Occupy Valentine’s Day

From a "Parks and Rec"-inspired holiday to Quirkyalone Day, the "romantic-industrial complex" is under attack

Topics: Valentines Day, Sex, Love and Sex,

Occupy Valentine's Day (Credit: CLM via Shutterstock/Salon)

A man and a woman are lying in bed under the covers, both of them beaming. She’s holding a handwritten sign that reads in part, “F–k a dozen roses.”

It’s one of several photos on the website Occupy Valentine’s Day, which applies the ethos of the anti-Wall Street movement to the consumerism of cupid’s holiday — and it’s just the latest attempt at creating an alternative celebration. “I think we need a new and different type of analysis around relationships,” says Samhita Mukhopadhyay, the site’s creator and author of “Outdated: Why Dating Is Ruining Your Love Life.” “This is not about being anti-love, but instead anti the unfair structures that force us to love a certain way.”

A big part of that is that the “romantic-industrial complex that nets billions of dollars from Valentine’s Day and weddings, and it needs you to ‘buy into’ outdated ideas of love and marriage,” she wrote in a recent Op-Ed for the Nation. “The more you express your love through candies, chocolates, diamonds, rentals and registries, the more the RIC makes!” (Indeed, it’s estimated that consumers will spend roughly $17.6 billion on cards, chocolates, flowers, jewelry and the like this Feb. 14.) But instead of just trashing V-Day — or VD (i.e., venereal disease) Day, as its biggest haters like to call it — she wants to honor “the different ways we engage in loving relationships.”

A less political alternative is one introduced by everyone’s favorite fictional mid-level bureaucrat, Leslie Knope of NBC’s “Parks and Recreation.” She celebrates “Galentine’s Day” every Feb. 13 by getting together with her lady friends for a brunch of her signature dish, whipped-cream with a side of waffle, to celebrate female friendship. Leslie doles out quirky gifts (sculptures of everyone’s spirit animal or mosaics of their faces made out of crushed diet soda cans, for example). She compares the celebration to Lilith Fair — “minus the angst and plus frittatas.”

Granted, Galentine’s Day started as a comedy punch line, but the concept was popular enough in the real world that this year NBC put together a guide on how to create your own Galentine’s Brunch. Bon Appetit even cooked up a special waffle recipe for the occasion. It’s also inspired DIY-ers to make Galentine’s Day e-cards and re-create some of Leslie’s more memorable gifts, like crochet flower pens.

Of course, “Parks and Recreation” didn’t invent the idea of single friends getting together on Valentine’s Day — that’s no doubt been around as long as the holiday itself — it just popularized a cute term for it. Let’s not forget the gender-inclusive Palentine’s Day, Singles Awareness Day or the concept of having a friendly “anti-valentine.” Greeting card companies are increasingly cashing in on anti-Valentine’s Day card for friends, including — gasp! — Hallmark itself.

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A similarly heartwarming option is Quirkyalone Day, founded by Sasha Cagen, author of “Quirkyalone: A Manifesto for Uncompromising Romantics,” a book about people who “prefer being single to dating for the sake of being in a relationship.” She tells me, “I’m not against Valentine’s Day, but I have never been particularly inspired by it. The aim of International Quirkyalone Day is to offer a fresh alternative where you get to create your own day free of all cliches.” It’s an excuse to “celebrate yourself and your whole life,” she says, and that can manifest in a number of different ways: “take a long walk alone (leave behind your cell phone), buy yourself daisies, start a neglected creative project, buy yourself hot lingerie, get a massage, host a dinner party.”

Of course, not all Valentine’s Day alternatives are so charmingly earnest. Anti-V-Day events across the country call on bitter singles to bring a photo of their ex to put through a paper-shredder or pin to a dart board, or exact some other form of questionable revenge. And make no mistake, while it’s nowhere near a $16 billion industry, there is a market for Cupid-hating goods — from cards reading “Love stinks” to T-shirts featuring upside-down hearts to candy hearts with sayings like, “U left seat up” and “Dog is cuter.” The social network game Farmville even has virtual anti-Valentine’s Day items for purchase, like a barbed heart and a black flower. The truth is this isn’t anything new: Long before there were pithy e-cards, there were Victorian-era vinegar valentines, insulting cards sent to one’s enemies.

Why has the holiday generated such cynicism and, sometimes, downright hatred? Cagen says, “Valentine’s Day has this way of making people feel bad, whether they are single or in a relationship. If you are single, you feel left out. If you are dating or in a relationship, you feel pressure and expectation to have a romantic evening.” She’s all for “a pure celebration of love in all its forms,” but “the problem is when we narrow that definition of love to a romantic connection.” Cagen explains, “Almost 50 percent of American adults are single, so people are bound to feel left out. It’s sort of like a Thanksgiving that only 50 percent of the population feels invited to.”

Tracy Clark-Flory
Tracy Clark-Flory is a staff writer at Salon. Follow @tracyclarkflory on Twitter and Facebook.

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