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The Real Meaning of V-Day

Veena Thomas

Valentine’s Day has passed us by once more. All of those boxes of fancy chocolates which once so prettily adorned store windows will be relegated to the “50 percent off” bins of your local discount stores. Dozens of roses, so overbred that the stems can’t even support the weight of the blooms, will rot in florist shops everywhere. Those little Necco hearts will be forgotten until next year, when the commercialism begins all over again.

I’ve grown somewhat tired of Valentine’s Day, when all of the immature, ill-matched couples walk around dewy-eyed and he showers her with gifts, which the rest of us think were to make up for the way he treated her the rest of the year. I’ve always wanted to do something subversive, like dress all in black and hand out red gummy worms. The holiday can bring out the cynic in everyone.

Some argue that greeting card companies and florists created Valentine’s Day, for obvious reasons. Others protest that Valentine’s Day is one of the sweetest holidays: a day where you show your loved ones just how much you care about them, and celebrate your lives together. From what I’ve seen recently, however, I’d have to argue a different point. To many, Valentine’s Day is an occasion to show the entire world, coincidentally including your significant other, that you are the greatest gift mankind has ever seen.

The holiday grows splashier and more elaborate each year. Both men and women compete to outdo each other with ‘thoughtful’ (read: expensive) gifts and outlandish proclamations. Interestingly, many of these gestures aren’t intended for their love after all, but rather, for everyone else watching.

Take a case in point. The other day on the radio I heard an ad for special bears which could be personalized and given to someone special. After raving about the many selling points of the bears (“Decorate it in her favorite colors! Customize it for her profession! Nurse Bear! Teacher Bear!”), the ad continued, “And best of all, have it delivered to her office so that everyone can see what a terrific guy you are!”

Before a fraternity formal, a friend of mine was picked up by her date, carrying an armful of beautiful flowers. She thanked him and tried to place them in water so they wouldn’t die, but he told her that she was supposed to bring the flowers with her to the formal. Who were the flowers really for -- her, or for all of his brothers so they could see how well he treated his date? A large part of Valentine’s Day appears to be showing off to others. “So what did you do for Valentine’s Day?” people ask each other the next day. You’d best have done something terribly impressive. He slaved in the kitchen all day to cook you dinner? “Oh, how sweet,” some haughty people say, all the while thinking that he must not have enough money to take her out to the Top of the Hub.

Dinner reservations for Valentine’s Day at the top Boston restaurants begin filling up in January, as people vie for the most impressive locale available. Some people spend fortunes on seemingly inconsequential little gifts, while ensuring that their loved ones know exactly how much money they cost so they can brag to their coworkers the next day. It’s at once biological and primitive, part of an elaborate mating ritual: people compete for the brightest, showiest plumage in order to show their desirability. Why should your love for someone depend on how you appear in the eyes of others?

I prefer a more understated kind of love myself: a quiet declaration, a poem he wrote. A friend of mine told me about how he walked around for hours, searching for the perfect restaurant for Valentine’s Day. That’s devotion. The flowers will fade, and the fancy dinner will be digested. Only the depth of the feelings between two people, immeasurable to anyone else, remains. For in the absence of such emotions, even the approval of her coworkers cannot save you.