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SexPlusValentines: Calling BS
Sonya JF Barnett: "The Valentine's hooplah serves as merely a tool to alienate instead of celebrate"

Image: Original by FrankGuido

Valentine’s Day is a crock of shit.

It’s a holiday that has been co-opted to specifically to make people feel bad, inferior, and/or lonely, all in the name of profit.

As I write this, my news feeds are exploding with Valentine’s Day events happening around the city. Dance-a-thons, burlesque shows, promises of chocolate, oysters, champagne, cupcakes, roses, kisses, blah, blah, blah. 

Though many assume that the holiday is based on certain Christian saints, it wasn’t until the 14th Century when Geoffrey Chaucer and a handful of other writers linked the day with romantic love. Various forms of personal love missives appeared throughout the next few hundred years, including the Persian ‘language of flowers’ custom, wherein certain flowers mean certain things (roses = love). The 18th Century saw the first commercial valentine ‘writers’ become popular in England. These were books of simple verses that were to be copied and mailed away, complete with answers that could be returned. Small print shops also began producing limited runs of mechanical valentines. ‘Windows’ — cards with flaps showing a soldier’s face — became popular during the Civil War.

When a young Esther Howland received a writer from across the pond sent by one of her father’s business associates, she liked the idea of such messages so much, she started the New England Valentine Company. This grew to be the biggest producer of Valentine cards in the US at the time. From there, Howland sold her company in 1881 to George Whitney who went on to found the Whitney Valentine Company. Competition began for him in 1916, when Hallmark started producing their own Valentine cards and who are now one of the largest producers of greeting cards in the world.  

Valentine’s Day has become a $16-billion per year industry. Card makers, restaurants, hotels, florists, chocolatiers, jewelers, lingerie companies, and the like all see their business spike during the days leading up to February 14th. Most of them advertise in ways that will make you feel terrible should you not take part, or worse, like a loser if you don’t have anyone to send to or receive gifts from. It’s a business based on guilt.

Another interesting fact about Valentine’s Day: almost half of relationship breakups happen on or just after February 14th. This is the first holiday after the familial pressures of Thanksgiving and Christmas and by the time February rolls around, the stress has built up and rocky couplings tend to finally crack. Add to the mix dating sites like douchebag-led Ashley Madison who see their biggest spike in signups around this time, and it’s no wonder that many people wind up alone and feeling like utter shit during this short, grey month.

My husband and I detest Valentine’s Day, when we are obligated to show our love and appreciation for each other. Like it doesn’t happen on any other day. Maybe we’re the couple that everyone else hates because we actually do love each other every day and show it more often than not. We exchange missives of love and treats throughout the rest of the year, when someone else – namely any company that has turned their website colours temporarily pink and red – isn’t compelling us to.

If you love this holiday, good for you. I hope it genuinely makes you feel loved and it acts merely as a reinforcement of the warm fuzzies you get the rest of the year. But I’ve seen many a couple gush through the pink haze only to come out with one hell of a hangover, so I hope you and yours aren’t faking it merely for the sake of a status update.

If you need a commercial property whose primary business is to take your money to remind you to tell your partner you at least like them, then your relationship has bigger problems.

* * *

I thank God that I don’t have cable so I can avoid all the sickly sweet commercials telling me diamonds are forever or that my Super Bowl-obsessed manly man has to run out and get that last minute heart-shaped box of shitty chocolate, or else face the doghouse. Such horseshit. What I do wonder about is the percentage of Valentine’s Day marketing geared toward the LGBTQ crowd. I’m betting that number doesn’t even reach double digits {a basic level Google search provided no statistics, nor did I find any local event listings in Toronto dailies that offered LGBTQ-friendly events}. And what about the non-monogamous or polyamorous? I have yet to see a typical restaurant, club or hotel offer specials for 3 (or more).

Other highlights of February 14th are the sad Facebook and Twitter updates by those who have no partner with which the share the holiday, instead coming up with creative ways to spend the evening hours so as not to feel alone. Yes, there are single people that are looking for love/lust/sex, but I bet they can feel bad on their own if they don’t find it. They don’t need a marketing machine to make them feel worse about it. The early part of the year will see companies try to convince them they’re a sole or third wheel, pining for something that on every other day of the year might not feel as bad. 

The Valentine’s hooplah serves as merely a tool to alienate instead of celebrate. It pushes no positive buttons, stretches no limits, instead acting like a drug dealer, peddling sweet, pink crap we don’t need. It reinforces traditional stereotypes that many are trying to break. The industry hasn’t changed much since the 19th century, other than offering more poorly-made novelties, while society is propelling forward without the nuclear notion that one can only be happy when paired with one other, preferably of the opposite sex.

Sure, there’s a smaller contingent of anti-Valentine events, created for the very demographic that pro- events tend to shun. I can’t help but feel these don’t help in the long run. They rebel against the other, not challenging the Valentine industry to change its tune, but instead taking their toys out of the sandbox. That doesn’t solve much.

I’d love to see Valentine’s Day (since I will not see its commercial demise in my lifetime) start promoting self love as a viable option. Let’s see business promote deals where you can treat not your lover, but yourself to a flower delivery, some sexy lingerie, a Hitachi, or a delicious dinner without the wait staff looking at you with puppy-dog eyes. Love for oneself is just as important as love for another. If there’s going to be a holiday to celebrate lust and love, let it be inclusive. My bed will hold only me this February 14th (due to The Man being away on business) and I’m going to happily share it with my Lelo SmartWand. It won’t send me roses, but it will give me warm buzzies. And that makes me happy.


Got a question about sex in art, relationships, parenting? Send Sonya a note at dearmadame@torontostandard.com. Anonymity assured.

Sonya JF Barnett, also known as “The Madame,” is the founder of an erotic arts community called The Keyhole Sessions and the co-founder of SlutWalk Toronto. Follow her on Twitter @KeyholeSessions

For more, follow us on Twitter @TorontoStandard and subscribe to our newsletter.

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