My first time spending Valentine’s Day abroad reminded me that capitalism prevails in ways we aren’t always conscious of.
When I’m home in the States, it’s completely normal to find Valentine’s cards, chocolates, flowers, stuffed animals, and decor lining the shelves from CVS to Costco immediately after (and sometimes before) New Year’s Eve paraphernalia sells out.
Admittedly, it’s one of my favorite times of year. Seeing hearts everywhere and being reminded of love just gives me a fuzzy feeling that I always look forward to.
I’ve been thinking for a couple weeks about how I wanted to celebrate this year, but there was a noticeable cultural contrast that made me realize “celebrating” wouldn’t be in what I’d consider a traditional sense. I wanted to buy a teddy bear and cupcakes for my host family, but I had trouble finding what I was looking for. The only places with Valentine’s specials were the ones targeting tourists, and none of the locals I spoke to were particularly motivated to make special plans. Apparently it was only common to do so in larger cities.
I missed the wonders of pink and red and music and romance, and was a bit saddened not to be able to return home and participate in the usual fanfare. But it occurred to me that I was approaching things with the wrong mindset. Did the absence of extravagance mean there was any less of a reason to celebrate? Being primed for 6-8 weeks to spend money on gifts is nothing more than reinforcement of materialistic attachments and social peacocking. Capitalism thrives upon exploiting our tendency to be deficit-focused. You make reservations at a restaurant you can’t afford just to avoid the argument with your partner. Or maybe you see someone buy a bouquet for their partner and start feeling like you’re missing something if yours doesn’t do the same - sometimes even worse if you don’t have anyone to buy you flowers in the first place.
To an extent, it’s the principle of the thing. When there exists such an obvious opportunity to express affection, it can be hurtful when people you care about don’t take it. What’s worse, though, is when you attach your feelings to manifestations of the contrived. Nothing was wrong with my wanting brownies and balloons, but those things only mean something because of the intention behind them. There’s no reason for me to let myself sacrifice my excitement in their absence when I’m responsible for my own experience.
The idea of romanticizing your life is omnipresent in the zeitgeist. It’s all about making a conscious decision to lead with gratitude and find joy in simplicity. When you make a habit out of being open to giving and receiving love under “ordinary” circumstances, it’s easy to continue to do so on days like Valentine’s Day without depending on external validation. And giving yourself those flowers doesn’t mean compensating for loneliness or buffering interpersonal comparison. It means being intentional about manifesting love from the inside out.
So even though I can’t go out to a dinner with my friends or bake at home with my mom, I can still call and say “I love you.” I can still wear my favorite red dress and find a beautiful place to take photos. I can take some time to watch movies with my host family and enjoy quality time. The sentiment exists because I create it, and the best part about that is being able to carry it with me the day after that and the day after that…