Valentine’s day a day of love, lust and stress
by Robin Harvey
Edmonton Journal, Feb. 14, 2005
Today, romantics everywhere are making grand gestures of love.
And though expressing some warm fuzzies may seem simple enough, Valentine’s Day in the 21st century is complicated.
The stress from the politics and etiquette behind it can affect all ages, says Josey Vogels, a Toronto dating and relationship expert.
“There is too much pressure,” Vogels says. “It has become so commercialized, like Christmas. And we wonder why so many people break up on Valentine’s Day. It’s the pressure of not living up (to an ideal).”
The pressure starts as early as elementary school with the exchange of valentine cards, continues through the phases of adulthood — intimate relationships, business relationships, friendships, marriage breakdowns — and culminates in old age, when too many think the idea of Valentine’s Day is unseemly.
Through it all, there’s the opportunity for as much pain as pleasure.
That’s true in younger kids, when Valentine’s Day is a prime opportunity for hurt feelings.
Teachers often try to help children cope by handing out a master list with all their students’ names. If kids want to give out some valentines, they have to give them to everyone in the class.
“We don’t have an official policy but, out of respect and valuing every person, if you bring them in for one child, you should bring one for every child,” says Susan Leduc, of the Toronto District School Board. “That way, everyone feels included.”
John Livingstone, principal of Larkspur Public School in Peel Region, says being “all inclusive” works best in a small school setting, where there is little turnover and most students know their classmates from years before.
Vogels recalls one terrible Valentine’s Day when she was in elementary school. Each student made and decorated a big envelope, which was then pinned to a bulletin board so valentines could be delivered.
“Frankly, that was a cruel visual display,” she says. “The less popular kids suffered.”
But she says making valentine-giving an all-or-nothing exchange obscures the true meaning of the day, which is to show your warm feelings toward the people you love.
“Face it, when you are young and you like a girl or guy…this is the one way you have of testing the waters,” she says.
Susan Ritchie, director of the Family Education Network, says parents should talk to their children about what the day means for them as a family. Then they can develop their own traditions.
This offsets the intense pressure on children to get the “proper” type of valentine. This year’s favourite character is not last year’s, and kids are acutely aware of what is “in,” she says,
By high school, when kids pair off into couples, Valentine’s Day intensifies all the awkward social pressure around dating, Vogels says.
Many teens shun the stress and go out in groups instead, creating an opportunity to connect romantically with a lower profile.
To steer away from the romantic and sexual overtones, many junior high and high schools have turned their Valentine’s Day dance into charitable fundraisers. Ritchie says this lets young people celebrate the sentiment but in a socially valuable context.
Tsunami relief is a popular cause this year.
Amber Harrison, who owns the flower shop Cool Green & Shady in the Beach, says young people go low key to avoid rejection.
They are more likely to give a single pink rose and stay away from red. “Pink is very popular,” she says. “The kids…don’t want to make a mistake by seeming too forward.”
It is the single people caught up in the passion of a new relationship who are most likely to go all out on Valentine’s Day, Harrison says. They are ready to throw caution to the wind and are quite fearless.
For them, a dozen long-stemmed red roses is still very popular.
Many hard-core romantics will propose marriage on Valentine’s Day. But, as a rule, Vogels says this isn’t a good idea.
“Going into it, you had better know what the answer is going to be or you could get hurt.”
But Harrison says, when it works, the Valentine’s Day proposal is wonderful. She recalls being asked to weave a gorgeous engagement ring into the top of a rose bouquet.
“That day made us all feel good,” she says.
The extent to which Feb. 14 is celebrated differs with each couple, especially after marriage, Vogels says.
One couple may just give each other a peck on the cheek while another couple’s expectations are met only by a romantic getaway weekend.
Vogels says it is important to stress the personal and realize that the best gift for a busy couple is each other’s time and attention. And that’s likely a safer bet than a romantic gift of sexy underthings, which can be fraught with tension if not done correctly.
Linda Voytovech, who has run Toronto’s Hers Fine Lingerie store for 25 years, says considerable care is needed when choosing the garment.
When it’s the wives doing the picking, with the thought of how the lingerie will please their husbands, she suggests they “be a bit more adventurous.”
But husbands and lovers need to be careful not to pick something too sexual — “He needs to think if she will be comfortable in the outfit” — or something that’s the wrong size.
Giving lingerie that is too large can be seen as a criticism.
If it is too small, a woman may think her partner thinks she is too heavy. Voytovech recalls one such loving gesture, when a husband bought his wife a romantic teddy a few months after she gave birth. It was too small and the wife felt bad about herself.
The potential for Valentine’s Day mishaps increases exponentially in second marriages and among divorced couples.
An ex-wife may have to bite the bullet and help her young child pick out a gift or card for her ex- and even for her ex’s girlfriend.
That takes maturity, Vogels says.
Vogels and Harrison agree sending personal gifts or flowers to an ex is not appropriate. Harrison tells of a man who gave his ex a dozen red roses four years running. The fourth year, she turned them down and would not accept them.
“It was so sad,” Harrison says. “But the next year, he came back because he had a new girlfriend.”
Valentine’s Day romance is rarely appropriate in the workplace, says Lisa Wright, co-founder of The Etiquette Advantage in Toronto.
If the office culture supports giving cards — which is rare — you may make a gesture of friendship, she says.
The hard thing here is to know when you are in a business environment and when things are less formal. Wright says many people end up making social gaffes.
Vogels is pleased by what she calls a growing trend toward celebrating being single on Valentine’s Day. More people are also celebrating friendships, she says.
“More and more people — especially women — are not ready to put up a big front. They don’t want the romance shoved down their throat.”
Another problem area is Valentine’s Day and aging. Vogels says society leaves seniors out of the romance altogether, expecting they are too old.
In cases of long-term marriages, a couple might renew their wedding vows, Vogels says.
And Kim Hinder, of the Aurora Seniors Centre, says a couple that has been together for decades has a special bond that is often celebrated.
Many members of the Aurora centre are widows who feel a bit lonely on Valentine’s Day. So the club tries to help them celebrate friendship, she says.
Though it may not be chocolates and flowers, the seniors “do have a great deal of fun.”
Toronto’s Pat Daly says she tries hard to get away from the Valentine’s Day hype but keep the essence of the day.
“I know that it is just another commercial profit-making event, but I have to admit that I sent out a number of valentines this year to tell all my dear friends how much they mean to me. But I will leave the chocolates and the cinnamon hearts alone.”
Glenn MacKeigan, of Brantford, says the simple things are the best way to beat the pressure.
“Valentine’s Day is a day to express your love to the people in your life you care about. A hug, a smile, and the words `I love you. Thanks for being there,’ says it all.”
Common sense should help anyone navigate the politics of Valentine’s Day. However, Vogels offers a few rules:
Don’t break up with a partner just before or on Valentine’s because it is seen as cruel and vindictive.
“You don’t want to forever ruin that person’s special day,” she says. “If you are breaking up, do it well before or after.”
Don’t blow things out of proportion. It is just a day, after all. But if the timing is right, it can be the perfect occasion for a couple to experience sexual intimacy, Vogels says.
And if you receive a valentine — even if you do not return the person’s affection — you should gracefully accept it and say you are flattered but not interested.