Opinion: The dark side of Valentine's Day

“How are we celebrating Valentine’s Day?” my friend asked me while planning a trip to Boston for the fourteenth.

I laughed, saying, “Valentine’s Day isn’t real.”

She looked up from her reading and replied, “I know.”

Though she agreed that Valentine’s Day doesn’t exist, she was still making a “Valentine Wanted. Contact Room 405” sign.

I don’t mean Valentine’s Day isn’t real in the literal sense. It exists, but it’s not authentic. Every year I wonder: why do we celebrate Valentine’s Day? Is February 14th the only day to tell people we love them?

For me it isn’t. I leave my friends’ dorms and say, “Bye, love you,” when they’re two doors down. After I call my parents, I say, “Talk to you later. Love you” even though they’re only an hour away. I text my sister “Love ya,” even though we talk to each other all day.

Courtesy of EuroMagic/Flickr

Courtesy of EuroMagic/Flickr

If chocolate were the only means of expressing love, this is what would happen: my mom would give it to me because she knows I love chocolate, my sister wouldn’t eat it if it weren’t milk chocolate and my friends would say “Thanks for trying to make us fat,” then eat the entire box.

But, come February, people are pushing chocolate at you like it’s the only thing that shows you love anyone. It’s the quick fix that sends the message, “Here is the solution to your problem of loving people.”

It just so happens that the topic of my Literary Themes class is love and everything I’ve learned thus far invalidates Valentine’s Day as a holiday of love. During one discussion, the class decided that love and money should never mix.

Considering Valentine’s Day is about how much you buy and how extravagant your plans are, the advertised notions of love muddle our perception of love. Stores sell those quick-fix heart-shaped boxes and claim they're 'selling love.' There's a word for 'selling love': prostitution.

When we discussed this point in class, people laughed, but they weren’t “Haha, so funny” laughs. Rather, they were uncomfortable laughs because we realized we’re all prostituting ourselves.

Screenshot by Kara Weeks/Gavel Media

Screenshot by Kara Weeks/Gavel Media

One of my favorite love/prostitution conversations in class happened when we discussed Professor Kaplan-Maxfield’s dream about Justin Bieber.

The class played Bieber’s “Beauty and a Beat” for our professor because he had a dream about Bieber even though he had never heard Bieber sing. “So, this is a love song?” Professor Kaplan-Maxfield asked, noting the difference between the club-beat, “Party like it’s 3012 tonight” Top 40 and Kishi Bashi’s mellow “It Began with a Burst,” he played as one of the class’ theme songs.

Early into the song when Bieber says, "Aaall I need is a beauty and a beat,” Professor Kaplan-Maxfield pointed to his speakers and asked, “Did you hear that ache in his voice? That’s where the money is.” Justin Bieber’s Auto-Tune staff knows that girls are going to melt, buy that for $1.29 and play it on loop until they believe they are the beauties about which Bieber sings. Again, money creeps in where it is not expected.

But money isn’t the only problem. We are so busy buying the idea that love is sweet and red that we forget love is not always beautiful. Valentine’s Day only celebrates one part of love. For example, we revere Cupid, the cherubic child of love and say falling in love is like “being hit with Cupid’s arrow,” but Cupid’s arrows are supposed to penetrate our hearts. That’s painful.

Don’t forget that love hurts, too. Valentine’s Day must acknowledge that love is as complicated and painful as it is beautiful to be a proper celebration.

Courtesy of Film_Poster/Flickr

Courtesy of Film_Poster/Flickr

Most contemporary love stories, as we know them, always have happy endings with smiling couples living in castles, but that is not how relationships work. The only movie I’ve seen that challenges this notion is “Blue Valentine.”

I started watching it thinking “Ryan Gosling is in this, it must be another Notebook-esque love story.” I was wrong. By the end, I felt like someone punched me in the gut because Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams’ love story was so tragic. It was the opposite of all the grandiose notions Gosling fed us in “The Notebook,” yet I loved it more because it was authentic.

It was not “Rich girl has to leave her rich fiancé for her poor, first love,” but rather the story of two people falling out of love, something that happens far, far more often than an ever-lasting love that makes it to the nursing home.

If you enjoy celebrating Valentine’s Day, then enjoy it. Have a great day. I’m not trying to dampen the spirit of love or roses, but I don’t think we have to make elaborate purchases once a year to show people we love them.

Plus, our rose-colored Valentine’s goggles make us ignorant to love’s ugly side because pain doesn’t sell. Yes, the thought and preparation of those grand gestures is touching, the roses smell wonderful and chocolates taste great, but what happens when you eat all the chocolates and all the flowers die? Is the love gone?

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