As far as Google searches go, "cheap ways to spend Valentine's Day" seemed like an innocuous one ...
After a recent trip to Puerto Rico more or less cleaned us out, my boyfriend and I decided to limit our discretionary income during the following month to $50 a week. Yes, Valentine's Day coincidentally falls during this month of deprivation, coined #FrugalFebruary, but given my love of the phrase "shots for everyone, on me!" I considered having someone to hold me accountable to this plan to be special enough.
Still, I felt the need to find something to do. Particularly with Valentine's Day falling on a Saturday this year, it seemed important to lock down a plan, lest we spend it (cue the horror) just like every other weekend we've spent together for roughly the past year.
What I found in my search was a double-shot serving of fear, anxiety and pressure, all aimed at men -#yesallmen.
Instead of good ideas for couples looking to make a day special on the cheap, I found headlines and leads like "Sentimental Gifts Get a Bad Name," or "Valentine's Day Gift Ideas That'll Keep You In Her Good Books," and my personal favorite: "You're not screwed yet."
You're not screwed yet?
Which is not to say I didn't find quality suggestions for ways to spend the day, but the strongest message I saw was: "Guys, don't f*ck this up."
One headline in particular, "Let's be real - Valentine's Day is a Gal's Holiday" cleared up my confusion over whether I had searched on Valentine's Day ideas or ways to survive the girlfriend zombie apocalypse. Of course. Once again, naiveté rears its head in my life - Valentine's Day is about women. And not just about making the woman in your life feel special, or doing enough to get laid.
Turns out, Valentine's Day on the cheap is all about doing what is necessary to stay out of trouble.
This concept baffles me: A holiday purportedly meant to show love instead saturated with the threat of chastisement? I like getting thoughtful presents as much as the next person, and there are few things in life that give me more joy than receiving flowers. But based on my findings, Valentine's Day seems analogous to cornering a man in an alley, forcing him to empty his pockets, and then kicking him in the balls if he doesn't have anything larger than a $20.
The concept also infuriates me because I never f*cking agreed to it. Never have I pressured a man to buy me anything, and yet every year, I have to smile at snide comments from male friends, family members and coworkers who want to know if the person I'm dating is "in the doghouse" this year or not.
This Google search launched a debate between me and my housemate as to who is to blame for this mentality. A chicken-or-the-egg discussion ensued, with winning comments like "most men aren't good at showing affection, so they need to be told how" (hers) and "women in healthy relationships shouldn't care about Valentine's Day" (mine) getting us essentially nowhere.
One thing we did agree on? People in love show it through actions, not things. And they do it every day of the year, not just on February 14th.
But the kicker of that sentiment is that you can't make money off of it. Advertisers know this, and they exploit the insecurities that exist in every relationship - even the healthy ones - that tell us things = feelings.
Candy = affection
Roses = appreciation
Fancy dinner = love
A ring = commitment
What these things actually mean? The guy had a few extra bucks, and we as a society told him how to spend it today. And rather than risk being sent to the corner to think about what he hasn't done or hasn't done well enough, he obliged. Actual feelings behind the gifts? Irrelevant.
Valentine's Day is a holiday that single women in particular criticize as separating out the supposed "winners" in life - women in relationships - from the "losers," also known as single women. But as men empty their pockets to advertisers pointing the gun to their heads and women hold their spoils of war aloft in the form of Facebook statuses, I argue that on this day, nobody wins.