Tuesday, February 20, 1996

AUC: What's love got to do with it?

[The following was my inaugural column in the Long Beach Union, the student-run newspaper at California State University Long Beach. Despite being the first one, it was identified with the banner...]

Another Useless Column

"True love is the greatest thing in the world, except for cough drops. Everybody knows that."
- William Goldman, The Princess Bride
[Read the book--it's slightly different from the film.]

I don’t know the story behind Valentine’s Day, although I think it involved somebody getting his head cut off or something. I do know that on The Simpsons, Lisa gave Ralph Wiggum a card out of pity, and it ended with Ralph being emotionally destroyed before the end of the episode, all because of a little misinterpretation of Lisa’s intentions.

The lesson here: Love should not be given out inconsiderately (Like, on the other hand, should be dispensed like paper towels in the restroom).

Still, every February 14th, we make a public spectacle of this most private emotional connection.

Whether you had a Valentine or not, I’m sure you noticed last Wednesday was Valentine’s Day. It is terribly well marketed. Hallmark stores had entire sections of the shop devoted to lace-bordered cards. Restaurants and nightclubs ran promotions to lure couples in their establishments for the evening. And this is just the tip of the commercialization iceburg.

Capitalism more or less thrives on the exploitation of holidays for business. A lot of people are trying to make money that other people have been convinced they should spend. That’s the game. I’m jealous; I wish I could have that kind of influence.

Florists have imbedded their wares into the public consciousness particularly well. They had to call in extra help for all the deliveries. At work, several of the women received flowers. I even heard of some women who platonically gave flowers to other women who had no significant other to send them. What is it about flowers? To quote a female Union staffer, “Women just like flowers; I don’t know why.” None of the men in the office got flowers; this is a practice that still hasn’t caught on. Granted, women probably know it’s a wasted expression. If someone ever figures out how to convince men to like flowers, that person will be rich beyond belief, providing they sell flowers.

(To digress briefly, personally, I’ve never liked the symbolism of cut flowers. They’re dead. You can delay the inevitable by putting them in fizzy water, but their beauty is ephemeral. Symbolically, I think a better gift is a potted plant that will live as long as it is cared for.)

Of course, there is no inherent sexism to the marketing of Valentine’s Day, and certainly not when it comes to jewelry. I heard radio ad for a merchant that had cleverly hidden a diamond ring in a box of chocolates, so “she” won’t [sic] discern the nature of the gift until it was opened, at which time should would give “you” a big kiss and the world would stop rotating for those few moments. Clearly, this could apply equally well to the heterosexual male or lesbian demographics. Smart advertisers leave the gender ambiguous. (Over in Japan, there is a day when women give gifts to men, and a separate day when the roles are reversed. Imagine the marketing potential! I’m not sure when Japanese homosexuals celebrate.)

Say, could they be hinting that men will receive “compensation” in other ways, and therefore don’t need material gifts? Nah, couldn’t be.

Society is what it is; nothing is to be blamed on February 14th.

All this quibbling aside, I object only to the forced sense of obligation that has permeated our culture. Why must we expect things from our significant others just because the calendar says Valentine’s Day? Why do we have to make those who have no sweethearts feel like social lepers on Valentine’s Day?

I’ve been in love, madly, deeply. I know that when it’s real, it is its own reward. I believe it should be celebrated every day, in small but significant ways b the parties involved. The little smile, the comforting hug, the covering each other in whipped cream.

I also know that when you lose it, it hurts. A lot. So for your own sake, be careful. Remember the lesson of Ralph Wiggum.

For the record, I know there are plenty of women who lavish material gifts on their special someone, even send flowers. The stereotype exists, and it seems a lot of people take it seriously.

But hey, it’s a free country (sort of), so do what you want.

Some people may look to Bed of Roses or some such film as their Hollywood model for how love should be; I admire Homer and Marge. Sure, he screws up—that’s his defining characteristic—but he means well, and most importantly, he loves her and she loves him. No matter what. Well, at least by the end of the episode.