“I love you” doesn’t come in a box of chocolates

Illustration by Roxanne Hernandez

Ever since I was a wide-eyed 11-year-old in middle school, I dreamed about receiving a lavish heart-shaped box of chocolates, secret love letter or bouquet of red roses stuffed in my locker as a way of one of my  crushes admitting and professing their love.

I wanted to be included in the traditional gift-giving reciprocity that seemed to go with being in a loving and healthy relationship and went beyond merely receiving a Hallmark card. However, now that I am in a serious relationship at the age of 22, I find myself turning my nose up at the whole cliche gift-giving ritual that comes with anniversaries and holidays such as Valentine’s Day.

Over the years I have come to believe that the act of consumerism and emptying  has turned into a sole way to show affection and show your significant other you love them, but is instead an obligation to consumerism focusing on materialism.

Couples are often expected to rush to the store to purchase the perfect present- especially around holidays, whether it’s a Hallmark card, Tiffany bracelet or a pound of See’s Candy truffles, these are the types of goods that will supposedly express your love for one another.

The problem with falling into this routine is that we as a society are placing monetary value on our own personal relationships, and equating the exchange of objects as a way of displaying affection.

According to an article in Fortune Magazine, the National Retail Federation predicts people will spend around $18.2 billion on gifts this year for Valentine’s Day. To me, that is a gross amount of money for a gift that may wilt or be forgotten months later.

This opinion may seem harsh to those who have gone out of their way to purchase a thoughtful or ornate gift, yet it seems wasteful to be spending so much on a day that forcefully compels us to buy objects to show we care for one another.

An article in The Atlantic recently featured the work of a University of Texas, Austin, marketing professor Angeline Close Scheinbaum, who discovered people believe the retail industry obligates them to spend on holidays, such as Valentine’s Day, just so retailers can make a buck.

As reported in the article, Scheinbaum quotes a subject from the Journal of Business Research, “Valentine’s Day is a way for retailers to get you to spend money in their stores. People get caught up in the B.S., and I should not have to spend extra to show I care and my girlfriend agrees. But we both still spent plenty!”

And this isn’t a phenomenon exclusive to the United States, it can be ubiquitous. According to sociology lecturer Hulya Gurtuna, Valentine’s Day in Turkey is also celebrated with balloons, flowers and chocolates.

The transition from showing emotional and physical affection to showering each other with material goods as a way of displaying our love, isn’t really all our fault. Big retail companies such as 1-800 Flowers and the Hershey Company have turned Valentine’s Day into an industry, bombarding us with commercials telling us to display our love with a diamond ring, and showing us how “every kiss begins with Kay.”

During other holidays such as Christmas, we are bombarded with ads and sales telling us we better get a gift for our significant other so they don’t feel left out. Yet, I wasn’t presented with a heap of gifts on Christmas from my boyfriend and I didn’t feel left out or unloved in any way.

Business Insider reported statistics from a Benzinga article that the Hershey Company stocks see a significant increase on Feb. 15, because the holiday is one of their biggest sale days of the year.

According to SF State anthropology department chair James Quesada, despite the fact that reciprocity and gift-giving “is a hallmark of being human,” we sometimes objectify and fetishize gifting and exchanging excessively.

Quesada also said often times, we think that our love and affection has to be something of monetary value.

Instead, we could do something as simple as sharing a hug or a hand-picked flower and say “thank you.”

So let’s boycott the act of consumerism as a means of showing love, and be more sincere and fill our relationships with devotion and effort every day of the year and not just on holidays, instead of filling the pockets of major companies.