A History of Love

screen shot 2013-02-14 at 2.39.01 pm(Marie Lambert)–Like Vegemite and Taylor Swift, Valentine’s Day is one of those things that most people seem to either passionately love or hate. Usually as soon as New Year’s decorations have been taken down, stores begin stocking products in shades of pink and red and spreading bizarre advertisements to capitalize on the day our nation celebrates love.

It is no secret that Valentine’s Day is a commercial holiday. Originally an amalgamation of the Roman Lupercalia festival and the commemoration of the martyrdom of the Christian St. Valentine, the day became romanticized during the Renaissance and Middle Ages and exploded in popularity with the advent of factory mass-produced Hallmark greeting cards in 1913. Thus a day was born which is rarely surpassed in its ability to equally engender both anticipation and dread.

The rampant commercialism of Valentine’s Day rivals that of the earlier, highly profitable winter holidays, but in some ways its pervasive influence has the strongest hold on common culture. For Valentine’s Day claims to advertise nothing simpler than love, and how can we as consumers deny such a gift to those we care for in our lives? Guilt is a strong motivator, and what reasons can any American have for ignoring a celebration of universal, secular love?

At the risk of sounding like a conspiracy theorist, this is how they suck you in. This is why I feel guilty for not sending my mom a homemade Valentine’s Day card this year—the first time I haven’t in many years. Wow, I see how important your mother is to you, seeing how you can’t even take the time to send her a simple card to show your love for her. 

Love—or what we view to be “love” in common culture—has become a currency, an item of value to collect through its physical manifestations. Let’s take a look at the popular reality TV series, The Bachelor. For those of you who haven’t been blessed with the experience of watching such a gem of television, the basic premise of the show is that 25 women enter a competition to win the love of single man. A series of group and one-on-one dates are held every week, and women are eliminated from the show as the “bachelor” develops better relationships with some over others. In the end, the lucky guy usually proposes to one of the remaining two women, and a wedding often follows. However, a divorce or break up often comes along soon afterward, and a grand total of only three out of the 24 winning couples (from both The Bachelor and spin-off The Bachelorette) have remained together through the years.

While I am ashamed to admit that I have been sucked into watching the show of late—the semi-scripted drama is oddly addicting for all its horror—it is an interesting study of how we view love in America. These women come to the show knowing little about the chosen bachelor except that he is a conventionally attractive white male with money to spend, and within a couple of weeks are legitimately convinced that they are in love with him. I say “legitimately convinced” because although I doubt the depth of their true feelings for this man, I don’t doubt the sincerity of their desires to find love—whatever that is to them. Many of these women (except for the couple every season just searching for their 15-minutes of fame) come to the show because they honestly believe that they can find happiness with this anonymous man. It’s hard enough to cultivate an honest, open relationship in actual reality, but the fact that the women are actively competing against one another for time with a single man drives them to a single-minded determination. bilde

When love becomes a game, a competition, something that you should want to win, it’s not hard to see how the contestants on such a show think that the “love” they find is real. Love has become a commodity, a prize that we will be rewarded with if we pay the right price: roses, boxes of chocolates, jumping into ice-cold lakes. But love is not a one-size-fits all garment, and it cannot be spontaneously generated through a series of easy steps.

Despite how it sounds, I am not a vehement hater of Valentine’s Day. For all its commercialism and cheesiness, I tend to find the gaudy and outrageous preparation for the day to be endearing and amusing more than annoying these days. Wonderful, hilarious movements such as Singles Awareness Day (yes, S.A.D.) and Galentine’s Day arisen from this dreaded holiday. Myself, I spent Thursday evening celebrating with friends I truly love, watching/laughing over The Bachelor and eating lots of chocolate.