Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Day of love brings pink hearts, candy, chocolate, flowers, cynicism

Credit: Carrie Sloane

Valentine’s Day has long been heralded as the “day of love”, especially with regards to couples. People often spend tons of money on their significant other on this holiday and go on romantic dates. At Whitman, many truly enjoy it. However, for both people in relationships and out, there is some cynicism surrounding the holiday’s traditional practices as well as criticism of its social constructions.

While many people do have romantic stories of being swept off their feet by Valentine’s Day wonder, in general it seems that the idealism of Valentine’s Day has transformed into something more down-to-earth and inclusive, especially among people at Whitman.

Senior Nathan Mallon emphasizes the positive attributes of Valentine’s Day. For him, the holiday serves as a reminder to make sure that your significant other feels loved.

“Although Valentine’s Day has become primarily a consumer holiday, it is a good reminder for people in relationships to go out on a date, rather than just hang out in the library or go to a party,” he said.

Last Valentine’s Day, Mallon went to T. Maccarone’s with his fiancée, senior Nina Neff.

“[Valentine’s Day] is a good excuse to take time out [from day-to-day hustle and bustle] for your relationship,” said Mallon.

Others question this view of the holiday.

“Ever since fifth grade I have always wondered the point of Valentine’s Day. If you love someone, then shouldn’t you be showing it everyday?” said senior Patricia Xi.

Assistant Dean of Faculty and Associate Professor of Sociology Michelle Janning and her spouse choose to stand apart from the crowd and celebrate Valentine’s Day on Feb. 12 rather than on the traditional date.

“I suppose we feel better about ourselves by celebrating on our own special day, given that it’s socially acceptable in our social network to critique overconsumption; but of course what we are really doing is holding a day sacred to indicate the importance of our relationship, and often flowers and dinner are involved,” she said.

In addition to celebrating love at different times, many celebrate Valentine’s Day in alternative ways. In previous years, Xi chose to emphasize the importance of friendship by making valentines for her section-mates. This year she is focusing on spreading love to the community,  coordinating Whitman students to make valentines for women at the STEP shelter.

Besides the typical Valentine’s Day traditions, the social implications of the holiday are often viewed critically.

“The strange thing about Valentine’s Day, though, is that it is a collective experience that is based primarily on private sentiments. It remains collective, though, because we are all invested in the cultural norms surrounding couple-hood, even if we aren’t participating ourselves,” said Janning. “Even if you’re not directly in the midst of people experiencing these kinds of private sentiments … you can feel left out. Add to that the overwhelming focus in the media on couples and couple-hood (Brangelina! Bennifer!), no wonder there’s pressure to celebrate all things associated with heterosexual monogamous couples whose lives are assumed to be filled with romance.”

Also problematic is the modern holiday’s detachment from the source of the celebration. There are many different myths surrounding the origins of Valentine’s Day; most of us have heard rumors of a certain Saint Valentine, but in actuality there are three martyred saints of the same name. Most commonly referenced is a priest of third-century Rome. The emperor Claudius II decreed that soldiers should not get married because single men made better soldiers than married ones. Saint Valentine saw that this caused great strife for young lovers; he took pity on them and defied Claudius by performing marriages in secret. He was thrown into a dungeon for his acts and then put to death.

St. Valentine sacrificed himself so that people could have their love and marriage made official. Yet most people today do not even know his story, and pink candy hearts do nothing to remind us of his brutal fate.

“After I learned about St. Valentine, I began to think that Valentine’s Day is so cognitively dissonant. You don’t necessarily pay respect to a martyr by scarfing down sweet stuff,” said Xi.

The prevalence of hook-ups over monogamous  relationships, especially at Whitman, further complicates the dynamic of Valentine’s Day.

“With this campus, the attitude is that the point of Valentine’s Day is to have a romantic mushy date with your significant other or find a ‘hook-up’ because you don’t have that someone you’ve been with since freshmen year,” said Xi.

Some people respond to Valentine’s Day with bitterness or choose to celebrate “Single Awareness Day” in its place; while others disagree with this form of resentment toward and replacement of the holiday.

“I’ve developed the idea that both [responses] are petty. Single Awareness Day is a way to compensate for bitterness, but the people that do it are still bitter so that doesn’t actually work,” Xi said.

Although some people, including Janning, maintain that Valentine’s Day is something socially-constructed, flowers still have their perks.

“Sociologists would argue that hearts, flowers, candlelight and lingerie have been socially defined as significant for maintaining romance, and we would argue that the value placed on romantic love is also socially constructed. How unromantic of us! I’m sure if you bought me flowers, I would change my mind,” Janning said.

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