"Guys, Valentine's Day is right around the corner. Order your flowers now. You don't want to screw this thing up, because then you'll be hearing about it for the rest of the year."
These words struck a chord when I heard them on a radio commercial this morning. I don't typically watch TV or listen to the radio, and advertisements like this are a major reason why. To the untrained eye, it may seem like nothing out of the ordinary. You may be thinking: "What's the big deal?"
What happened here is a classic example of a company painting a specific picture in our minds about who we are, what we should believe, and what our relationships should be like, in order to increase profits at the expense of the health of our relationships.
Without explicitly saying it, here is what that commercial tells men:
1. Everyone celebrates Valentine's Day.
2. In order to partake in it, you are required to buy flowers for your partner.
3. If you don't comply with the rules of "the most romantic day of the year," you'll be ostracized, shunned, and be the laughing stock of your community. Men will pity you, and women will shake their heads in disgust at the cheapskate who wasn't willing to "be a man" and get a nice gift for his significant other. You'll end up sad and alone.
Those are some pretty powerful messages being planted in our consciousness in a mere 15 seconds. So powerful, in fact, that Americans are expected to spend upwards of $18.6 billion on cards, balloons, candy, and jewelry this Valentine's Day (according to a NRF survey), with men accounting for 66% of this spending.
Can you blame them?
No one wants to be "that guy." In the thousands of commercials I've seen throughout my life, I don't remember even once experiencing a commercial that insinuated the reverse idea: that a woman would be ostracized if she did not buy a gift for her man for a certain holiday.
I can feel the hate mail building up on the other side of the screen right now.
Hear me out.
I'm not saying that men should stop buying things for women, or vice versa. What I am saying is that there is an inherent problem with allowing outside social pressures, especially advertising, to attempt to create imbalances in our relationships and dictate what our desires and behaviors should be.
This can create a variety of issues that lead to major unnecessary fights and unhappiness, and practically doom a relationship from the start. A bouquet of flowers is something small, but it's only the tip of the iceberg. Whether "He went to Jared!" or it's a Lexus "December to Remember" time of year, following all of these social norms can rob you of the chance to be the person you really want to be.
In different ways, women are negatively impacted by these external pressures of society as well: the pressure to undergo plastic surgery, partake in unhealthy diets, or settle down at a certain age.
It's critical to be able to see past all of the ways society tries to define love, and the ways we are "supposed" to act in order to get it. Love is something intangible that we cannot see with our eyes or touch with our hands. It isn't an expensive handbag or a set of rims. It could never be quantified with specific material gifts given on specific dates determined by a marketing executive's ad campaign and timeline.
Love is being there to just sit and listen when someone had a terrible day. Love is a creating a spontaneous adventure on a Sunday afternoon just because you felt like it. Love is Don Lansaw of Joplin, Missouri saving his wife's life at the expense of his own, by throwing his body over his wife during a 200-mph-wind-packing tornado.
It's something that each of us needs to express unashamedly in our own individual way. By getting back in touch with what comes most naturally to the core of who we really are, we can find that love is something that is generated within ourselves. When we aspire to live every day spreading it in the way we best see fit no matter where we are, all of the conventional rules go right out the window.