When we think about Valentine’s Day, we tend to picture a perfect romantic night — a bouquet of red roses, dinner at a fine-dining restaurant and the best selection of wine. And, of course, this perfect night doesn’t come without a price tag. According to the Journal of Business Research study conducted by Krugman and Grannis, U.S. shoppers spend $13.7 million dollars on this day. Valentine’s Day is an opportunity to shower your partner with love and affection. That’s one argument.

Valentine’s Day doesn’t always pan out the way we want. Amandalea71 expresses her disappointment on Reddit that her boyfriend took her to “the grimiest IHOP in town and then go see Avatar for the 4th time.” To some, Valentine’s Day is simultaneously the best and worst day of their life, as JENbubbie writes: “I was married 2/14/87. I was served divorce papers 2/14/2010.”

These Valentine’s Day horror stories makes us consider: Is Valentine’s Day really about love? Despite the promised day of celebration, it seems that many people are left unsatisfied and worse yet, alone. I find that the obligatory nature of this holiday is the culprit of an unsatisfactory outcome.

The problem with Valentine’s Day is not that people spend money, but that we feel like we have to. Close and Zinkhan find that 63 percent of men and 31 percent of women feel obligated to give a gift to their partner for Valentine’s Day. As a case in point, I gave my seventh-grade Valentine a Giant Hershey’s Kiss with a rolled up 20-dollar bill. I thought that chocolate was not expensive enough and cash would do justice (Remember: 20 dollars is a lot of money to a seventh-grader). 

According to researchers at the University of Rhode Island, this forced consumerism can lead to reactance: When people’s freedom of choice is threatened, like when they feel forced to spend money on gifts, they tend to aggressively want the alternative, like not wanting to buy the gift.

As a result, people tend to engage in the gift-exchange in an insincere manner. From a consumer research survey, some of the reasons cited by consumers for partaking in gift giving on Valentine’s Day included: “Because your significant other will get pissed off if you don’t” and “Because if I didn’t, I would never hear the end of it.”

To make matters worse, the problem lies on both ends of this gift exchange. A FierceRetail report reveals that while we expect our significant other to spend about $240 on us, men will spend about $98 and women will spend about $71. This discrepancy between expectations and reality leaves many gift receivers disappointed and unsatisfied.

On this account, Peter McGraw and his colleagues find that we have a tendency to quantify love. Individuals will spend more money on a gift for a loved one even if a cheaper option is available. Therefore, receiving a more expensive gift would imply that their partner loves them on a greater scale. Conversely, then, those who receive a gift of low price value would think that their partners love them less.

Due to these heightened expectations surrounding this holiday, we fail to appreciate the gift-giving gestures in full account and we demand more. According to Time’s survey, 70 percent of people want to be surprised with gifts rather than be asked what they want for Valentine’s Day or know in advance. However, we still find that many people choose to spend the money rather than planning a more thoughtful surprise.

Considering the unmet expectations of Valentine’s Day, it is surprising to find that about half of millennials still plan to splurge this year with an even greater amount of money than previous generations from FierceRetail statistics.

Don’t feel like spending the big bucks? The G Brief reminds us that the other half of millennials find Valentine’s Day to be overrated and one-third of them don’t plan to participate. I am also jumping on this bandwagon.

I tend to feel sympathetic toward Valentine’s Day doers as I used to be one of them. However, I realize that red roses, fancy gourmet chocolates and teddy bears that say “I love you” — and certainly expecting to be spent $240 on — don’t define true love and romance.

Gina Choe can be reached at ginachoe@umich.edu.

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