Is Valentine’s Day for women only?

Many years ago, Valentine’s Day was approaching and I found myself eagerly anticipating its warm and fuzzy respite from the cold and dreary days of winter.

As a mother, my thoughts naturally turned to ideas for my children’s Valentine boxes for school or what kind of Valentines they would want to give to their friends or whether to make cupcakes or sugar cookies.

As a wife, I began excitedly wondering what my sweetheart would give to me or do for me, preferably both, to proclaim his undying love. We had been married for several years, but that year a thought that had probably passed through my mind several times walked up and struck me in a way that I could not ignore: Valentine’s Day is a day for sweethearts to celebrate their love for each other and not just a day provided to give my husband a chance to show how much he loves me.

That revealing thought motivated me to shift my focus to what I could do to show my love for my husband on that Valentine’s Day and it continues to remind me that Valentine’s Day is his day, too.

On the heels of my humbling and enlightening moment came the realization that the whole modern celebration of the day of love can easily be perceived as being lopsided.

At least when viewed from a marketing standpoint, the majority of loving sentiments for Valentine’s Day leans toward women. Newspaper, magazine and television ads consistently give reminders about Valentine’s Day in the form of diamond jewelry, roses, cute cuddly stuffed animals, fine chocolates, expensive perfume and romantic candlelit dinners at upscale restaurants. All of the ads seem to be pointing a finger directly at men when they ask in bold type and raised volume, "WHAT ARE YOU GIVING YOUR VALENTINE!?"

We do see a few gifts of love advertised for men in the form of tacky boxers covered with cartoon characters or giant stuffed apes proclaiming sassy sentiments, but both the quantity and quality of these “manly” gifts sadly pale in comparison with the gifts having a more feminine focus.

I realize that Valentine’s Day has always been a more feminine holiday in all of its sugary sweet pink and frilly glory, but if it is truly a day to celebrate love than shouldn’t women as well as men be enthusiastically encouraged to express their devotion to the one they love?

We as women have learned, with much gratitude to Dr. Laura, that men have basic, simple needs. They do not need to be dazzled with diamonds, fawned over with flowers or catered to with cuteness. They want to be loved — pure and simple.

Women want to be loved too but they like their loving to come in carefully presented packages and so it only stands to reason that advertizing tends to cater to women on "pretty" holidays. Thank goodness the obvious lopsidedness is the result of calculated demographics and not heartless partiality.

Money-making opportunities aside, I personally see nothing wrong with fancy packaging and I applaud both men and women who put forth extra effort to add special touches to expressing their love. However, I believe that it really is the thought that counts. Very often if we are not careful, the precious gift of a heartfelt thought gets lost in the material wrappings that are so warmly embraced by modern society as a whole.

Advertisers earn their livelihood by marketing material wrappings as not just nice but necessary and by convincing us that we not only need them but deserve them. That power of persuasion messes sadly with our hearts as well as our heads. If we buy into it we are left with inflated expectations that can lead to major disappointment or at least long periods of pouting.

Speaking of high expectations, as a teenager I worked in a grocery store. On Valentine’s Day, I remember inwardly feeling disgust toward men who would dash in on their way home from work to grab a cardboard plastic-wrapped heart-shaped box with plastic flowers to take home to their wives. I decided that was a tacky and careless show of affection, one that I hoped never to receive from my future husband.

As I have grown older in years and more forgiving through experience, I have decided that those common boxes of chocolates are acceptable if they are given only as an accompaniment to sweet expressions of love that are sincerely voiced. A diamond necklace or a dozen long-stemmed roses given without real thought or feeling are gifts of much less worth.

That day years ago when my Valentine’s Day focus changed as a wife and a sweetheart, I came up with some special and creative ways to express my love to my husband.

But I must sadly confess that even after all my noble efforts to cover my wants with the needs of my husband, I still felt a bit slighted after all my hard work that my husband didn’t give me a gift. Didn’t he pay attention to the ads? I failed to graciously accept his gratitude for my show of love or his joyful sharing of the things I planned as his gifts to me. Did I give with the joy of giving or with the hope of receiving?

It would be wrong to unload all of the blame for a one-sided Valentine’s Day celebration between men and women onto those who skillfully market holidays. They make a living by knowing which heartstrings to tug and few of us are immune to their perfectly packaged persuasions.

Women and men need to take responsibility for making those we love feel special not out of show or obligation, but out of a sincere desire to give them our love and wanting only their love in return.

Valentine’s Day is for everyone and heartfelt sentiment is the perfect gift no matter how you choose to wrap it.

Penny Bowler has considered herself to be a writer almost ever since she discovered the power of words. So far she is an unknown writer but looks forward to changing that. Her family can attest to the fact that she is rarely at a loss for words.