If you’ve been anywhere near a store or watched more than five minutes of television in the past month and a half, you should be aware that tomorrow is Valentine’s Day. It’s kind of hard to escape it at this point, as its status has been raised over the years to a gift giving holiday not terribly far removed from Christmas, and certainly of a higher level than, say, Easter or Arbor Day. While shopping at a department store for last minute items a week before this past Christmas, I was genuinely startled to see several racks of candy boxes and stuffed animals, decked out in the familiar pink and red colors of February 14th. Unless you’re intending to propose to someone, I didn’t think that Valentine’s Day was a holiday you planned for, certainly not two months in advance. And yet, there you have it, on December 26th begins the non-stop jewelry store commercials and recommendations for the best way to show your significant other you care, preferably with material items. Didn’t I just do this? you may lament. Well, yes, but hopefully you have a spare seventeen cents or so left over, because it’s time to do it again.
Before I go on, let me clarify: I have nothing against Valentine’s Day. I have nothing for it, either. I’ve never been one to make a particularly big deal out of it, and needless to say my partners have been grateful for it. It’s amusing to me to think back to when we were kids, and the most stress Valentine’s Day caused was from wondering if you were going to get as many of those little fold-up cards (which usually had pictures of Yoda and the words MY VALENTINE, YOU WILL BE on them) as you gave to your classmates. It’s a whole new ballgame when you’re an adult, however: according to advertisers and magazines like Cosmopolitan, February 14th might be the most important date of the year for most couples. It’s become a competition for men and women over who can give and receive the most ostentatious displays of affection, preferably presented in front of one’s co-workers. To me there always seems to be something a little heartless about sending flowers or balloons to a partner at work, particularly on Valentine’s Day, knowing full well that many of said partner’s co-workers are unhappily single or in failing relationships. Unless I seriously disliked them, I wouldn’t want even inadvertently to contribute to someone spending the holiday power-eating a pint of Chubby Hubby while watching Sleepless in Seattle through a haze of tears. Then again, I don’t understand people who propose to their partners in front of a bunch of strangers at a restaurant, or, God forbid, by using a JumboTron. I may be old-fashioned, but I believe gestures of affection and expressions of love should be kept at an intimate level, without inflicting it on others, much in the same way as pregnant women force everyone to look at their ultrasound photos.
At the same time, however, it’s also become hip to speak out about how much you hate Valentine’s Day, how it’s a bourgeois concept that is built upon outdated stereotypes in which men have to constantly prove to their partners that they love them, preferably with expensive, useless gifts. These people take sport in pissing on everyone’s parties and sneering at their fumbling attempts to express their love for someone. They’re usually the same type of people who will claim that they haven’t experienced a single emotion other than bitterness and cynicism since around 2003. They are exceedingly annoying. However, I will agree that I don’t think it’s entirely fair that most of the pressure is put on men to pony up the cash for candy, flowers and jewelry, while women usually aren’t expected to do more than perhaps give a card and a pair of novelty boxer shorts. I’ll also agree that you won’t see a selection of more pointless, silly gifts to give someone than you will at Valentine’s Day. You thought that Billy Mays shouting at you that the Big City Slider Station would make a great Christmas gift was bad? Check out some of the offerings available to present to someone that you purport to “love”:
~~Candy boxes with pictures of NASCAR drivers on them.
~~An Agent Provocateur strip poker game. Good etiquette deems that you don’t give a gift to someone that is ultimately a gift for you.
~~You and your partner’s heads superimposed on a famous piece of artwork. God, please, no.
~~a figurine of a nun holding a personalized heart, accompanied by a card proclaiming the recipient of the gift to be “God’s Valentine.”
~~a heart-shaped anal wand. In fact, a good rule of thumb is never give anyone a gift that has the word “anal” in its name.
~~an acrylic ‘#1’ trophy. Though it may come in handy during the inevitable breakup fight that will follow.
~~a “Jizzie Lizzie” candy, a piece of chocolate shaped to look like a vagina with strategically placed spurts of white chocolate covering it. I just don’t even know where to begin. No, I do: just avoid the Chocolate Fantasies website altogether.
~~a bag of metal tokens reading ‘Good for One Hug’ and ‘Love Token.’ Has anyone ever given someone a gift like this and not have it end up unused in the bottom of a bedside table drawer? No, that’s never happened, because no one wants to give their partner a token for a hug like they’re riding the fucking subway or something.
~~a candy penis bouquet. The heart-shaped tag is a nice touch, don’t you think? What does one write on a tag when presenting someone with such a thing? I eagerly await your answers.
See, this is what happens when people try to get creative with their gifts. These aren’t presents you give someone you love, these are presents you give someone if you get off on watching people try to grimace their way through one of the most awkward moments of their life. The “Jizzie Lizzie,” that’s something you give if you’re looking to get a restraining order put against you. Chocolates and flowers might not be original, but at least they won’t earn you a place on anyone’s ‘Creeps to Watch Out For’ list.
Instead of worrying yourself into an ulcer over the “perfect” Valentine’s gift (which, I must reiterate, will never be a heart-shaped anal wand), here’s a novel idea: why not ask your partner what he or she wants? I realize that’s an unpopular solution, that men are expected to just sort of figure out on their own what are appropriate gifts, but it saves on quite a few embarrassing moments, such as faking a lighthearted discussion over where they’re going to put the “#1” trophy (because just blurting out “in the trash” would be rude). One wonders if the companies that shill these items know they’re terrible gifts, and are having a little sadistic fun at the buyers’ expenses.
Don’t give in to the pressure, folks. Either ask your partner what they want (though it’s probably a little late for this year) or go with the classics. Your partner shouldn’t be weighing your relationship against the cost of the gifts you give them anyway. Have a happy Valentine’s Day. For the rest of you, Happy Saturday.