Lizzie Marvelly: We should celebrate love in all its forms

The emphasis on spending up large on Valentine's Day is a lost opportunity.
The idea that love validates us is so deeply entrenched in our society that we almost never question it. Photo / Nigel Marple
The idea that love validates us is so deeply entrenched in our society that we almost never question it. Photo / Nigel Marple

Every time I've walked into the supermarket over the past few weeks I've had to resist the urge to vomit. No, I'm not pregnant. I may, however, have developed a fairly strong stress reaction to heart-shaped stimuli.

There should be a trigger warning outside the front doors: "Caution, sickening display of commercialised, overly sentimental affection ahead."

Instead, armed only with a trolley, unsuspecting shoppers are confronted by love hearts, flowers, chocolates and enough red to make you wonder whether someone was murdered before they made it to the fruit section. It's outrageous.

As a happily, somewhat defiantly, single woman, it's all a bit much to deal with at the beginning of the shopping experience. I could almost stomach it at the check-out, where the doors are in sight, but to be harpooned by tiny cupid arrows when you still have a full shopping list to check off is like being kicked in the shins at the start line.

I've always found Valentine's Day rather odd. It started when I was in Year 9 and my boyfriend, accompanied by his best mate, met me at New World (half-way between boys' and girls' high) after school to hand me a card and a soft toy. Oh the romance.

Little did we know that it would be the said best friend who would buy me a Valentine's Day gift the next year. Young love. So tumultuous. But I digress.

Throughout the day we'd witnessed huge bouquets of flowers being delivered to the Rotorua Girls' High office. If a girl in our class received a message to go to the office, we'd titter excitedly. It was sweet in a way, although underpinned by an undeniable streak of competition. The bigger the bouquet, the more passionate the love, obviously. And the more torturous for the flowerless.

It wasn't until I left the cosy surrounds of RGHS to take up a scholarship at King's College, however, that I really understood the frenzy of Valentine's Day. King's had a system in place in which you could order roses from a committee of Year 13s, who would then deliver them to the boarding houses. When the final bell rang there was a barely concealed rush to count how many roses had been left on each girl's bed.

Those with an empty pillow would be variously pitied, ignored or ridiculed. Those with the most would be enviously whispered about, crowned the winners of a game I'd eventually realise was as old as time (and as modern as The Bachelor).

Love and lust are hardly new phenomena. Neither is romantic competition between women. Beginning as early as Year 9 (probably earlier now, given the exponential changes since I was 13), experiences like Valentine's Day tacitly teach young women that having a boyfriend is the ultimate win. For those who are single, it can feel like a party that you're not invited to, reinforcing the idea that not being coupled up is somehow abnormal. For LGBTQ+ people, the focus on straight relationships can seem more than a little exclusionary.

Don't get me wrong. I'm a lover, not a hater, but to me, a commercialised, Americanised Valentine's Day misses the point.

Unsurprisingly, singleness is more problematic if you are female. Single men are often cast as bachelors unrestricted by "the ball and chain" and free to sow their wild oats with abandon. Single women, or spinsters, as history has so oddly dubbed them, are instead "unlucky in love".

The assumption is that all women desperately want to be in a relationship, when, for many single women, that couldn't be further from the truth. On the flipside, there are the men who would quite like to be worshippers at the altar of monogamy. Both are ideas that profoundly subvert the traditional fabric of our society.

I've spent the past 10 years dodging "the boyfriend question" in media interviews. A journalist first asked me whether I had a boyfriend at age 16, and the question has dogged me since, in interviews and everyday life.

Heteronormative assumptions aside, I've never understood why people would care whether I have a boyfriend. The honest answers about my relationship status: that I've yet to date someone who I would want to spend any great amount of time with, and that any potential partner would have to be pretty amazing for me to consider rearranging a busy life that I love to make room for them, are so far away from what I'm supposed to say that I usually just leave it at "I'm too busy at the moment".

The idea that love validates us is so deeply entrenched in our society that we almost never question it. While loving and being loved is one of the most intrinsically human experiences, there is frankly more to life than a constant search for "the one".

And even if "the one" is found, the Valentine's Day obsession with displaying and quantifying love also gives me pause. If we love each other as much as our post-Valentine's Day credit card bills suggest we do, do we really need to resort to grand, expensive gestures to say so?

It hit peak silliness for me when I saw a "Valentine's Day WoF" advertised by a beauty salon. What does one need in order to earn a Valentine's Day warrant? A Brazilian wax, a lash tint, brow tint and brow shape, of course. Because nothing says true love like living up to painful and pricey beauty standards. Don't get me wrong. I'm a lover, not a hater, but to me, a commercialised, Americanised Valentine's Day misses the point. Certainly, love should be celebrated, but attaching a dollar value and emphasising a focus on the importance of finding romantic love seems like such a lost opportunity in a world that could benefit immeasurably from promoting a more inclusive definition.

Acknowledging love in its many forms - from loving ourselves, to treating our fellow human beings with love, to being in a loving and fulfilling relationship with a person of any gender - that's a Valentine's Day I could celebrate.

- NZ Herald

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