There's something about Valentine's Day that brings out a kind of defensiveness. So many girls that I know will dismiss it as a wholly manufactured holiday, a late-capitalist marketing ploy, and yet still sigh over the idea of a day devoted to the symbols and rituals of romance. I'm like that, too, of course. I can't attach much weight to candy and flowers and cards, and there is something a bit too much like mandatory fun about the whole idea. Still, though, I do like the rituals of romance, and I like the idea of a ritual day for all the ceremonies and formal invocations of romance. I'm male, and I do suffer from the usual insecurities about what to give, and to whom, but I nonetheless feel a certain attraction to the idea of a day set aside for romantic gestures, a day where even fairly extravagant gestures won't be mocked.
This afternoon I watched people trying to assemble some of the accessories for Valentine's--- buying bottles of Veuve Cliquot or Moët, calling shops to have gifts chosen and wrapped for delivery. I can understand feeling harried by it all, though a bottle or two of Veuve on a winter's night is always a good thing.
Valentine's this year falls just after Ash Wednesday, and I suppose there's something ironic about it falling as Lent begins. Nonetheless, I do like the formality of it all, the formality of presentations and dressing for the occasion. We expect romance to be spontaneous these days, and then we judge the spontaneity against the manufactured visions of the marketers. Ritual and formality offer up a kind of haven from all that. The gift, the reserved table, the clink of glasses--- those gestures are easily read, and they establish a kind of dialogue. I've always been in favor of things like that, of frameworks that carry you along.
Romance is so very fraught these days--- what to say, what not so say, whether any word or action is too much or not enough, what the subtexts are. Ritual and formality make that easier. And they show that you bothered to learn the steps, that you valued the idea of romance enough to learn its symbols and forms.
I am someone who needs the forms and symbols of love as much as the essence, whatever that essence might be. Valentine's at least offers that. There's a chance to make the gesture, to speak in a formal language. And there is something to be said for a holiday, however manufactured, that encourages gestures of romance, that encourages lovers to offer up the symbols of attraction and courtship. A holiday that celebrates ritualized desire and bottles of Veuve--- what's not to like? And it does provide safety in the dance, a space and time where the gesture is separated from the individual. In a time where any gesture of desire or romance is endlessly scrutinized and critiqued, that's no small thing.