Postmodern theorists talk extensively about our modern confusion of symbol and referent.
Many people out there are experiencing (at best) mixed feelings and (at worst) profound depression at the advent of this Valentine’s Day, and we might construe them as victims of the symbolic confusion.
Valentine’s Day is, like many holidays, a public commemoration of some idea. You’re not doing this for your significant other; you’re doing it to look good in public, just like you want to be seen volunteering at soup kitchens to get into the best colleges, get elected, con some girl into bed, or convince the judge that last DUI was an honest mistake.
This horseshit holiday exists so that you will compete with other humans in order to look good in public. You are expected to dash out and spend 2% of your yearly income on jewelry, alcohol, gifts, hotel rooms, vacations and other ill-advised symbolic gestures of affection.
Social coercion of this nature works through visual imagery. You see the happy slender successful young couple in the TV ads from the jewelers and the booze-sellers; you also see the media stereotype of the eternally lonely nerd, isolated in a basement with his “Magic: The Gathering” cards where no woman will want him. Or at least, not those magic lovelies from the gold hawker ads.
What they forget to mention is that Valentine’s Day is just a symbol. It’s how you show the world your love. And why would you do that? Maybe to convince yourself. Or maybe because like everything else in this backward upside-down inverted world, your “love” is a means to an end, and in this case, the end is social success and continued socialization. You want to look good to your peers, coworkers, friends and (if they’re total morons) your family.
The main attraction for consumers is that Valetine’s Day is an easy way to fool everyone. Get your act together for a day, make some nice gestures, and you’ll get sex out of it and be off the hook for another year. What a nice lazy method that explains why half of all marriages end in divorce.
Imagine, if you will, that in a parallel universe Valentine’s Day does not exist. In that parallel universe, instead they have National Don’t Beat Your Woman Senseless Day, on which men buy their significant others soft pillows and plasma transfusion credits — then resume pounding the crap out of them as soon as the Hallmark holiday is over.
To really show someone love, you don’t show the love. You live that love, in all of the unglamorous and un-public ways that will get you absolutely zero life points with your cretinous compadres, imbecilic co-workers and bovine peers. Be there for your person. Provide for them materially, but also emotionally.
Therein is a bit of a problem. Unlike a symbolic holiday, you have to do that every day and be ready to do it at any minute. If you’re really in love with someone, and taking care of them, it’s not an obligation but a joy to drop your own pursuits and make sure they’re safe, warm, happy, well-fed and comforted. At the time it’s clearly no joy, but as you look back over your life, it’s a pervasive and satisfying pleasure to know that you serve this role and do it well.
When you get out of the mental ghetto of symbolism, you see how hollow Valentine’s Day is and how every commercial is a lie. You don’t need an image out of context. You need to find a person like you, who is compatible with you and who you can appreciate for a lifetime. You don’t want the slender models, the greeting card moments, or any of the other hollow symbols that obscure real life from your view, and leave you with a shopping holiday and a lingering, profound feeling of emptiness.