Around this time of year, you may notice an abundance of heart -shaped balloons, chocolates and cards crowding grocery store aisles and T.V. ads. But Willamette students report that the holiday just doesn’t cut it.
Valentine’s Day’s consumeristic focus creates a narrow and exclusionary narrative that this generation overall appears to have difficulty relating to. With shifting ideas of love, as well as changing ideas of what constitutes a valid relationship, Valentine’s Day’s appeal is also shifting.
According to the National Retail Association, in 2020 Americans are projected to spend $27.4 billion on Valentine’s Day. This is a record high spending amount, but just as surprisingly, only 55 percent of Americans are expected to partake. Participation in Valentine’s Day is down from 63 percent celebrating in 2009, but those who choose to participate are spending more and more.
This leaves one to question, what factors contribute to the rise in spending but decrease in participation? Who is not celebrating and why?
Those who were interviewed on the subject reported an overwhelming feeling of artificiality surrounding the holiday. Akeyla Hernandez (‘20) responded: “It feels like the common narrative about Valentine’s Day [is] a really manufactured capitalist kind of holiday.” Maddy Jones (‘22) agreed, calling it “a huge marketing scam.”
McKenzie Potter-Moen (‘22) added to this point, saying, “It just puts emotions onto people so that they buy shit. It [is] a slippery logical slope which controls how they feel, which controls how they buy.”
According to Hallmark’s corporate website, 144 million Hallmark cards on average are sold for Valentine’s Day and over 36 million heart-shaped chocolate boxes are sold. The company 1-800-Flowers gets one million new customers on Valentine’s Day alone.
However, interviewees claimed those sales are due more to feeling obligated to buy than from genuine acts of care. Genevieve Melko (‘20) weighed in, saying, “It feels like you need to buy flowers for the ones you love and send cards or maybe you’re bad at love.”
One explanation for the continued rise in purchases is the relationship younger generations have with social media. Claire (Lee) Lebeda (‘21) thinks the modern engagement with Valentine’s Day is more of a performance than anything. “You wanna look good. You wanna buy your girlfriend, your boyfriend, your partner, a huge teddy bear and flowers and you know they’re gonna post it on their Instagram story or they’re gonna post it on Twitter and be like, ‘I have the best partner in the world.’”
However, a majority of people in the National Retail Association’s survey still reported not celebrating. There are several reasons for this ambivalence, but everyone interviewed reported feeling that the holiday is not expansive enough in its definition of love.
Oksana Greenwood (‘22) reported usually only celebrating with her family, and Enku Castellanos (‘21) expressed a desire to see “more platonic relationships and platonic love.”
A major part of this restrictive narrative of Valentine’s Day is its lack of queer inclusion. Jones said Valentine’s Day is “very much a cis, white holiday, a space for hetronormativity and those whose sexualities and genders are not in question or under attack.”
Lebeda echoed this, saying: “As an asexual person, and as I would later realize, as a gay person, Valentine’s Day always felt like a test. ‘You’re gonna do it the right way and you’re gonna be in a straight relationship or you’re gonna do it wrong.’”
Regardless of the level of involvement in the holiday, it is clear that the current generation celebrates love very differently than past generations. Noah Snizik (‘21) said their parents will most likely celebrate by buying jewelry but, “If I were in a relationship, I would be like, oh let’s go hang out and watch a movie.” They later said, “People I know in our generation are handling love in such a different way than our parents’ generation or our grandparents’ generation and so it’s more about not restricting to someone else’s idea of what Valentine’s Day is.”
Melko mirrored this view, saying: “Our generation likes more unconventional expressions of love. To my grandma the act of buying a card is the expression of love, while my friends and I might be more inclined to write a sweet note on scratch paper. I think our generation is known for killing the diamond industry for a reason.”
So where does Valentine’s Day go from here? Many people agreed that the approach to the holiday will shift, but had different predictions for why.
Hernandez said, “In the overarching queer trajectory of the world, I feel like conceptions of relationships and what they look like is vastly changing, especially among youth of our generation.”
Lebeda thinks the changes will be “at the intersection of the economy and changing cultural ideas of what a valid relationship looks like.”
Snizik has hope for the future of Valentine’s Day, saying, “It could turn more into celebrating that we have a community that cares, the humanness of [all] people, instead of singular pairings of people.”
However, despite these hopes, interviewees were also highly skeptical of Valentine’s Day as long as it is still being celebrated in a capitalist nation.
Hernandez believes that capitalism will adapt to these new expressions of love. “In the same way that I think there is a capitalist capitalizing on liberal-ness, that could eventually happen through Valentine’s Day as well. In that way I think it might reflect our generation to a degree but under a capitalist system it’s always going to reflect in a very capitalist nature.”
Potter-Moen thought that Valentine’s Day practices would change but said, “Not celebrating Valentine’s Day doesn’t change really deep implicit messages that we get about love.”