Tired of the tropes of Valentine’s Day? The roses, the chocolates, the expensive dinners out? You’re not alone. Americans spend over 17 billion dollars on Valentine’s Day, supporting an industry based entirely on our notions of romance.
Today there’s a movement afoot to Occupy Valentine’s Day with alternative celebrations of love in our lives. The idea is to shake off the pressure of traditional gender roles and consumerism and get back in touch with expressing love in the ways that are really meaningful to us.
Usually, I cheerfully ignore Valentine’s Day. I’m not really a Hallmark holidays kind of girl. This year, however, I’ll be making a silly Valentine’s Day dinner with my girls. They’re into V-Day in a big way. An infectious way. Here’s what they think the holiday is about: making stuff to show people you love how you feel about them. That’s a holiday I can get enthusiastic about.
So I was already going to make dinner at home, complete with a cookie decorating party for some friends and loved ones. Now I’m even more thrilled to be doing this because I’m sticking it to the Romantic Industrial Complex.
In this excellent essay in the Nation, Samhita Mukhopadhyay writes:
Well, it’s the economy, stupid—except you’re not stupid. There is a romantic-industrial complex that nets billions of dollars from Valentine’s Day and weddings, and it needs you to “buy into” outdated ideas of love and marriage. The more you express your love through candies, chocolates, diamonds, rentals and registries, the more the RIC makes! Valentine’s Day is only one manifestation of the RIC: Americans spend $70–80 billion on weddings each year. With the average American wedding costing $27,000, marriage itself has become a luxury item. This is more than a struggle between old and new traditions—this is about money.
Her take is that the Romantic Industrial Complex is using heteronormativity to sell us a restrictive vision of romantic love – literally. We’re brainwashed into buying not only a dreamy ideal of a romantic partner who meets our every need, but all the gifts and accessories that go into proving our love is real.
That’s a pretty harsh take on a sort of sweet holiday. It certainly makes me glad I didn’t buy commercial Valentine’s this year.
So what can we do instead of buying our hearts out?
Jeanette Winterson has a wonderful essay in the Guardian today about turning love into currency. Rather than spend money – which most of us have less of these days thanks to the economic downturn – Winterson wants to see us creating more love. Not just with our romantic partners. With everyone.
Romance and sex are great but love’s possibilities are so much bigger. All our relationships are based on love of different kinds, because there are so many different kinds of love. If we could try to experience love as a quality – like compassion or courage – and focus less on love as an event, something that happens, then love would belong to us, rather than being dependent on us belonging to someone.
So this Valentine’s Day, if you so desire, take up the challenge to Occupy Valentine’s Day. I bet your kids will be a great help. They haven’t bought into the Romantic Industrial Complex yet. For them, it’s still a day to simply wear your prettiest pink dress and make a lot of construction paper cards and heart-shaped cookies.
Photo: Claudia Assad