Valentine’s gift from the year before. Come to think of it, it’s almost a competition.
Who gave the better gift? Which couple has the most likes on their Instagram post? Who gifted the most extravagant present? Who gets the final rose? But I digress…
To most people, Valentine’s day is a celebration. Of course, there’s nothing more deserving of a celebration than love. But what happens when a celebration of someone you adore turns into a celebration of the amount of likes you get on your couple post on Instagram?
What happens when you realise that maybe you’re not in love with the person, but in love with the idea of not being alone? What happens when you’re not willing to chase down your loved one in an airport before they ride off on a plane and you never see them again? I ask these questions because I like to think of myself as the Oprah of giving out reality checks…
I understand I sound like the world’s biggest pessimist and Debby downer, and that’s because I probably am. Sorry not sorry! That’s only because I am tragically aware (because I’d like to think ignorance is bliss) of the repercussions Valentine’s day has on our finances, our environment and our mental health. Before I make you angrier, let’s turn the wheels of time and look at how romance or love was shown back in the day.
History of Love
Did you know that the practice of ‘getting engaged’ was never a publicised one? It’s hard to believe because now, we see so many posts of people proposing or flaunting their glistening diamond ring (with a brand new car as a bonus), but back in the day, most people just signed some papers and got married. I know, how cost-effective and boring…
A famous jewellery company, DeBeers Mining Company, actually popularised engagements by creating a slew of effective advertisements that showed the romance and sexiness of receiving an engagement ring from their partner.
It shows the woman being enamoured by how beautiful the diamond is and how the man could feel as suave as Casanova. With this ad, more men sought to buy rings for their bride-to-be and more women demanded to feel as ‘adored’ as the women in the advertisements. Not only were rings promoted, but other articles of jewellery such as necklaces and pendants were advertised too.
An almost mundane practice was turned into something magical and that’s the power of advertising. By injecting a sense of fantasy into reality, it feeds into the consumer’s need for escapism. The man gets to feel like Prince Charming and the woman gets to see herself as a princess. It’s all very cliché and Disney.
In the 50s, Marilyn Monroe, the most famous woman at the time, performed ‘Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend’ in the film Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and it further skyrocketed the sales of diamonds. We all love sparkly, new things but all that glitters is not gold (Yeah, I know some Shakespeare).
The mining for these precious diamonds has proven to be fatal for those working at mining companies, hence the name blood diamond. The practice has led to civil wars in Sierra Leone, violence, worker exploitation, environmental degradation, and unspeakable human suffering. DeBeers was right. Diamonds last forever, and so do the deaths and trauma they cause.
Financial Impact of Valentine’s Day
Speaking of human suffering, every Malaysian knows just how important (and exhausting) a wedding is, especially when you’re trying to tie the knot on the busiest day of the year for love, Valentine’s Day. To us, it’s not only an event to tie you to the person you love ‘till death (or ‘till divorce) but it’s also a time to please your future in-laws by inviting every single family member and acquaintance to the ceremony.
However, in the past, the main goal of marriage, was to act as an alliance between families. Throughout history, and even today, families arranged marriages for couples. Most couples didn’t marry because they were in love, but for economic liaisons.
So basically, it was a matter of need instead of want. But there were a few exceptions to this rule like Romeo and Juliet, the couple from Braveheart and Robb Stark and Talisa Stark from Game of Thrones. Weirdly enough, all three of these couples died horrifically… go figure.
The extravagance of having a posh, hotel wedding with hors d’oeuvres (a bougie word I recently learned that basically means snacks) combined with the price of engagement rings and presents for your bae is bound to cost you the equivalent of pursuing a degree at a private university. That Valentine’s Day booking ain’t playin’ around so you better start saving up…
Environmental Impact of Valentine’s Day
As if that wasn’t enough, Valentine’s day has been proven to be the ultimate day for waste. I don’t need to be the one to tell you that fresh-cut flowers are the go-to gift on Valentine’s Day, because it contributes to the estimated $33 billion revenue of the flower industry. Albeit beautiful, fresh-cut flowers are actually a detriment to our environment due to the excessive chemicals it has been sprayed with for preservation and the usual plastic wrapping.
Now, you may be thinking, “Okay, maybe ditch the flowers. I’ll get the heart-shaped chocolate instead.” To that I would like to say, “Congrats on not being lactose intolerant” and “V-day’s special chocolate almost always tastes like cardboard.”
I mean, let’s ask the audience. Have you ever purchased a cutely packaged box of chocolates that comes with a teddy bear, opened it, tasted it and spat it right out? We’ve all been there, so let’s not waste any money or cardboard, okay?
And the card you’re planning on getting them? Ditch that too, the trees do not appreciate being turned into a Hallmark card. Try sending an e-card instead?
All in all, Valentine’s Day is a huge opportunity for businesses to trick you into spending money you shouldn’t and as an Asian, I highly advice you to keep your coin!
Mental Health Impact of Valentine’s Day
Everything that I’ve mentioned before is all tied to one thing, pressure. The pressure to fit in and prove that, hey, I’m worthy of love too! From the expensive, frivolous gifts, to the perfect, debaucherous weddings/proposals, almost everything stems from the need to be just like those “other couples.”
We see them on social media with their pearly white smiles and destination honeymoons and think to ourselves, “I want a taste of that life.” The truth is, they don’t even have the life they flaunt on their platforms. None of us do.
Everything on social media is a lie, or part of the truth enshrouded behind a thinly-veiled lie. To idolise other couples or even force yourself into a relationship for the sake of having someone to spend Valentine’s Day with is unrealistic and bound to warp your perception of love, just like how Twilight tricked us into thinking we’d find a vampire boyfriend who would die for us.
There are numerous social media influencers who are in relationships for clout. The validation feeds their will to stay together and when that validation ends, they seek out someone else who’s willing to put on a performance alongside them.
What I’m basically getting at is that Valentine’s Day is a scam. Loving someone shouldn’t be centred around one day, it should be centred around one person, no matter what day of the week it is.
This isn’t talked about very often but love is work. It takes a toll on you, physically, emotionally, mentally and financially. It’s not what the movies portray it to be. Love isn’t always an explosion of bright colours, sometimes it’s murky, dark and scary.
It’s hard because love is not giving gifts, having sex, holding hands and driving against the backdrop of a sunset. Those are easy to do and easy to show. Love is all the difficult things. The things you don’t want people to know about.
Love is arguments, crying, hardships, incompatible schedules and diverging futures. Love is seeing how your paths will divide but locking arms so tightly, that the path might become one you can go through together. Love is looking at the mess and instead of leaving, you grab your partner’s hand and a broom.
To love and to be loved is the most difficult thing in the world and I’d like to say that love is only easy for the privileged but even the royals have had to go through hell and back just to keep their relationship afloat. Nobody is free from the struggles of love and maybe that’s why it’s something we all covet. Because when something is so damn difficult to achieve, we savour it even more.
So there you have it. I’m not anti-love, in fact, I’m the exact opposite. Love is a wonderful thing and sharing it with someone you can laugh and cry with makes you feel like you’ve accomplished everything. However, Valentine’s Day and I, we’re not friends.
Sure, you can celebrate it but just remember, that your partner deserves a love worth declaring to the world everyday of their lives, not just on the 14th of February. Love them wisely and whole-heartedly.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
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Main image by Mozarella Mozart.