It’s that time of year again where the air is full of love and romance… Valentine’s Day! Or at least, that’s what it’s marketed as. As most of us can probably attest to, the holiday often doesn’t play out like a picture-perfect movie. Like all things in relationships, the reality is far more complex.
So, this brings into question whether or not efforts put into Valentine’s Day actually helps strengthen the romantic relationships it celebrates.
The celebration of anniversaries or other special events is a strategy for relationship maintenance. Bringing it back to rituals, having that shared experience and understanding of what that celebration represents on a higher level can strengthen couples’ bonds. Therefore, Valentine’s Day is an ideal ritual (in theory) for developing these bonds due to its strong cultural presence and its focus on romantic love.
However, this framework doesn’t capture the holiday’s nuances. Valentine’s Day demands extensive preparation: asking someone to be your valentine, writing valentine cards, giving gifts, flowers, dinner reservations, and more. Some people are successfully wooed by the efforts of their partner to bring this day all together; but others are left disappointed. Maybe they weren’t given the perfect gift or enough affection. Their expectations weren’t met or they didn’t feel loved enough.
For the real unfortunate few, Valentine’s Day won’t just leave you just disappointed, but disappointed and single. One study looked at relationship dissolution around the period of Valentine’s Day. The researchers found that couples who were observed in the time period around Valentine’s Day were more likely to break up compared to couples who were observed in other time periods.
Digging a bit deeper, it seems that attachment style can also have an effect on people’s perception of Valentine’s Day. When prompted to think about Valentine’s Day and then report relationship satisfaction and investment, people with higher attachment avoidance were more likely to report lower levels than those who were not avoidantly attached. Researchers propose that attachment avoidance causes people to inflate their partner’s romantic shortcomings and view their interactions as more negative. This suggests that attachment styles have varying effects on how people perceive their relationships on Valentine’s Day.
Though it may be a nice sentiment to dedicate a whole holiday to relationships, the actual practice of it has a mixed reception. Feelings can get hurt, expectations for romance are not met, or even breakups can happen. Valentine's Day can have its ups and downs, but it's ultimately up to each couple to put in effort and set expectations to turn it into a positive and memorable experience. Looks like even celebrating love is just as complicated as love itself!