February 14th is upon us, and depending on your feelings about Valentine’s Day, you’re either elated or in the depths of a fit of V-Day induced anti-capitalist, anti-heteronormative rage. The holiday seems to invoke strong feelings, especially on the Internet, and a huge number of those feelings are negative, if the variations on “I hate Valentine’s Day” thinkpieces that crop up every February are anything to go by. However, hating the holiday is, at this point, rather trite, as is stridently proclaiming said hate to every passerby. It’s really just part of the growing culture in the U.S. of acting jaded under the mistaken impression that this makes you seem cool.
First, I love love. Second, I’m nuts about the holidays. BUT, I. Hate. Valentine's. Day. http://t.co/7okhzW5i1w
— Military Spouse (@MilSpouseMag) February 13, 2015
The early origins of Valentine’s Day are actually quite delightful, and I defy anyone to express dislike for Lupercalia, in which people were whipped through the streets for fun—the release of Fifty Shades of Grey is timely for more reason than one! Women in particular, including noblewomen, loved hitting the streets—did I mention that everyone was nude?—for a good whack. The Romans believed that pregnant participants would have smoother deliveries, and women having trouble with fertility would quickly find themselves in the family way.
Once Christianity started to take over, church officials began suppressing Lupercalia. There are a number of conflicting stories about the connection between Valentine’s Day and the Roman holiday—whether one holiday was a direct substitute for the other or not is unclear, but we can thank Geoffrey Chaucer for turning what was once a saint’s day into a holiday all about loooooove. And things just took off from there, reaching the commercial explosion they have today, complete with candy, flowers, themed restaurant events, and the whole kit and kaboodle.
Some people love the holiday, entirely unironically, whether they’re single or dating—and Galentine’s Day seems to be particularly taking off this year. Others almost seem to relish in hating on it, and they’re split between the coupled and uncoupled alike. The explanations posited for why singletons hate the holiday seem almost obvious: People are bitter and sad and alone on a holiday dedicated to celebrating togetherness, and thus have good reason to be miserable.
But at CNN, Dean Obeidallah writes, “[P]ersonally I think it’s worse for people in a relationship. Single people can choose to ignore Valentine’s Day. However, if you’re in a relationship, the last thing you want to do is ignore Valentine’s Day—believe me, I’ve been there, too.” He speaks to the immense pressure to do Valentine’s Day right, and the social expectation that couples have one day a year to go all out when it comes to expressing their love.
On both sides, people argue that Valentine’s Day has become a highly commercialized Hallmark holiday all about performative romance, rather than a genuine celebration of love. The push from the floral, chocolate, and greeting card trades is definitely immense, and the marketing that surrounds Valentine’s Day can start to feel extremely oppressive, especially with the holiday creep. Heart-shaped candy boxes start showing up on shelves in January, while by early February, everything is saturated in red, and sometimes in the most bizarre of places, like an auto parts store (maybe this is just my auto parts store).
“There is a romantic-industrial complex that nets billions of dollars from Valentine’s Day and weddings,” writes Samhita Mukhopadhyay at the Nation, “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!” And it’s true, the “RIC” makes a lot. But so does the anti-romantic-industrial complex, which has been swift to move in on Valentine’s Day haters—at least, those who don’t drink their sulky haterade at home.
so glad I'm not one of those couples that conform to the bollocks that is valentines, I'd hate to wait for one day a year to show my love 😂.
— Dan (@dancooledaily) February 13, 2015
It’s also a highly heteronormative holiday, specifically about monogamous heterosexual couples, and it can feel like having LGBTQ noses rubbed in the fact that they’re considered to be deviant outliers rather than part of the community. Valentine’s Day advertising, for example, is typically pitched to straight couples, and there are only so many jewelry ads encouraging heterosexuals to get engaged that a queer can bear without blowing a gasket. After all, Tiffany only just used a gay couple in an ad for wedding rings for the first time ever.
But the real reason people like to hate Valentine’s Day is this: They think it makes them look cool, because trashing things other people enjoy almost seems like a badge of honor in the U.S. today, especially among people loosely labeled as “hipsters.”
Hipster culture isn’t new—prototypical hipsters can be dated to at least the 1920s, when people prided themselves on listening to underground music and participating in subcultures as jazz spread like wildfire through the speakeasies and clubs of places like New York City. But in the 2000s in particular, hipster culture began to take on a sharp-edged turn. It’s not just about listening to bands before they were cool anymore, but about maintaining a jaded, almost bored public appearance, suggesting that society is simply too dull to bear.
Anything viewed as commercial is targeted for disdain. That includes commodified pop culture, like Valentine’s Day, or things popular with “ordinary” people—like Valentine’s Day. Hipsters are above it all, and their attitude becomes almost infectious, as the idea of being a hater is much more appealing than simply letting people enjoy their holidays in peace. The snobbishness surrounding Valentine’s Day as a holiday for the masses provides another opportunity to make comments dripping with superiority and disdain.
Perhaps hipsters celebrated Lupercalia before it was cool. But ironically—and hipsters are fan of irony, it’s true—by being so aggressively public with their hatred of the holiday, they’re actually making the Valentine’s Day lovers entrench their positions. Those who feel under attack are more likely to defend an institution they may not have cared about all that much in the first place, on the grounds that clearly anything worthy of such hatred deserves at least a little defensive love.
In 2010, Brian Moylan at Gawker had some particularly caustic words for the V-Day haters: “These people think that they are going to do something to change the couple-centric world that we live in, but all that they’re doing is giving credence to it. It’s like scowling at the concept but sneaking handfuls of chalky conversation hearts while all their fellow black-wearers go to change The Smiths record.”
I fucking hate Valentines day
— ZxCH GRxY™ (@zxch_grxy) February 13, 2015
While I’m usually easily riled, especially when it comes to capitalist excess and heteronormativity, I can’t actually rouse myself to care about Valentine’s Day one way or another, except on February 15th, when I take advantage of the steep discount on chocolates. I’d like to propose that we all lay down our arms this year and propose a truce; surely we have something better to do with our time.