The sight of Cupid and candy hearts is enough to make your heart swoon…or make you roll your eyes.
In honor of St. Valentine, you may don bright red heels and get a pink glitter manicure or you might pointedly choose to dress in all black. No other holiday is as polarizing as Valentine’s Day—but where do these strong reactions come from?
“Valentine’s Day is very ‘hate it or love it’,” says Elle Swan, a life coach and author of "Elle-evate: Change Your Life in 60 Seconds or Less," adding that people’s feelings about the holiday often change from one year to the next. “The reason is because, whether we realize it or not, Valentine’s Day is a mirror reflecting back to us both our relationship status and our relationship to love.”
That kind of introspection can be painful whether you’re single, dating or even married. This holiday kind of screams, “It’s evaluation time! Prove your love!”
Jane Atkinson, an author who documents her personal story of looking for love in all the wrong places in "The Frog Whisperer" agrees with Swan, noting that people without partners are especially likely to react negatively to the holiday. “Valentine's Day is one more day piled on top of all of the other occasions (like Christmas and New Year's) where singles are reminded what it means to be a party of one,” she says.
But even for the coupled-up, there are issues.
“Valentine’s Day puts pressure on everyone,” says YouBeauty Relationship Expert David Sbarra, Ph.D. “For people who don’t have a relationship, there’s pressure to be coupled with someone. For people in a relationship, there’s pressure for it to be as perfect as possible.”
People in not-so-happy relationships may feel doubly insecure about their partner on a day meant to celebrate romantic love. When you’re surrounded by mylar heart balloons and stuffed bears holding boxes of chocolate, it’s natural to wonder, “Is he/she really the one?”
Sbarra notes that the commercialization of Valentine’s Day creates a “culture of pressure” for the day to be amazing. “In the same way that many young people can’t meet the body-type ‘ideals’ they see on the cover of magazines, it’s impossible for most couples to achieve what is being sold to us as the Valentine’s Day ideal.”
And then there are the hassles of the practical sort. Beth Silver of NYC, who’s been married for 10 years says, “While I adore my husband, I find Valentine’s Day annoying. You can’t get reservations, you can’t order what you want, since every restaurant has a special menu, and when you get flowers they’re so overpriced! It’s far better to hear I love you on February 15, when the entire world is not celebrating.”
No matter what your feelings about the holiday are, it’s helpful to keep in mind that the origin of Valentine’s Day has more to do with bravery than romantic love. According to legend, Emperor Claudius II decided that single men were better warriors and so he made marriage illegal for young men. Saint Valentine objected to the law, and he continued to perform marriages until he was put to death for his transgressions.
Swan notes that when she counsels people on the subject of love, she keeps this origin story in mind. “I teach them to be willing to go beyond their comfort zone on a daily basis so that they have an elevated life with or without a mate.”
If the holiday really is a celebration of love, why not turn some of that action your way? Atkinson is all about self-romancing: “Order in a favorite meal. Pour a glass of wine. Take a bubble bath.”
And at the end of the night? Imagine what you’d like your life to look like next year on this date—with or without someone beside you.
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