Valentine’s Day: the sentiment and the cynicism

Valentine’s Day: the sentiment and the cynicism

Valentine’s Day associations are vast and subjective, encompassing everything from dating apps to loneliness, self-love to bitterness. (Image source: Element5 Digital

By Michelle Wakim | @MichelleWakim

I’ve never known quite what to do with Valentine’s Day. I’ve never known how or if to acknowledge it, or where to place its importance. As a day highly dependent on individual headspace and circumstance, I’ve always filed this day under ‘miscellaneous’.

Its sentiment and symbolism entice me to advocate for love. Though, its excess generates an overwhelmed and murky association, like too many brilliant colours mixed together to make one sad, off-brown puddle.

I’m not alone here, as Relationships Australia suggest 55 per cent of people think the worst part of the day is its commercialisation – the excess I speak of. But the day perseveres with a strong market, as 77 per cent of couples celebrate the occasion.

For many of us, our first accounts of Valentine’s Day date back to early adolescence, coinciding with the development of a first crush, the drop of Taylor Swift’s Fearless album, the release of the film Valentine’s Day (which I saw in Gold Class, with wide eyes and my three closest girlfriends).

Like most people, I store a collection of both pleasant and unpleasant Valentine’s Day associations.

My first noteworthy crush’s birthday was, in fact, on Valentine’s Day. I thought this was poetic and would lead to a declaration of love from this boy towards me, on his birthday. This, to my 12-year-old heart’s despair, was not how it played out.

My first noteworthy relationship danced – or rather, aggressively dodged – around Valentine’s Day. Unplanned and unintentional, we went on our first date on the 14th of February.

A couple of months into the relationship, when we were comfortable enough to discuss the idea of an anniversary, my partner and I decided to push our anniversary back a month, as we believed an anniversary on a widely acknowledged day of love was excessive.

Sadly, and rather ironically, February 14 followed us to our end, and we broke up on Valentine’s Day the next year, for no reason at all to do with the day itself.

My favourite Valentine’s Day memory was in high school, when a group of us spent the day serenading our peers with love songs, delivering roses, and giving out hugs (as homemade ‘free hugs’ signs sat around our necks). I found pure joy in being part of something that reduced the alienation of single people (a label that at the time seemed dire). These activities provided us with a sense of belonging on a day that belonged to those with a partner.

As I was reflecting on these memories, the radio was playing in the background and the hosts were discussing Valentine’s Day, as they have been all week. One host, defeatedly, said, “it is what it is”. The other agreed, and added, “But social media is where the flexes are going to come”.

Questions emerged after I heard this comment: now, as single adults – by choice or by chance – in the year 2021, how do we combat the feelings that accompany Valentine’s Day? Do we get out there and participate in activities that spread love (while, obviously, minimising the spread of a virus)? Do we sit quietly and cynically behind our screens on Valentine’s Day, scrolling through our socials and jumping on the dating apps?

It was found that over 50 per cent of single people in Australia mark Valentine’s Day with some form of activity, including seeing friends, meals out or buying themselves a gift. Celebrating our equally important platonic loves, or practicing self-love, is how we now spread love, replacing rituals like the ‘free-hug’ campaign of high school.  

Meanwhile, there is a case for trends in social media behaviours. Sites like Headspace and Mind acknowledge that it may best to limit social media usage on Valentine’s Day if it tends to spark intense feelings of loneliness. In agreeance, 9Honey, Australia’s leading women’s network, suggested “Almost one third of single Australians will be switching off their social media this Valentine’s Day [2019], to block out the loneliness they may feel seeing other couples celebrating”.

When it comes to dating app use, Valentine’s Day closes the peak season. In its early days, Tinder executives stated that use increased by 15 per cent in Australia in the week prior to Valentine’s Day. Within the same period, matches increased by 10 per cent nationally.

And still, after reflection, contemplation, and research, I found myself not knowing what to do with Valentine’s Day or my feelings towards it.

When speaking to a friend about this, she told me about a sweet, elderly man she knows who lost his wife on Valentine’s Day. This thought alone is enough to break even the most stoic of hearts, dissolve cynicism, and inspire some small acknowledgement of love whether it be long-standing, forming, or lost.

Valentine’s Day remains filed under ‘miscellaneous’, but I’ve added a little note: despite the pessimism and the excess, offer an act of love because the world is often in short supply. So today, on Valentine’s Day, I have planned a video call with my best friend as she sits on the other side of a COVID border.

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