Monday, February 14, 2011

Freedom From St. Shouldentine's Day

Feeling lonely today? Stressed out about being alone? Nervous about making the day "perfect" for someone else? Angry that your partner let you down?  Depressed that you are not with a significant other?

Then congratulations! You are one of the millions of Americans who have fallen prey to Valentine's Day "Shoulds."  Or, as I like to call it, "St. Shouldentine's Day." 

Every year, in the weeks prior to February 14th, the advertising industry starts pressing upon you that you "should" express your feelings for another person in a material way.  Candy, cards, jewelry, flowers, music, dinners, candles, I even saw an ad for KY lube this year! There is a constant influx of overt and insidious messages informing you that emotions should be measured in gifts, and if you're not measuring up, you are losing out. 

This frequently leads to stress and resentment in relationships.  The problem comes in when someone either doesn't have the money to spend on an expensive present, or doesn't know the "right" gift they "should" give.  When they "fail" to do the right thing, the partner often judges the person and their affection as inferior, and uses this single day to measure the quality of the relationship.  And, even if someone is able to give the "right" gift this year, then they are faced with the challenge of one-upping it next year.  See why the CEO's of Hallmark are sitting pretty?

If you're not in a relationship, forget about it.  Although being single is a very satisfying and peaceful choice for many, you are constantly confronted with oppressive messages that inform there is something inherently defective about you if you don't have someone by your side on February 14th.  Media and society cleverly instruct you that it is faulty to be on your own, and so you'd better spend a lot of money and time on finding someone to spend your time with (regardless of whether or not you actually like them and/or they treat your well).

Life doesn't have to be that hard.  There is an a much easier path to take today.  If you're in a relationship, communicate with your partner about ways to express affection that are consistent with your identity as a couple, which may or may not be consistent with society's "shoulds." If you are single, embrace the friends and family who contribute love to your life.  Try not to romanticize and idealize the experience of being in a relationship on Valentine's Day.  The grass is not always greener!

Remember, you can't control Valentine's Day, but you can control how you react to Valentine's Day.  You can remain an emotional servant to corporate America, or you and the loved ones around you can choose a healthier, more respectful, and more loving path.  I know which option I prefer, how about you?

Damon L. Jacobs is a Licensed Marriage Family Therapist seeing individuals and couples in New York City. He specializes in issues related to addiction, bullying, caretaking fatigue, grief and loss, gay/lesbian issues, stress management, depression, as well as couples in non-traditional arrangements. He is the author of "Absolutely Should-less: The Secret to Living the Stress-Free Life You Deserve." To schedule a visit, email at

No comments: