For many people, Valentine’s Day is one of the most confusing holidays on the calendar.
While it’s traditionally a day to celebrate love, some argue that it’s far too commercialized.
Valentine’s Day ranks third in holiday candy and chocolate sales — behind twin juggernauts Halloween and Easter. The holiday this year is expected to bring in an estimated $19.7 billion, according to the National Retail Federation.
And every year, greeting card companies sell billions of Valentine’s Day cards. For Hallmark, Valentine’s Day sales are second only to Christmas.
But is the romance really in the card and the candy?
No matter how much money couples spend on an evening out or on gifts for one another, is that what makes the holiday feel heartfelt?
St. Valentine, the third century Roman saint who the holiday is named for, might have a thing or two to say about it.
But since he’s not reachable, George Bizer, chairman of the psychology department at Union College, will have to do. Bizer has reviewed several pieces of research on the psychology of Valentine’s Day.
Even though dissenters believe that Valentine’s Day is a complete “puff holiday,” a majority still celebrate it. According to Statistic Brain, 62 percent of adults celebrate the holiday.
People celebrate the holiday for three reasons, Bizer said: self-interest, obligation and altruism. Or a combination of those.
There can be negative side effects for people who decide to bypass the holiday.
“It’s still a social expectation. We still feel obliged to participate,” Bizer said.
There can be a level of external discomfort in defying tradition and choosing not to celebrate, depending on an individual’s dating situation.
A defier who is in a relationship runs the risk of upsetting their significant other.
Dr. Julia Hormes of the University at Albany’s psychology department, has identified one reason some people don’t mind the holiday and one reason why people might be conflicted by it: chocolate and our craving for it.
Since chocolate is one of the most popular gifts on Valentine’s Day, her research provides a bit of proof as to why people give in to the romantic chocolate haze of the holiday.
“We make food about much more than just nutrition,” Hormes said.
As Americans, we don’t simply consume chocolate. We vilify and glorify it, she said.
We understand that it’s not high up there in nutritional value, so there’s a small part of us that says we shouldn’t eat it. But there’s also that small voice telling us to, often pushing us to consume it.
Valentine’s Day gives us an excuse to feel all right about eating chocolate, whether because it was given to us by a significant other and we feel loved or because we purchase it for ourselves in the spirit of the romantic day.
“It’s how we celebrate this rather random holiday,” Hormes said.
Well, at least it’s one part of the traditional Valentine’s Day festivities.
Another part of the tradition, of course, is the romantic date.
If you’re in a relationship, the holiday might be difficult to ignore. On the other hand, if you’re on the same page about the day as your significant other (i.e. you both love it or you both hate it), then the planning for the day is a breeze.
For those who aren’t in a relationship or who are dating serially, the day can be a bit more stressful.
Which leads us to the world of online dating.
OkCupid, an online dating platform, said that there is traditionally an increase in activity and number of people signing up on the site.
While they attributed some of it to cold weather and less outdoor activity, they also said it could be because people are thinking ahead to Valentine’s Day.
Other apps, like Tinder, Bumble, Hater and eHarmony also experience this surge in activity around the holiday.
For those who are unfamiliar with that world, or have never been immersed in it around Valentine’s Day, there are a few tricks that might make finding a match and snagging a date a bit easier.
Julie Spira, a cyber dating expert, has been on the virtual dating scene for over 20 years.
She is now a consultant for people who need a bit of help setting up their dating profile accounts or with navigating the world of online dating.
If you find yourself without a date on the most “romantic” holiday of the year, there’s no place for panic according to Spira.
“It’s really easy to find love around Valentine’s Day. In fact, you can find a date right on Valentine’s Day,” Spira said.
Most mobile dating apps use location services to easily connect people who might be compatible, so finding a match within a few minutes of home shouldn’t be difficult.
If it’s a last-minute date, Spira recommends a coffee date before work or grabbing a drink after work.
“Watch what you drink and don’t schedule a date after 9 p.m.,” Spira said.
A late evening date can communicate that you’ve either already had a dinner date or that you’d only like to hook up, she said.
If you have a bit of time to plan, Spira has a few other unique first Valentine’s day date recommendations:
– Go to a cooking class together.
– Ice skating or roller skating.
– Go to a wine tasting or tapas bar.
– Go to a fortune teller and have your tarot cards read.
Dating should be fun, but Spira also warns clients of a few online dating faux pas.
One of the most common is lying out of insecurity. “Be honest when you make your profile. . . . Make it authentic,” Spira said.
Another would be talking about dating history, which tends to be a default conversation when people get nervous on dates. “Keep things light,” Spira said.
No matter how you choose to celebrate it (or not celebrate it, or maybe celebrate it a little bit), it’s the only day of the year that gives you an excuse to ask someone to be your valentine.
Oh, and it’s another holiday where eating chocolate is — or should be — a guilt-free activity.