By the time I hit my teens, my emotions surrounding Valentine's Day could be summed up in less than a word: meh. What can I say? Once the holiday ventured beyond the realms of blinged-out shoe boxes and dorky cards, it lost all appeal.
Looking back, perhaps the real shift began when I was in sixth grade. It was the first year that "I Dig You" dinosaur cards were replaced with a dance. It's not that I was afraid my dance card would not fill up, quite the opposite. Socially awkward with palms that would break into a sweat the second I got nervous, my ideal scenario was to have my card remain blank.
As luck would have it, by the day of the dance I was no longer allowed to attend. You see, the week prior I discovered a random object with a fuse in the catwalk of the junior high I walked through on my way to school. Naturally, I decided the most logical course of action would be to light the unknown fuse-ball in the furthest corner of the grassy field during recess. Even though it turned out to be nothing more than a harmless smoke bomb, my principal was not impressed and decided the best punishment was to quarantine me to the library during the dance. Unbeknownst to her, that was the equivalent of winning the lottery to my 12-year-old self.
After the fortuitous break, my future Valentine's days were forever doomed to be a letdown. Even before I understood the weight of consumerism, the shift from fun to romance was when the day became a major yawn fest. After all, the foundation of what makes romance exciting is spontaneity. Gifts given on a decided-upon day to express a spontaneous emotion simply misses the mark.
It's like when people think they can regain energy and clarity by fasting for a week. Sure, at a glance, the concept makes sense. But once you delve in, you come to realize nourishment is what gives a body energy. Ingesting nothing but water for days on end just makes you a grumpy asshole—and understandably so.
Looking back, the teen angst version of Valentine's is basically the gateway to keeping up with the Joneses. Couples destined to be in love forever—or at least for the week—adorn their sweethearts with glittery treasures from H&M and oversized bouquets. While simultaneously patting themselves on the back for a job well done ... how romantic.
During my adult-ish years waiting tables, the feeling that cupid was stupid didn't stop me from capitalizing on the holiday. Back then, with the exception of Outdoor Retailer, the week of Feb. 14 was the only guaranteed cash cow. I considered it the serving industry's version of bonus time, and like Clark Griswold before me, I depended on that bonus. Albeit my dependence wouldn't result in a pool, but the extra cash made it possible to catch up on bills, pay for ludicrously expensive textbooks and cover poor judgment moments. Like the year I shelled out $400 to replace a fence, after driving my car off a bank into a horse pasture; a tale for another time.
My industry days behind me, the Hallmark holiday no longer served a purpose that was profitable or fun. It just felt like another day where I was expected to behave a certain way.
Admittedly after almost two decades of loathing, as I've noticed more companies marketing fun over romance in recent years, the all-red-and-pink-all-the-time holiday has started to reel me back in. Perhaps the shift started with the advent of "non celebrating" celebrators, as the National Retail Federation terms them. These anti-Valentine shoppers, make up three out of 10 adult consumers, and have stirred up the way some companies market heart-filled festivities.
Another potential explanation, perhaps, could be due to the shift in our cultural concept of sexuality and love. As sexuality and love become more fluid concepts in our mind, we are more likely to break away from the traditional mold of yesteryear. Which would stand to reason, our consumer habits would become more fluid as well.
While I do not think traditional shopping patterns will dwindle anytime soon—I'm sure February will remain a good time to bet short on Tiffany stock going up. I also find the pure existence of an alt-consumer market geared toward fun in itself encouraging. The knowledge that such a market makes up a smaller portion of the population does not take away my interest in seeing how our cultural habits will continue to evolve.
As for me, thanks to being in the #momlife phase, I'm back to reliving all the simplicity I loved about Valentine's through my little people. Our morning kicked off with heart shaped pancakes, then sending them off to school with their bejeweled shoe boxes and spaceship Valentines in tow. They dug it.
Aspen Perry is a Salt Lake City-based aspiring author and self-proclaimed "philosophical genius." Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.