Valentine’s Day is a magical day – that is, if you’re six years old and also believe in fairies and wizards. For adults, the day can be a bit more complicated. Sure, some still get excited about it. But for many of us, it’s just another day on the calendar. And for others, it can be downright stressful.
Of course, the fact that February 14 can be difficult for some people is obvious. But what may not be so obvious is that even those who are in “happy” relationships are not immune to Valentine’s Day stress.
Specifically, I want to discuss an issue I feel doesn’t get enough attention, and that’s the immense pressure placed on men this time of year to come through with outrageously expensive gifts of jewelry for the women they love (many of whom have, in turn, have been conditioned by the media to expect such gifts on Valentine’s Day).
Have you noticed how relentlessly loud and aggressive the jewelry ads have been in the paper and on the radio these past few weeks? I truly cringe (and sometimes even rant to my children) when I hear these radio spots. “A diamond says you love her!!” one radio ad proclaims with authority. “Show her how you feel by giving her a beautiful necklace that will make her the envy of all her friends!” implores another.
The envy of all her friends? Oh, is that the goal?
I guess I’m just a little sensitive. I work with people suffering immense pain as they recover from broken marriages and shattered lives, so I know better than most people how destructive these seemingly innocuous messages can be to a relationship.
It’s a lie, and a dangerous one, for the ads to claim that giving a diamond really “says” or “proves” that your man loves you. He may in fact love you very much, or he may not; the diamond itself is kind of irrelevant to that fact. In fact, the gift of a diamond on Valentine’s Day might say something else entirely – like that he was feeling pressured by an aggressive marketing campaign and was trying desperately not to disappoint you.
I wonder how many men are overextending themselves financially out of fear of disappointing their loved ones on Valentine’s Day with less expensive (but no less meaningful) gifts? And if so, who created that fear, and what does its pervasiveness say about our society?
Gifts can be wonderful, when they come from the heart and when they don’t cripple the giver financially. But our society places a ridiculous value on extravagant demonstrations of love, like lavish wedding receptions and Valentine’s gifts so far out of most people’s financial reach that guys are now encouraged to “finance” them. I find the whole concept of financing jewelry sad, and very fake.
On February 14, flowers, chocolates, dinners out, or even nice gifts which are well within a normal budget can be lovely, if these things are truly heartfelt. Even jewelry can be great if it’s not going to create financial hardship, and if it’s given spontaneously, rather than out of a sense of obligation. I certainly wouldn’t turn down a nice gift and I’m not suggesting that anyone else should, either. But taken to an extreme, the pressure on men to “perform” on Valentines Day creates just that – a performance.
And who is the audience for this performance? Increasingly (and sadly, in my opinion), it’s not just these guys’ wives, but also all of the couple’s social media “friends”, in whose faces many gift recipients seem to need to flaunt the “evidence” of how great their relationships are. Who are they trying to convince, and why?
Yes, this brings us to yet another reason Valentine’s Day can be so destructive to so many – all the flaunting and “sharing” of Valentine’s gifts on social media can make even those who are lucky enough to be in good relationships question whether their relationships are really as good as some Facebook friends’ appear to be – “appear” being the operative word, because online, illusion becomes reality.
Making others feel bad may not be the intention of most people sharing the extreme awesomeness of their Valentine’s Days – some probably just can’t contain their excitement – but regardless of intention, when other people’s pain is a foreseeable result, people should really try harder to restrain themselves from boasting online about the “most amazing, thoughtful gift” they just received from “the best hubby in the world!!!!!!!”.
Sadly, Valentine’s Day, like Christmas, seems to have evolved into another excuse for consumerism (and opportunism on the part of retailers), and the day, for many, has become an unfortunate and unfair barometer of their relationships, with measurements being made based on material things that really mean very little, in the grand scheme of life.
Any truly happy person knows that the best gifts in life come from the heart, and not from a store. Of course, it’s lovely to receive a thoughtful token of your loved one’s affection on Valentine’s Day, but lavish gifts of jewelry are, for most people, rarities reserved for very special occasions. For those in truly happy relationships, diamonds are totally unnecessary as “proof of love” on Valentine’s Day. True love needs no proof.
On a lighter note, speaking of “proof”, as I was proofreading this post, I heard not one, but two Valentine’s ads for diamonds on the radio. Ugh. Some things will never change!
I hope you have a very happy February 14th, whatever your relationship status may be, and however you may choose to spend the day!
Thanks for reading,
Rosanna Breitman is a Toronto divorce mediator with 20 years’ experience helping separating spouses resolve their legal and parenting issues in a fair, respectful, and legally durable manner. She can be reached at email@example.com