The Romance of Boycotting Valentine's Day

Originally published in Psychology Today.

I was born on February 13, the day before Valentine’s Day.  Apparently, the hospital staff considered me a member of Cupid’s baby club anyway, because they put my pint-sized self into a big red heart when it came time for me to go home (and my parents made sure to take plenty of pictures before taking me out of it).

So, considering that my earliest moments of life were intertwined with an ode to Valentine’s Day, one would think this should restrain me from writing what I’m about to write, but no…

I propose we boycott Valentine’s Day.

OK, this probably makes me sound like I’ve got a gripe with romantic relationships, but actually the reverse is true.  I strongly believe that romantic relationships are a vital element of human life.  As a psychologist, I focus on helping people learn how to build and maintain emotionally connected, intimate, love-filled, rewarding, colorful relationships that last.  And personally, I’m married to an awesome man who fills me with excited butterflies and romantic, sentimental mushiness. 

And it’s precisely because romantic bonds are so meaningful and valuable that we’d do well to give Valentine’s Day the snub this year. Why?

First, although Valentine’s Day is an occasion to revel in love and relationships, there’s a decidedly unromantic aspect of this holiday.  If you’re in a relationship that’s been struggling, your odds of breaking up are actually dramatically higher around Valentine’s Day than at other times of the year.  Why?  The demands of Valentine’s Day can be too challenging and overwhelming for relationships in a rocky patch; they can propel shaky couples toward splitting.       

Second, it’s an awfully pricey holiday that largely works against itself.  In 2014, Americans spent $17 billion (that’s right, billion) for special dinners, candy, flowers and other symbols of the holiday, and it’s gone up since then, hitting over $19.5 billion in 2016.  It’s also a day with built-in gender bias, with men spending double what women do.  And even though we foot a hefty holiday bill, 66% of us believe that the money-driven, commercialized natureof Valentine’s Day actually drains the romance from the occasion.  So why do we keep buying into it?  According to a study of young men’s beliefs about Valentine’s Day, a sense of duty is one motivating factor.  They give presents, in part, because they believe they have to, which doesn’t sound very romantic.  

Third, for such a costly holiday, we sure don’t think much of it.  On the list of people’s most treasured holidays, Valentine’s Day ranks near the bottom, with only one percent of Americans rating it as their favorite. 

And finally, if we focus on what Valentine’s Day represents—a celebration of love, intimacy, emotional closeness, romantic gestures, and wooing a partner—it reflects love habits for us to practice on a daily basis, not on a special time of the year.  If we make every day a non-commercialized form of Valentine’s Day by habitually showing our commitment and love to our partner, then why do we need the holiday?

So, rather than obsessing about February 14th, how can we start forming ongoing habits of love and commitment?  According to Dr. Daniel Weigel, a psychologist at the University of Nevada Reno, we have plenty of options, and they don’t involve spending a lot of money or devising grand romantic overtures either.  Think small.  Cupid is in the details.  Here are a few examples:

  • Give your partner a sweet card or small present on a random day, just because.
  • Leave little affectionate notes for your partner.  You could even put them in sundry places, like a lunch bag, on a laptop, or tucked in a pocket.
  • Take time to express love, passion, fondness, and desire for your partner.  Don’t assume that your partner knows.  Everyone likes to be reminded.
  • Open up about what your partner means to you.
  • Send your partner a little text in the middle of the day to say “I’m thinking of you and I can’t wait to see you.”
  • Be polite and kind.
  • Listen to your partner and try to place yourself in his or her shoes.
  • Respect your partner’s individuality and don’t try to change him or her.
  • Be authentic and real.  Examples of this include telling the truth and following through when you give your partner your word.  
  • Spend time together and play.
  • Reflect on how to make your partner’s life brighter.

So on Valentine’s Day, be sure to show your love and devotion to your partner— just like you do on all the other days of the year.